The most attractive player rumored to be moved at the February 18th trade deadline is Dwight Howard. Howard is planning on opting-out of his $22 million contract which has one year left. Howard is angling to get a long term deal when free agency hits on July 1st. It may be Howard’s last significant contract. Furthermore, Howard has been unhappy in Houston all year long. Rumors persisted he spearheaded the Kevin McHale to the unemployment line fiasco in November. Howard and James Harden have zero on-court chemistry. Harden is a ball dominant guard who is loathe to give it up and Howard is a front court player who thinks of himself as a scorer. He needs the ball.
When he played in Orlando, Howard had the luxury of the offense being designed around him. In Los Angeles and in Houston, the systems were heavy isolation sets as he was matched up with generationally talented shooting guards. It suppressed his game and he’s ready to bolt, especially since Houston isn’t talented enough defensively to handle the Western Conference’s high octane offenses that depend on and are extraordinary three-point shooting teams. What Howard does well is flee. He’s ready.
The Bulls have tried to win with Tom Thibodeau’s players. They made no roster changes in the off-season other than picking up Bobby Portis in the draft. So it was Thibs team Fred Hoiberg inherited. A defensive savant, Thibs built a roster with players who had a gritty, hard nose intellect. No one referred to what the Bulls executed as “the beautiful game”. Teams desperately wanted to avoid the Bulls at all costs. Those 88-80 matchups were brutal.
Fred Hoiberg is an offensive coach. He doesn’t need Thibs “guys.” Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are liabilities in Hoiberg’s offense. Noah is on an expiring deal. He is the one who can be moved the easiest. Gibson has another year left on his deal.
The Bulls want a wing. No one knows Mike Dunleavy’s status. The Bulls aren’t thinking regular season but playoffs and Paul George and LeBron James. But there is a strong argument to be made that the Bulls stay pat on the wing and upgrade the frontcourt by adding Dwight Howard.
First, the Howard-Gasol tandem has history. They have already been teammates and played well together. It would mean Gasol is back at his natural position at power forward where he is a good facilitator. Howard would be the center. Yes, it would put Taj Gibson on the bench to start games but the impact two bigs would have in the Conference would be monumental. They would be the only East contender with that kind of size. Howard-Gasol would counter the Cavaliers Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love. They would make life difficult for Hassan Whiteside and Chris Bosh. Toronto’s power forward is old: Luis Scola. The Bulls would suddenly have to make teams adjust to them, not the other way around. It would invigorate life into Derrick Rose’s playmaking having Howard at the rim. Not to mention Howard’s ability to protect the paint.
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All year long this Bulls team has looked uninspired and in some instances they have appeared disinterested. It’s a tough transition after such a dominant coach in Thibodeau. Everything is different. But those growing pains should be over and right now it is about how to knock off Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals, how to put them in match-up hell.
Dwight Howard is a gamble. But then so was firing Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls miss Thibs; the energy is not the same. The Bulls have lost two in a row by double digits. They are 7-6 in their last 13 games. It’s time for a shake-up.
photo via llananba