Charlotte Hornets

Many reasons for Hornets to think twice before trading for Houston’s Dwight Howard

Trading for Houston center Dwight Howard would create buzz, sell some tickets and maybe boost the Charlotte Hornets to a first-round playoff victory.

And then, when he either leaves via free agency over the summer or demands outrageous money to stay in Charlotte, we’d all be wondering why it ever made sense to acquire him at the trade deadline.

Apparently the Hornets inquired about Howard’s availability once the Rockets let it be known he could be had. Cool. That’s general manager Rich Cho’s job, and Hornets owner Michael Jordan always tells his basketball staff to explore any way to improve.

But this one defines "Is the juice worth the squeeze?" Howard has played more than 30,000 NBA minutes and is in decline. A career 18 points-per-game scorer, his average has dropped each of the past two seasons and is 14.6 this season, his lowest since his rookie year. He misses time with injury and has sat out 11 of 55 games this season. The Rockets are open to trading him because he hasn’t delivered what they thought they were getting when they acquired him in 2013.

Howard, who is 6-foot-11 and 265 pounds, dumped the Orlando Magic for the Los Angeles Lakers. He dumped the Lakers for the Rockets. And now, at 30, he’ll likely be playing for yet another NBA team either at the trade deadline or starting next season.

Simply by the nature of the NBA’s salary cap, the Hornets would have to do a lot to make any trade for Howard happen. He makes more than $22 million this season, so a prerequisite to any deal would be sending comparable salary to Houston. They would undoubtedly want Al Jefferson’s expiring contract and young assets (Cody Zeller, maybe?)

And then the Rockets would want something like an unprotected first-round pick. Cho has said continuously how much he values first-round picks. Do you sacrifice an asset such as that for a high-mileage former star who might play all of 29 games before departing?

I’d say no. I’d also say such a move could have corrosive effects on the good work the Hornets have done since June. They made several smart trades that acquired Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb and Spencer Hawes. Then, Tuesday, they acquired Courtney Lee from Memphis for spare parts and a couple of second-round picks.

Trading for Batum has probably been the best thing Cho has done as general manager. Anything that makes it harder to retain him next summer, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent, would feel like a setback. Giving up significant payroll flexibility (Jefferson’s contract) plus future assets to chase this Howard notion would feel like such a move.

The Hornets are traders; they have made nine deals since the start of 2014. Each of the past four Februaries they have made surgical deals at the deadline (Josh McRoberts, Gary Neal, Mo Williams and now, Lee) that addressed specific needs without giving up major future assets.

This Howard talk feels different - like blowing up the family budget for a trip to Vegas. Unless the Rockets’ asking price were to plummet in the final hours before the trade deadline, I’d just step back and ask what they’d really accomplish versus what they’d sacrifice for the future.

Jordan often talks about the goal of sustainable success, of evolving into a team that can consistently have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Taking a flyer on Howard sounds nothing like that.

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