As time winds down until the Feb. 18 NBA trade deadline, speculation is running rampant over who could potentially be on the move. One of the bigger names on the rumor mill is Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, who’s expected to opt out after the season and could price his way out of H-Town this summer.

According to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, the Boston Celtics recently showed some interest in acquiring the three-time Defensive Player of the Year:

Meanwhile, the Celtics have engaged the Houston Rockets in talks about a possible deal for Dwight Howard, the Daily News has learned. Howard can opt out of his contract this summer, and considering his back and knee issues, it doesn’t make much sense for Boston GM Danny Ainge to use the assets on a player with declining skills and a battered body.

The Vertical’s Chris Mannix said it was actually Houston who initiated the trade talks, but that the conversation between the two teams didn’t last long (via CBS Boston):

“There is validity to the fact that there have been conversations between Houston and Boston. They originated with the Rockets, as sort of a temperature-taking of Danny [Ainge] and what he would give up for Dwight, but the price right now is way too high. From everything I was told, it was a short conversation.”

Mannix added in his own column that a Howard-to-Celtics deal likely won’t happen.

With the Rockets just two games over .500 (27-25) and barely hanging on to the seventh seed in the West, it’d make sense for general manager Daryl Morey to explore every option in an effort to salvage this season. However, ESPN.com’s Calvin Watkins and Marc Stein report Houston has no plans of trading its 30-year-old center.

Still, a potential trade that would send Howard to Beantown could benefit all parties.

Why Boston Should Be Interested

The Celtics have a plethora of young talent, but not many bona fide stars. Point guard Isaiah Thomas was named to his first All-Star team this season, while fellow guards Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart are developing into a fine defensive backcourt tandem. Free-agent additions Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson have been key contributors, while big man Kelly Olynyk is showing some promise.

Additionally, the C’s could have as many as four first-round picks in the 2016 NBA Draft, including a potential top five pick from the Brooklyn Nets. The club also has a slew of prospects waiting in the wings such as R.J. Hunter, James Young, Terry Rozier and Jordan Mickey.

As impressive as all of those stockpiled assets are, very few of them can help the team compete now. Boston holds the fourth-best record in the East and could move up the ranks if they’re willing to cash-in on a big name like Howard. The club was in a similar position in 2007, when Boston turned a package of players and picks into superstar Kevin Garnett.

At the time, KG was 31 years old and just finished his 12th season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Coincidentally, Howard will be 31 in December and is in the midst of his 12th season in the pros. Also, the Wolves’ vice president of basketball operations in 2007 was Kevin McHale, who was a former teammate of Celtics GM Danny Ainge and coached Howard for a little over two seasons in Houston.

On the court, Howard would give Boston the interior scoring option and rim protector head coach Brad Stevens sorely lacks.

The Celtics average 4.3 blocks per game, 23rd in the league. Howard is contributing 1.6 rejections per contest and led the league in that category twice during his career. Boston is also 17th in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage from within six feet of the basket (60 percent), per NBA.com. Howard is holding opponents to 59 percent shooting from that range, which is 1.3 percent worse than their normal clip.

Offensively, Howard is averaging 8.2 touches in the post per game, second-most in the league behind Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (8.4). The Celtics’ four main frontcourt players (Johnson, Jared Sullinger, David Lee, Olynyk) average 10.9 touches. Combined. Howard is also shooting 67.2 percent in the paint, while Johnson and Olynyk are the only Celtics bigs shooting better than 57 percent.

Obviously, there are some concerns with making a move for Howard. First, he’s likely to hit the market at season’s end and there’s no guarantee he’d be willing to re-up in Boston. Second, his injury history is extensive. He missed 41 games last season and another 12 this year. He’s not the dominant force he once was due to chronic back and knee troubles. He also has a reputation for being moody, which started with his exile from Orlando to his lone nightmare season in Los Angeles to his recent inability to control his anger in Houston. If not controlled, Howard’s temperament could be a problem to a young Celtics team.

Still, Boston is in a better position to make a postseason run than Houston is (who saw that coming in October?). That along with the chance to build his value up for what will likely be his last big contract this summer should motivate Howard to do his best. He may not be what he once was, but he’s still a solid center for a team that could use an upgrade inside.

Why Houston Should Be Interested

Even if Morey could somehow pry a “Godfather offer” from Boston, there’s nothing the Celtics could give the Rockets that’ll help them avoid being crushed by Golden State or San Antonio down the road. Houston has 25 losses by themselves this season. The Warriors and Spurs have 12 losses combined. Both of those teams are in a lane of their own right now and no other squad is going to come close.

That’s why Morey would be better off using Howard’s expiring contract to nab some pieces to build around James Harden. Johnson is the kind of defensive ace who could help a unit that’s 26th in efficiency. He’d also fill a hole at power forward, where injuries to Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones and Sam Dekker have limited Houston’s depth. Evan Turner is a versatile veteran who can play and defend multiple positions. Olynyk is the kind of floor-spacing big who’d fit a Rockets team that leads the league in three-point attempts. While unlikely to be moved, Bradley’s skills at both ends of the court would make him a nice complement next to The Beard.

Also, with their first-round pick belonging to Denver if it falls out of the top 14, attempting to nab another selection from Boston as insurance wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

The Deal No. 1: Houston sends C Dwight Howard and PF Terrence Jones to Boston for PF David Lee, C Kelly Olynyk, PF/C Jared Sullinger and the Celtics’ 2016 first-round pick

On the surface, this looks like Boston is giving up a lot for two rental players, but it’s not. In fact, ESPN’s Trade Machine predicts this deal would actually improve the Celtics.

Lee’s $15.5 million contract, which will likely be bought out by Boston or whoever acquires him, is a necessity to match up with Howard’s $22.4 million salary. Houston could buy out Lee, while splitting Jones’s minutes between Olynyk and Sullinger, who wouldn’t have much of a place in Boston with Howard in town. More importantly, moving D12 would allow Houston to give the keys to emerging young center Clint Capela. With Capela patrolling the paint, Sully manning the boards and Olynyk spreading the floor, Houston would have a solid trio of big men to develop.

As for Boston, Howard and Johnson would form a solid defensive tandem, while Dwight would give the Celtics another proven scoring option behind Thomas. Jones, an underrated all-around performer when healthy, would provide quality depth as Johnson’s backup. Also, Jones’s restricted free agency status at season’s end means Boston holds some control over his future while still holding out hope Howard will re-sign.

Boston’s ’16 first-rounder, likely to be in the low-to-mid 20s, wouldn’t be a huge loss as the team has a bunch of other picks to soften the blow. Meanwhile, Houston could start from scratch with a young nucleus that could keep the team competitive.

Deal No. 2: Houston sends C Dwight Howard to Boston for PF David Lee and PG Avery Bradley

This essentially boils down to a Howard-for-Bradley swap, which would be a gamble for Boston unless they keep Dwight past this season.

The Celtics have a logjam in the backcourt. Bradley, Smart and Thomas are all worthy of minutes, while Rozier, Hunter and Young are all waiting for their shot. Bradley is arguably the team’s best perimeter defender, but like Howard, he comes with his share of injury concerns. The Texas product has never played a full 82-game season in his 5.5-pro career, and his departure would open up a spot for the C’s other guards. Additionally, the team gets the star center it covets in Howard without sacrificing any of its depth up front. Howard, Johnson, Sullinger and Olynyk would form a versatile frontcourt that would allow Boston to have all of its bases covered.

In Bradley, Houston gets the backcourt partner for Harden it hoped Ty Lawson would be. Defensively, opponents are shooting 5.3 percent worse from the field and 4.5 percent worse from three with Bradley defending, per NBA.com. Offensively, he’s averaging 14.8 points per game and 35.2 percent from three. He’s not much of a facilitator, but the Rockets could leave the playmaking duties to Harden or move Bradley to the 2 and bring in Lawson. Bradley is also under contract for two more seasons at a little over $8 million annually.

Howard’s uncertain future and health limit his value to potential suitors, but if Houston could turn his expiring contract into at least one building block for the future, it’d be worth it in the long run.

The post While Unlikely, a Dwight Howard Trade to Boston Could Benefit Both Parties appeared first on Today's FastBreak.

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