Dwight Howard, left, and Chris Paul can become free agents after this season,… (Kim Klement / US Presswire;…)
Dwight Howard to the Clippers? Chris Paul to the Lakers?
Strange times in the NBA, but the trade winds are swirling west.
How possible is it that one of the local teams acquires one of the top NBA talents? Somewhat, actually.
Howard and Paul can become free agents after this season by opting out of their contracts next July, putting pressure on Orlando and New Orleans to get something in return before the perennial All-Stars walk away for nothing.
Orlando isn't as desperate to unload Howard and would ask for quite the return in a trade with the Lakers, wanting Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant, according to an official familiar with Orlando's thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly. He appeared to be joking. Maybe.
The Lakers and Magic spoke briefly about Howard, The Times has learned, though it was described as cursory by an official with one team. Translation: unproductive. Trade proposals were not even exchanged.
The Lakers have also had a conversation with New Orleans, though the possibilities of a trade were "not even close," said a person familiar with the Lakers' thinking.
The Hornets and Magic are looking for youth and hope for the future if they trade Paul and Howard.
The Clippers could offer more than the Lakers, though the Clippers have not talked to Orlando. Clippers fans can thank Marko Jaric and the Minnesota Timberwolves for giving them incredible leverage in trade talks.
The Clippers hold the Timberwolves' first-round draft pick next June because of a 2005 trade in which they acquired Sam Cassell for Jaric and Lionel Chalmers. The pick they obtained in that trade has been "lottery-protected" for years, but that label is now gone, likely becoming a top-five pick next June because the Timberwolves have been woeful in recent years and are expected to struggle again this season.
The draft is shaping up to be very deep, with one league executive telling The Times, "There are 10 college guys who could step in and play in the NBA right now."
The Lakers are low on future draft promise, holding only their own first-round pick next June, probably in the late 20s.
The Clippers could offer up-and-coming 22-year-old guard Eric Gordon, but the team has declined to include him in any proposals. They could also offer DeAndre Jordan, a 23-year-old center with promise, though they would have to sign the restricted free agent first before trading him.
Center Chris Kaman is also a trade possibility because he has one year and $12.7 million left on his contract, appealing because the deal expires after the season.
The Lakers can offer Bynum and Lamar Odom, which provides hope for the future with the 24-year-old Bynum, though teams are well aware he has played in only 62% of regular-season games the last four seasons because of injuries.
Odom, 32, won the sixth-man-of-the-year award last season.
Pau Gasol is a proven All-Star but has three years and $57 million left on his contract, somewhat heavy numbers for a 31-year-old who struggled in the playoffs last season, averaging 13.1 points and shooting 42%.
Bynum and Odom could provide fairly quick salary-cap relief for a willing team. Bynum is in his last guaranteed season with the Lakers, who hold a team option of $16.1 million next season. Odom is due to make $8.2 million next season but can be bought out for about $2.5 million.
The Lakers got lucky in 2008 when they acquired Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies and went on to win two championships. Can they do it again?
It's easy to remember the charisma Howard showed before the All-Star game at Staples Center last February. He laughed easily in interview sessions before the game and provided comedic moments on the court, launching two three-point attempts. He missed both, of course.
He deflected a question when asked if the Lakers should eventually take a long look at acquiring him before he became a free agent.
"Hopefully [the Magic will] see the Lakers in the Finals, but that's the only thing on my mind," Howard said at the time.
Neither team came close to winning it all last season, the Lakers flaming out in the Western Conference semifinals against Dallas after Orlando lost in the first round to Atlanta.
It remains to be seen if Howard will return to Staples Center soon, on a more permanent basis, but a lot of things stand in the way of it happening.
For starters, the Lakers and Magic need to be talking about it to make it happen.