That rumbling you feel in your legs is the first trade of the summer. Though it’s not quite a blockbuster, a few heads were scratched Wednesday when the Hornets agreed to trade Dwight Howard to the Nets for Timofey Mozgov and some second-round picks. (Woj had the details first.) The move helps create cap space sooner for the Nets, while also allowing the Hornets to stay comfortably under the luxury tax threshold. Was the move worth it for both teams? Let’s grade the deal.
Hmmm, Charlotte was scheduled to be around $2 million below the tax line this summer, and that would have been before making any moves. So it makes sense for the Hornets to want to dump salary. But Howard was a productive player last season, and shipping away his expiring contract in return for a center who will barely play that adds $16 million in salary for the 2019–20 season is a tough pill to swallow.
Maybe no one in the league really appreciated him, but Howard was decent last year—he should’ve have fetched more value. The Hornets were 3.6 points per 100 possessions better with Howard on the court in 2018, showing he could still be a positive force. The move theoretically opens up more playing time for Cody Zeller, but also leaves Charlotte thin at center, unless Frank Kaminsky will move there full time.
In the summer of 2019, the Hornets could potentially have over $90 million in committed salary, and that’s before an extension for Kemba Walker. The Hornets are stuck in no-man’s land, and their rebuilding strategy (or lack of one) doesn’t quite make sense. This was a team already straddled with bad contracts. Taking on more money in 2019 instead of trying to find a better return for Howard (or trading someone else) just to duck the tax seems too short-sighted. Blowing it up completely seemed like a better play for Charlotte. Taking on more future salary without acquiring any meaningful assets for a productive player is not the best start to the offseason.
Why not? The move gives Brooklyn a decent center and allows it to move on from the Jahlil Okafor experiment and Quicny Acy. Howard can theoretically be a good pick-and-roll partner for D’Angelo Russell, but we’ve said that about Howard for every point guard he’s played with and his commitment to that play waxes and wanes with the moon.
What’s most important for the Nets and GM Sean Marks is the trade makes them a player in 2020 free agency. Brooklyn should have big-time cap space next summer—enough to sign a couple superstars—and the Nets actually own their first-round picks after the upcoming draft.
After taking on bad contracts to acquire picks and assets, Marks can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Dumping Mozgov, a non-factor, speeds up Brooklyn’s ability to become competitive again. The Nets will probably want one last tank this upcoming season, and Howard’s expiring deal could potentially be flipped again down the road.
Whatever the case, after inheriting the barest cupboard in the league, Marks finally has the Nets on a level playing field. Brooklyn may still be one year away from trying to assemble something resembling a contender, but the turnaround happened pretty quickly considering the circumstances.