The idea that Magic center Dwight Howard could end up in Chicago, once a far-fetched notion, is picking up steam in some circles these days. Orlando, seeking to avoid a situation similar to the one Denver endured through the first half of last season with Carmelo Anthony, before he was traded to New York -- or worse, the fate Cleveland suffered when LeBron James left town, let alone when Shaquille O'Neal departed the Magic Kingdom and the team received nothing in exchange -- is starting to show signs that the perennial All-Star and reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year could be traded prior to this season's Christmas Day start date, if not sometime prior to the anticipated February trade deadline.
Regardless of when it happens, the fact that the organization is even considering the move means it's likely to happen, for when it comes to NBA trade rumors, where there's smoke, there's usually fire, even if the inferno is coming from the house down the street instead of the one neighbors say is a tinderbox. That's why talk of the Bulls being a potential suitor for Howard can't be ignored.
Now, it's much more likely that the best center in today's game ends up in Los Angeles, where he can pursue his off-court entertainment exploits, reside in his preferred warm climate (remember, the Atlanta native was drafted by the Magic straight out of high school) and either look to start a Clippers revival -- with or without Blake Griffin, although one would think Orlando general manager Otis Smith would insist on the Rookie of the Year being included in the deal, at least for leverage purposes -- or pair up with Kobe Bryant and try to win a title before the future Hall of Fame shooting guard walks off into the sunset.
Even the Nets, with their scant real assets -- Brook Lopez was a lot more intriguing after his rookie season -- impending move to Brooklyn and a long shot at holding on to All-Star point guard Deron Williams (a player in the same boat and who has issued contradictory statements about his desire to remain in the Big Apple region, further complicated by talk of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban plotting to repatriate the floor general to his hometown of Dallas), can't be counted out in the sweepstakes.
But neither can the Bulls. As Bulls.com's Sam Smith first suggested and Yahoo! reported, the Bulls are capable of putting an offer on the table that could seem more appealing to the Magic than other candidates to land Howard.
Chicago could send Orlando a more than adequate replacement center in Joakim Noah, whose popularity in central Florida remains high in the wake of his two college national championships ("Gator Nation" maintains a strong presence at Bulls games in the Sunshine State, even in Miami), while Luol Deng would fill a team need for a strong wing scorer and defender and Taj Gibson would bring a promising young power forward they could either lock up for the future or let walk in free agency to keep financial flexibility. A starting lineup of point guard Jameer Nelson, a re-signed Jason Richardson at shooting guard (holding onto cap space for Howard would be less of a concern, presumably giving the Magic room to offer the veteran more than the mid-level exception many of his current suitors reportedly plan to start negotiations with) and a frontcourt of Deng, Gibson and Noah smells like a playoff team in the East, complete with youth, balance, scoring and defense, if not a superstar.
If necessary, the Bulls would probably be open to taking on Hedo Turkoglu's contract, including a player like Ronnie Brewer as a throw-in or any other little tweak Orlando needed to make it happen. Of course, it's all a pipe dream.
Sorry to be a tease if you actually believe Howard's relocation to the Windy City is imminent, but not only would Orlando be reluctant to trade the superstar center -- one of the few legit players at the position, historically the spot considered most important to title contention, these days -- within the Eastern Conference, but as in the case of the aforementioned Anthony and the simultaneous saga of Chris Paul, Howard would likely have to decide in advance that he'd be willing to sign a long-term extension with the Bulls after this season. With players having increasing control of their destinies -- something unchanged by the reported terms of the tenative settlement agreement -- Howard would have to be willing to be Derrick Rose's sidekick in a city, not just a team, that's all about Rose, all the time.
The Bulls, only a series away from reaching the Finals last season, has a mostly selfless nucleus intact and wouldn't be inclined to gut it without a guarantee the team would be markedly better. As alluring as the idea of Rose and Howard -- and Carlos Boozer, assuming the Magic preferred him to Deng in a deal -- together would be, the new financial restrictions imposed on teams might make it difficult for Chicago to fill in the gaps effectively.
Meanwhile, Howard's West Coast possibilities make a lot more sense, as the Lakers have reportedly finally agreed to make Andrew Bynum -- like Noah, an instant replacement -- available and Lamar Odom is a versatile veteran, although they could need to enlist another team for Orlando to acquire draft considerations. There, Howard could immediately contend for a championship, but after Bryant retires, he'd be poised to be the Lakers' alpha-dog, as well as follow in the footsteps of the franchise's legendary centers like the recently retired Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan.
The other Staples Center tenants, the Clippers, also could have some appeal, although with longtime owner Donald Sterling's spendthrift ways, the team's level of financial commitment to players is always in doubt. But equipped with a budding star in Griffin, underrated young shooting guard Eric Gordon, two centers in veteran Chris Kaman and a coveted young free agent DeAndre Jordan, not to mention other talented young pieces, the assets at their disposal could tempt Orlando, Howard could still feed his spotlight jones -- whether the Clippers are the city's glamor team or not -- and he wouldn't have to take a back seat to anybody.
Even making a deal with the Nets -- while also in the East, the franchise is a non-contender for the time being -- would be better for Orlando's competitive hopes and still give Howard, depending on his belief that they'd be able to retain Williams, what he wants. In short, Howard coming to Chicago is about as feasible as LeBron James wearing a Bulls uniform, and we all know how that turned out.