One year after trading franchise center Brook Lopez, Nets general manager Sean Marks has pulled off another major deal for a big man, acquiring center Dwight Howard from Charlotte for center Timofey Mozgov, the No. 45 pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft and the Nets’ second-round pick in 2021. The news first was reported by ESPN and was confirmed by Newsday through an NBA source.
The deal won’t become official until July 6 when the free- agent signing moratorium ends, so the Nets can’t discuss it until then. The Nets still have the 29th overall selection in the first round and the 40th overall pick in the second round.
It was a remarkable move by Marks to be able to unload the final two years of Mozgov’s contract valued at $32.7 million. The move saves $17 million for the Nets in 2019-20 and allows them to create enough salary- cap room for two max slots next summer.
New Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak, who signed Mozgov to his original four-year, $64- million deal with the Lakers, was a willing trade partner because Howard reportedly was a negative presence in the Hornets’ locker room. Moving the final year of his contract worth $23.8 million puts Charlotte well under the luxury tax.
The 14-year veteran averaged 16.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for the Hornets last season. Howard is a traditional low-post center who lacks a three-point shot to spread the floor as coach Kenny Atkinson prefers, but he’s a formidable presence in the paint. He may reduce playing time for Jarrett Allen, who started at center the second half of last season as a rookie.
The Nets are the sixth team in eight seasons for Howard, which is a sign he can be difficult to handle. But Mozgov publicly expressed his unhappiness with Atkinson and the Nets organization in a recent blog post. Mozgov started the first 13 games last season and then saw action in only 18 more contests the remainder of the season.
Howard was a dominant presence in three games against the Nets last season, averaging 22.0 points and 20.1 rebounds, including a 32-point, 30-rebound effort in their final meeting. He is an eight-time All-Star and five-team All-NBA first-team selection. Drafted No. 1 overall by Orlando in 2004, he led the Magic to the playoffs from 2007-11, including a Finals appearance in 2009.
Most likely, Howard will be a one-year rental for the Nets, but he gives them size and physicality they admittedly lacked last season and might be looking to add in the draft, especially if a stretch power forward is available.
Speaking about draft priorities when the season ended, Marks said, “Let’s be strategic in how we build across the board one through five, adding length, adding size, physicality to help on the defensive end specifically . . . We’re not missing one piece. It’d be a mistake if we said we only need a four or we only need a point guard. We’ve got to stay flexible and strategic in how we view our roster.”
Two power forwards with three-point shooting range who might be available at the 29th pick are Michigan’s Moritz Wagner and Villanova’s Omari Spellman, who faced each other in the national championship game. An under-the-radar prospect is 7-foot center Mitchell Robinson, a McDonald’s and Jordan Brand All-American who enrolled at Western Kentucky and then dropped out to focus on preparing for the draft.
If the Nets decide to go for a wing player who also can defend multiple positions, Georgia Tech’s Josh Okogie could be a prime target. Not only is he a volume scorer who gets to the foul line, but he’s an elite defender who had the highest vertical at the draft combine.