Shaun Powell wrote a post discussing the Dwight Howard sweepstakes and how the Thunder could potentially fit into the mix. He believes that a trade proposal involving Howard for Russell Westbrook makes sense for all parties involved.
Here is my counterargument:
In no particular order, here are some reasons why:
- The face of the Western Conference is changing. By my observation, there is only one team in the West that has a true inside presence that can elevate them through the playoffs - the Memphis Grizzlies. Tim Duncan is aging, LaMarcus Aldridge is more of a pick and fade center than a power move center, and the Lakers' big men duo doesn't really scare the Thunder anymore. The league overall is turning into a more guard and wing-friendly environment, so the Thunder are already better-equipped to play in today's NBA landscape.
- The Thunder are already the most talented team in the West; they don't have a shortcoming of talent that prevents them from competing against anyone. The only potential shortcoming they have is the collective basketball knowledge on how to deal with a myriad of game situations. The only way they can acquire that is not through trade, but by playing together.
- To be sure, Dwight Howard is a once-a-generation type talent. He is great on both ends of the court, has a mega-watt personality, and is probably one of the best five players in the game. My question is, on an incremental basis, how much additional benefit does he give the Thunder? OKC has already proven that they can be a top 10 rebounding team, which is sufficient. They can play elite late-game defense. They are one of the top three offensive teams. How much higher would Howard push them, and is it a material difference? You have to consider the incremental value added, not the absolute value added.
- For all of Howard's considerable talents, there is one thing that he is not - a late game offensive force (take a look at the Magic's 4th quarter in their big win over the Bulls for evidence). He is still a poor free throw shooter, which makes him an immediate late-game liability. The area where the Thunder struggled most last season was...late game offense. Howard does not help them out in the one area that they need. On top of that, in watching Howard play I really never get the sense that his team feels like, "ok, we're down here at the end of the game but at least we got #12." And if the counter-argument is, "OKC already has Durant, they don't need Howard to play that role," well I ask you then, why trade for him in the first place?
- On the other side of the coin, Westbrook makes end-game deciding plays all the time. For example, against the Suns and in the midst of OKC's big comeback, Westbrook scored nine points in the last six minutes of the game, including two 3-pointers, that kept the Thunder lead at double digits. He does this every single game. In a word, Westbrook is hungry. I would take a hungry and talented All-Star almost any day of the week over an All-Star that is dominant but seems content.
Lastly, the trading of Westbrook would seem to violate the entire concept around which the Thunder franchise is built. If you consider past NBA dynasties, there is always a philosophy that is embedded in the teams' ethos. The philosophy helps carry the team from one iteration to the next. For the Thunder, that philosophy is to build internally, trust in the talent of their youth, foster a growth environment, and then allow the cauldron to simmer. Just like the Celtics' idea of Ubuntu was shattered when they traded Kendrick Perkins, so too the Thunder's philosophy would be shattered if they chased a player like Howard, and once that trust in the philosophy is broken, it cannot be reassembled.
You might counter that the Thunder too broke their covenant in that same trade by swapping the popular Jeff Green for Perkins. I respond by stating that it was very evident at that point that the Thunder with Green and Nenad Krstic in the mix would not be good enough to advance through the playoffs; they were a flawed team. The trading of Green and the addition of Perkins corrected those flaws by making OKC more stout, more accountable, more tough, and also opened up the opportunity for James Harden to emerge. Presti clearly saw that the road that they were on would not reach the Finals then. However, with the current roster mix, there is no indication that a Finals appearance is out of reach. If in three years the Thunder keep losing to teams because of interior weaknesses, then there would be evidence for the need for a change.
But now? No. It is best to stay the course unless it becomes clear that the current course cannot end with a parade.