Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dwight Howard and the Art of Negotiating

Sports have given us a lot.  Positive and negative role models, hours of entertainment, schadenfreude, the list goes on and on.  For anyone teaching a class on negotiation, they're a godsend of easily accessible examples.  Dwight Howard, in his weekly quest for a new trading partner this year, has become a one man factory of such examples, and particularly of showing how to negotiate in the context of other known bidders.  And to not only start a sentence with a conjunction, but also to rip off an old country singer, let me point out one of the most important things to remember in any negotiation:

"Know when to walk away, and know when to run."

In any negotiation you need to know when you are getting hosed, and that you hurt yourself more in taking a deal than you do in just walking from the table and trying your luck elsewhere (in court, the open market, with the team roster you already have, etc).  Sometimes you can actually back another party off of unreasonable demands simply by turning your back on them.  "We'll just have to settle this in court" can sometimes lead to that 11th hour phone call that is willing to accept an earlier, better offer of yours.  "No thanks, that's too much" might result in the counterfeiter working in the basement of a Chinese convention center grabbing you and telling you that yes, actually, they WILL accept your offer of $5 for that new pair of Air Fordans.  Other times it may mean that Dwight Howard is not coming to Chicago, and while that isn't as exciting as "ZOMG!  DWIGHT HOWARD IS COMING TO CHICAGO!" it can also be a very good thing.

Now, I have been one of the people hoping that Dwight comes here.  Lots of sports writers that know and get paid more than I do have weighed in on why it would be good for Dwight and the Bulls, and lots of sports writers that know LESS than I do but still get paid more have speculated on the details of how such a trade might go down.  This is where we enter territory of WHY?  WHY IN THE EVER LOVING NAME OF GOD OR C'THULHU BOTH WOULD I DO THAT?!

For instance, I have seen trade scenarios for the Chicago Bulls giving up Noah, Taj, Butler, Deng AND draft picks in order to get Dwight Howard, who is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) this summer and can pack his bags and leave.  Even in a sign and trade where Dwight executes the extension in his current contract we'd only be sure of getting him through 2013.  So let's see, we trade away our young core and upcoming talent to rent a guy that has thrown his teammates under a bus all season?  A guy that, while the most dominating center in the league right now, only gets that title because the league is bereft of good centers?*  

Then you've got some guy on ESPN outlining the trade that could send Dwight Howard to Golden State.  I will say this, I don't know what the trade he outlined is, there I professed my ignorance.  The reason is because my brain was too busy spit-taking cerebral fluid out of my eyeballs, and I just changed the channel.  There is no scenario where Dwight Howard stays in Golden State past July 2012.  The fact it took him half a season to put Chicago on his list, but the Nets were on there from the start, shows that he is as much or more about location and market exposure than he is about winning championships.  Golden State is an also ran.  Sorry 'Ciscoans, but the Lakers will always eclipse you, and right now the Clippers do too.  You are in a life and death struggle with the Kings for 3rd most important team in your state, nevermind the rest of the country.  I'm not saying that you'll never be good, but Dwight Howard ain't staying there.  He wants to be in L.A., or NYC.  He can be convinced to go to Dallas.  He's barely considering Chicago.  If Howard gets traded to Golden State you can clock his time there with an egg timer.  And in the meantime, Orlando will demand that Golden State gut itself of what little talent it has.  Orlando doesn't just want picks, they want stars to come in and sell tickets that they would otherwise lose with Dwight gone.  So while I didn't actually watch the suggested trade, I can't see it happening without moving Monta Ellis, who still has two years left on his contract, compared to the 5 months they'd be getting out of Howard.

Either of those trades are terrible for the Bulls or the Warriors.  So you walk away.  Orlando can scream to the night sky all it wants about the unfairness of its situation, and how you can't expect them to give up a player like Dwight Howard for just some draft picks or maybe the #2 star on your team.  They want matching value or close to it.  People in hell want ice water.  

All of Orlando's leverage here is based on the fact that multiple teams want Howard.  Howard's gone in July.  If Orlando doesn't trade him for something, they lose him and get nothing.  Thing is, most teams know that.  Mark Cuban is already preparing to dump salaries like Pat Riley did two years ago to get LeBron and Bosh in the hopes that he can similarly get DWill and Dwight in Dallas.  If Dwight doens't get traded, he's the biggest name in free agency and can go where he wants, get paid what he wants, or both.  So you can wait out the trade season and get him without giving up anything.  

Unless, unless, someone swoops in between now and the end of February with a deal that sends Howard to them.  Thing is, Howard can STILL walk in July on that team, only now it loses not only Howard, but the pieces it traded to get him.  The only situation in which that makes sense is if you think Dwight gives you the chance at a title run (see Bulls, Lakers) and/or you think you can convince Dwight to re-up with you in the offseason (see title run, heavy market exposure in NYC/L.A.)  New Jersey can't make at title run post-trade with Howard (because they can't make a playoff run without him).  Maybe Dallas, maybe the Lakers (I don't see what Howard/Kobe gives them that Bynum/Gasol/Kobe don't, but whatever, I'll give them benefit of the doubt).  Definitely the Bulls, provided they don't trade away half their damn team in the process.

OR, Dwight and Orlando execute a sign and trade, giving you Dwight through 2013.  It gives you more time to build your case to keep Dwight.  You get to play out this season, and build around him more next season if you don't win it all now.

So this possibility of a sign and trade is the only thing that will keep Dwight from coming available in July.  If you really want Dwight, and you know another team is willing to give up assets to make a sign and trade, then you need to outbid them.  Orlando's leverage here is not based on Dwight's worth.  It's based solely on the fact that there is competition.  That being the case, every team needs to watch bidding more than it can bear to pay.  It's not a real negotiation, it's an auction.  But Orlando will want to walk into any negotiating room and demand more than objectively the deal is worth.  If no one else was interested in Dwight, the Bulls could tell them "hey, we'll give you Noah and a draft pick."  Orlando could say no to that deal.  Then Howard walks in July.  If Orlando doesn't make a trade, they lose Dwight and get nothing for next year.  If the Bulls don't make a trade, they continue compiling the best record in the East.  And that's the key here.  Maybe the Lakers have nothing to lose in shipping Bynum over for Dwight.  The Bulls though, have the best record in the league.  They have problems and concerns, but they are winning.  They are favorites to reach the Eastern Finals this year and next.  They can easily get the raw end of any deal, because they don't need to make any deal.  Knowledge of that gives them the greatest power in any negotiation:  the power to just say no.

*Seriously, when Bynum is starting in the All-Star game I give up on the 5 spot.  I started watching basketball when Ewing, Olajuwon, and Robinson were still playing and Shaq was the up and coming rookie.  Olajuwon and Shaq battle it out with most sports writers to round out the top 5 centers of all time, but Ewing and Robinson would take Dwight's lunch money and hang him by his underwear in a locker.  Then you still had Alonzo Mourning out there playing solid, Dikembe Motumbo getting just as many blocks as Howard, and Vlade Divac not embarassing himself in L.A.  Okay, maybe that last part is debatable, but did he embarass himself any more than Bynum did last year in the playoffs?

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