The Houston Rockets don’t want to help Mitch Kupchak’s Los Angeles Lakers acquire Dwight Howard, they want the Orlando Magic's disgruntled center all for themselves.
Late Wednesday afternoon, reports began to surface that Houston, L.A. and Orlando were talking about a three-team deal that would send Howard to Tinseltown, Andrew Bynum to the Rockets and picks plus cap relief to the Magic.
It was a deal that theoretically sounded like a win-win-win for all involved, but it came with one pesky question: why wouldn’t Rockets management just cut the Lakers out and move to trade for Howard directly? Why bother with Bynum when you can do better?
The most common response to that was something along the lines of “because Bynum would re-up with Houston whereas Howard wouldn’t,” but the validity of both of those assertions is very questionable.
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On Thursday afternoon, 24 hours after the three-team trade reports came to light, Houston made it clear that they didn’t need L.A. They also didn’t need Bynum. They wanted Howard all for themselves, and they were willing to bet the farm just to have a shot at bringing him in.
As reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
In one more significant step in the Houston Rockets’ relentless pursuit of Orlando Magic star Dwight Howard, the Rockets will use the amnesty provision on forward Luis Scola to clear further salary cap space, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
By knocking the remaining three years and $21 million owed to Scola off their books, Rockets brass ensures that they can now add Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson in any trade for Howard. That means on top of being able to send picks back to Orlando, Houston can also absorb all of the bad salaries that the Magic have desperately been looking to shed.
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Furthermore, the Rockets also now have the cap space to sign a second max-level player next summer. (Chris Paul, anyone?)
The decision to dump Scola is absolutely huge. It makes Houston the unquestionable new frontrunner to acquire Howard, and it effectively takes the Lakers out of contention for the big man’s services. (At least in terms of the three-team deal that was discussed on Wednesday.) For what it’s worth, though, the Lakers’ discussions with Orlando and Houston regarding that three-team deal had ‘cooled’ anyway.
Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
One source familiar with the trade negotiations said Thursday that calls between the Houston Rockets and Lakers discussing a three-way trade have cooled, while the Atlanta Hawks appear to be gaining steam in their pursuit of Howard.
The Hawks have consistently offered the best player package of any of Howard’s other suitors, but it appears as though Orlando isn’t looking to get quality players back. That seems to be part of their reluctance as it applies to Bynum, too. (Also that they don’t know if he would re-up with them next summer.) Orlando brass seems to be far more willing to do a deal for picks and cap relief than anything else.
While a deal isn’t imminent, obviously, it’s safe to say that the Rockets are now the prohibitive favorites to land Howard – even it’s just for one season.
Need more proof?
As @EricPincus pointed out, the Rockets' official Twitter account just followed Dwight Howard, Jason Richardson, Glen Davis and Chris Duhon.
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 13, 2012
If that doesn’t convince you, nothing will.