Considering the typical Chicago sports fan is often painted with a hardhat and Ditka mustache attached to its head and a beer and bratwurst in its hands, you wouldn't expect a city with a collar this definitively blue to be so willing to play the role of the jilted lover. Yet, when a star athlete rejects our humble Midwestern metropolis, Chicago gets mad, and maybe even a little ugly. This city loves its sports teams like no one else; as such, we occasionally handle someone telling us "no" with the grace of a toddler. If an athlete doesn't want to come to Chicago, surely it's a problem with him, not a problem with us.
As you probably could have guessed, this is the story of Dwight Howard.
Trade rumors tying the Orlando Magic center to the Chicago Bulls have hung over the entire season like a storm cloud. Yes, Howard's presence is that brooding. In the '90s, the NBA had a wealth of talented pivot men: there was Hakeem Olajuwon, and Patrick Ewing, and David Robinson, and Alonzo Mourning, and Shaquille O'Neal. Now there's only Howard. Forget about an equal, the media couldn't even cook up a rival for DH12 with a straight face. When compared to the Orlando big man, the rest of the league's starting fives seem inherently flawed, if not outright diseased. None of them can move like Howard; no one protects the rim half as well. Marc Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Joakim Noah can be quality supporting players on a championship team. In today's NBA, that's a net-positive. But so far as centers go, Howard is the only one good enough to be the centerpiece of a juggernaut.
When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up in Miami during the summer of 2010, they put players like Howard in a precarious position. Even if the Heat didn't win the NBA championship in their first season, they changed the landscape forever. Make no mistake, the Super Team Era is here to stay, and you only need to look at the rosters of the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks for proof. Even if Howard, or anyone else, really wanted to stay with the team that drafted him, doing so with only a middling supporting cast means you run the risk of being irrelevant forever. The Heat haven't won a thing yet, but the mere threat of an impending Miami dynasty is enough to change the culture.
This is evident in every Dwight Howard rumor you hear. He wants to go to New Jersey to team up with Deron Williams. He wants to go to LA to play with Kobe Bryant. Perhaps he'll end up in Dallas, next to fellow free agent Williams and long-tenured Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki. It seems likely that no matter where Howard ends up, his best teammate is going to be a lot better than Jason Richardson, Ryan Anderson, or anyone else he's currently working with in Orlando. This is now the nature of the league, and it isn't changing anytime soon.
Since the moment the lockout was lifted, Howard's departure from Orlando has seemed imminent. Only problem: the teams he reportedly prefers don't have the pieces Orlando is rightfully demanding. The entire time, our Bulls have sat with one eye on the entire ordeal, maybe, just maybe, waiting to pick their spot.
To everyone else, Howard and Chicago seem like a perfect match. The Bulls have the talented young players Orlando covets in return for Howard; conversely, Chicago is also home to Derrick Rose, a fellow superstar who could conceivably fill Howard's fingers with championship rings. The Bulls are very good -- Chicago's .795 winning percentage is the highest in the league -- but the promise of Howard is appealing enough to blow the entire thing up. Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson may very well help lead the Bulls to a championship this season, but most savvy NBA observers wouldn't think twice about trading all three to pair Rose with Howard. If LeBron and Wade thought they were rewriting the script by joining forces, Rose and Howard have the ability to shred it to pieces before production even begins. Their potential reign really could be that colossal.
The issue? Simply, the Bulls aren't on Howard's list of preferred destinations. When he was asked why not with the Magic in town to play the Bulls on Thursday, Howard joked about Chicago being too cold. Right, because the Brooklyn Nets will play their home games on the equator.
It's an impasse NBA rhetoric has been stuck at for months, but with the trade deadline looming Thursday, the news cycle was ripe for another check-in on Howard-to-Chicago. Enter Ken Berger of CBS Sports. This was the crux of his quote-unquote report:
The Orlando Magic would like to seriously engage the Bulls in trade talks for Dwight Howard, but the All-Star center's apparent reluctance to make a long-term commitment to Chicago has all but killed the discussions, league sources told CBSSports.com.
But the team that can make the strongest case for Orlando to depart from its risky strategy of holding onto Howard are the Bulls, who could offer 7-footer Omer Asik, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu, sources said. The Bulls also could offer a valuable first-round pick from Charlotte -- top-14 protected in this year's draft but but unprotected by 2016.
As Matt detailed at Blog-a-Bull, this really isn't news. So you're saying the Bulls could offer Asik, Deng and Boozer? Well, no kidding. But the lack of any new information certainly didn't stop Berger's column from once against ramping up speculation.
More than one friend sent me the Real GM link to Berger's report. This is the first sentence:
The Magic would be open to trading Dwight Howard to Chicago in exchange for Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and a valuable first-round pick from Charlotte, according to a report.
If Dwight Howard doesn't want to come to Chicago, then I don't want him. He's obviously dumber than a box of rocks.— Brian Moore (@redeyesportsguy) March 12, 2012
This was a typical response:
@redeyesportsguy dhoward is nota winner. Otherwise hed be in chi.— Ron Borja (@eentegra) March 12, 2012
Even the blogs got in on the name calling:
Clearly, if you don't want to play for the Bulls, you're a stupid, idiot, moron who would rather dance and wear Ed Hardy t-shirts than play for a real city in front of real fans like Chicago . OK, so maybe the second half of that actually is true in regards to Howard. It doesn't make the first part any more acceptable, though.
We've known about Howard's reluctance to join the Bulls for months, but we've never really known why. There's been speculation that adidas -- the shoe company that represents both he and Rose -- doesn't want its brand to be so Chicago-centric. I wondered in this space before the season began if Rose didn't want another superstar to steal some of his spotlight in his hometown. It seems likely Howard doesn't want Rose's star blinding his own, either. After all, we do love our point guard. As Bill Simmons wrote on Friday:
I don't think any NBA fan base loves a player more than Bulls fans love Derrick Rose. If you went into a Chicago sports bar and started trashing Rose during a Bulls game, you'd get beaten up and left for dead in an alley.
Perhaps Howard thinks the Bulls would still be known as "Derrick Rose's team" even if he came to Chicago. I think it's safe to say if the Bulls won a championship or three, he'd probably receive his fair share of credit.
As weird as it seems, this could all be working to Chicago's advantage. Ideally, the Bulls would like to see if they have enough to beat Miami in the playoffs this season. If they don't, then it might be time to do something drastic. The Bulls have been nothing but passive throughout the Howard saga, but another loss in the Eastern Conference Finals could change that. Lose again to LeBron and motivation for working out a sign-and-trade for another star should reach a high-point.
It doesn't appear that Dwight Howard is getting traded anywhere by Thursday, though these situations are nothing if not fluid. As Howard keeps rejecting Chicago, the city will continue to shake its head, wondering what could have been.