January 13, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) and small forward Earl Clark (6) defend against Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Luke Walton (4) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard’s decision affects the Cleveland Cavaliers


January 13, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) and small forward Earl Clark (6) defend against Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Luke Walton (4) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard, regardless of how you think he handled himself in free agency, held up a large part of the NBA’s offseason by taking his time with his decisions. Teams directly involved – namely the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets – had to wait to even attempt to make other moves because of Howard.

The Warriors are the biggest example of that. Due to chasing Howard (as well as Andre Iguodala, who they did sign), the Warriors were linked to moving several players in order to get under the salary cap. Three of those players – center Andrew Bogut, shooting guard Klay Thompson and small forward Harrison Barnes – are players that would be great assets on other teams. And when Dwight chose Houston, the door likely closed on those players being shopped. And for the Cleveland Cavaliers, that was the worst possible outcome, especially when it comes to Barnes and Bogut.

At best, the Cavaliers could have acquired Barnes and filled the small forward spot for the long term. To make that even sweeter, Barnes has been friends with Kyrie Irving for a long time. With the Warriors spending all kinds of money for now, a player like Barnes (who is on the path to earn good money in a few years) is the type of player Golden State would likely have to give up even if a deal included an expiring contract. Granted, the Warriors could have gotten a protected first-round pick in next year’s draft in a deal involving Barnes, but that’s no guarantee. Barnes may not be either, but at least they know what they have in him.

And here’s the thing: Let’s say the Warriors had signed Howard. Would they be that much better off with Howard? Unless last year was a fluke, it’s clear at this point that Howard just isn’t the same player. He’s still a strong presence, but not a franchise-defining talent.

This brings me to Bogut, whose skillset and expiring contract make him arguably the most attractive trade chip the Warriors possess. Say a trade worked out with the Cavaliers. With how the Cavaliers are currently structured, Bogut could serve two purposes. Assuming he came off the bench, Bogut could limit the wear and tear on Anderson Varejao, while also providing Tyler Zeller with a role model as he continues to grow. And if it hadn’t worked out, I’m confident that there would be a market for Bogut’s services around the trade market.

But, again, due to Howard’s decision, these scenarios are all “what ifs” at this point. Unless the Warriors do something else drastic this offseason, they aren’t going to need to move any pieces to avoid paying the salary tax. Players like Bogut and Barnes aren’t going to be moved, and that’s a bad thing for the Cavaliers. Plus, with the Warriors dumping $24 million in salary on the Utah Jazz yesterday, there aren’t any expiring contracts to take on as potential trade chips either.

All of this transpired on the heels of what Howard decided to do. And because of his decision, the Cavaliers missed out on a huge opportunity.

Tags: Cleveland Cavaliers Dwight Howard Golden State Warriors Houston Rockets NBA Free Agency