Six years ago, Dwight Howard was on a flight from San Antonio to Orlando. When he landed, a deal with the then-New Jersey Nets was set to be consummated, sending the superstar center to join Deron Williams and form a potential super team in the Eastern Conference. With the Nets set to move to Brooklyn later that year, it was a chance for one of the league’s biggest stars to become the foundation of the franchise and the face of the team’s transition to the Big Apple.
Instead, during that flight, Howard was given a bunch of candy and talked into committing to Orlando for the long term. He subsequently did so, opting into his Magic contract for the next season and ending trade talks.
Now, six years later, Howard is finally headed to Brooklyn.
The Charlotte Hornets became the latest team to unload Howard on Wednesday, sending him to the Brooklyn Nets for Timofey Mozgov, two future second-round draft picks and cash.
This marks the second straight season in which a team was determined to give Howard away for pennies on the dollar, just to get him out of its locker room. The Atlanta Hawks did the same thing last summer when they sent Howard to Charlotte for Marco Belinelli and Miles Plumlee.
Howard’s decision to stay in Orlando marked the beginning of the vagabond stage of his career. He was traded that summer to the Los Angeles Lakers, the first of five times he has changed teams in his NBA career — all of which have come in the past six years.
Howard is unquestionably a future Hall of Famer, but his personality has led him to be handed off from team to team. He got into conflicts with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles and James Harden in Houston. Atlanta and Charlotte decided to move on as soon as a new general manager took over.
For Brooklyn, this trade is not about getting Howard; it’s about dumping Mozgov’s $17 million salary for the 2019-20 season. Doing so allows Brooklyn to have two max-contract slots at its disposal next summer, giving the Nets a chance to jump into free agency in a big way during a summer in which several all-stars should be available. And the Nets could buy out Howard, although that has not been publicly broached yet.
One extra level of irony here is that the new general manager of the Hornets, Mitch Kupchak, not only traded for Howard when he was running the Lakers six years ago, but he also signed Mozgov to his four-year, $64 million albatross of a deal, which has now been moved twice in the two years since Mozgov signed it.
It would be fitting if a buyout happens, though, given how long the Nets once pursued Howard — only to be left at the altar after his flight from San Antonio to Orlando. Now, six years later, Howard is finally in Brooklyn. Both the player and the team, though, are in far different places.
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