NBA: Betting effects of potential Dwight Howard trade

Breakups are rarely pretty, and what’s going on in Orlando is no exception. Dwight Howard wants to leave the Magic and everyone knows it. But it hasn’t happened yet. The Magic insist that they want to keep Howard, but that doesn’t seem possible, and they would be incredibly foolish to keep him past the trade deadline and risk losing him for nothing after the season. You can ask the Raptors or the Cavs how that feels.

There is no denying that the whole drama has been a huge distraction for the Magic. They started out an impressive 10-3 this year, but have limped to a 6-7 record since then — and that has been made to look better than it is thanks to a 4-1 run in their last five.

What’s most frustrating from a betting perspective, though, is how inconsistent the team is. At the end of January they lost four straight, with the low point being a 93-67 blowout loss at the hands of the terrible Hornets. Fast forward nine days, though, and they capped a 4-1 stretch with an impressively well-rounded 102-89 win over the Heat. This team has the ability to be very competitive. They just can’t be trusted to be so on any given night. That isn’t going to change until this situation is resolved one way or another.

What makes this drama so interesting from a betting perspective is that Howard is a very popular player. He received more votes than anyone else for the upcoming NBA All-Star Game.

That popularity has a few impacts for bettors.

For one, it draws the public to bet on the team more often than perhaps they should. They haven’t been disastrous, but at 14-12 ATS they aren’t outplaying their record, and they aren’t producing a profit. It also means that whatever team he does land on will experience an immediate and significant boost in popularity. Their futures odds will plummet if they are a legitimate championship contender, and they will draw far more betting action than they likely are now.

As bettors, then, we need to pay attention to this situation just so we can anticipate what the public will do, and how we can profit from that.

So, where is Howard going to wind up? There is no clear answer to that. The rumors are intense and ever-changing.

Officially he has a list of New Jersey, Dallas and the Lakers that he is willing to join. He’s been linked to several teams outside of those three, though, and he has given indications of at least being open to the possibilities. As we have seen before in these cases — like with Deron Williams or Carmelo Anthony last year — what matters most is whether Howard will likely sign with his new team long-term. Teams will be unwilling to gut their team to acquire Howard if they will have nothing to show long-term.

Let’s take a look at the five most likely destinations and the factors involved in the moves:

New Jersey Nets

This has long been perceived as his most likely destination, and it still is.

The impending move to Brooklyn makes them attractive, he values the opportunity to play with Deron Williams, and ownership says they will give him the opportunity to shape the future of the team.

They also have the pieces — Brook Lopez, a draft pick, and so on — to make a deal that works without having to gut their team. All in all it makes sense.

He also wouldn’t have to worry about his role on the team — he’d be the unquestioned star unlike in some other situations.

The biggest factor working against this team right now is that they just aren’t very good, so by joining them Howard would be accepting that he has no chance of a title this year. Still, this is the most likely spot for him.

Dallas Mavericks

Howard says he would like to play in Dallas, but I don’t think it will happen. They have too much to overcome, and their age means that they’ll have to rework what they have soon.

This deal now doesn’t solve their problems, and I expect Mark Cuban to show more patience in crafting this team — just like he showed patience building his title squad.

If Howard is going to end up in Dallas it is far more likely to happen as a free agent.

Los Angeles Lakers

On paper this one makes sense. The last time L.A. acquired the best center in the sport from Orlando to complement Kobe it turned out darned well for them.

There are problems here, though.

For one, they would have to spend a lot to get him, and their depth is already a concern. More significantly, stories are surfacing that Kobe isn’t excited about sharing the spotlight in L.A., so an ego clash could be an issue. Howard may also not be too excited about playing in the shadow of Shaq.

Chicago Bulls

The best point guard in the sport combined with the best center, with nice pieces surrounding them — they’d be all but impossible to beat. Rose and Howard have both indicated they would be open to the pairing, too.

The problem, though, is that the Bulls would have to break up a lot of their core — guys like Noah, Deng, and Gibson — to make the deal happen. That’s a lot of risk when the team is already quite possibly the best team in the conference.

It’s a deal I would make without hesitation, but executives in sports are increasingly risk-averse, so my guess is that it won’t happen. If it did, though, then the futures odds — currently sitting around 5/1 to win the championship — would plummet.

Orlando Magic

More and more I can’t help but feel like logic might persevere here, and Howard will stick around. He’s wildly popular, and the ownership has shown the willingness to build decent teams around him.

If he stays he can be the king of the town, and as he enters his prime he can draw players looking to play with him. Most significantly, the new CBA means that he’d be leaving a lot of money on the table if he signs somewhere other than the Magic.

I still think the Nets are the most likely destination, but the longer we go without something happening, the more likely this becomes. If, that is, the Magic don’t panic out of fear of winding up with nothing.

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