Why didn’t Dwight Howard and Chris Paul end up playing together?

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Today’s NBA is nothing like the eras of the league that have long since passed. Picture Michael Jordan recruiting Isiah Thomas to join the Bulls, or Larry Bird trying to coerce Magic Johnson into leaving L.A. for the bright lights cold weather and rickety conditions of the ancient Boston Garden. Exactly — it just wasn’t happening.

But nowadays, things have changed significantly. Due to a combination of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, along with the fact that star players tend to have relationships with each other that date back to their pre-teen years, there’s no stigma associated with conspiring to come together to assemble a super-team that will compete at the highest level.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh all assembled in Miami to form the defending champion Heat, and other players around the league wanted to duplicate that successful process. Dwight Howard and Chris Paul were among the superstars trying to align themselves together, but as we’ve seen with Paul ending up with the Clippers and Howard ending up with the Lakers, they were unable to make it happen.

Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports has the story of the reasons why, and on the surface, it seems like neither wanted to be the one to sacrifice more than the other.

Starting in 2009, Howard and Paul began chatting regularly, trying to figure out a way to play together. Howard tried to convince Paul to join him with the Orlando Magic. Paul responded, one source said, with a question: “What will you be giving up?” While Orlando was relatively close to Paul’s hometown of Winston Salem, N.C., and had advanced to the 2009 NBA Finals, Paul preferred Howard join him on the New Orleans Hornets’ roster. When neither Howard nor Paul seemed interested in playing for the other’s team, they considered looking for a common destination.

That common destination was supposed to be Dallas.

Sources close to both players said Howard and Paul settled on the Dallas Mavericks as an ideal destination, knowing owner Mark Cuban had the means to clear salary-cap space for them. The Mavericks explored trades for both players, but didn’t have attractive enough assets to make a deal. And while Howard and Paul could have become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2012 by opting out of their contracts, neither exhibited the patience to make such a plan feasible.

It definitely could have happened; Howard and Paul both had the juice to either force a trade or go to the Mavericks in free agency, and Dallas had the ability to create the cap space to acquire them both.

But ultimately, neither player wanted to play with the other badly enough, or one would have blinked first and acquiesced to the terms of the other. It’s not like they both didn’t get exactly what they wanted — Paul ended up in the large market he desired, playing with a dominant front court finisher in Blake Griffin in Los Angeles. And Howard also ended up in L.A., on a stacked team alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash playing for the Lakers.

With all due respect, those decisions were boring. Seeing the Lakers reload yet again, or a star choose L.A.’s JV team because of the large market opportunities beyond basketball that it may provide just simply isn’t that exciting.

If the two stars had been able to come to an understanding to form a super-team of their own in a place like Dallas, now that would have been something really worth talking about.