Last night, the Atlanta Hawks and the Charlotte Hornets agreed in principle to send Dwight Howard to Charlotte in exchange for Miles Plumlee (the one with the good haircut), Marco Belinelli, and the coveted 41st pick in the upcoming draft. (Don't laugh too much; that's where Nikola Jokic went three years ago.)
For the Hawks, this is the signal that a team that has fucked around with the edges of its roster to stay in playoff contention has finally, definitively decided to surrender to the winds and waves of badness, seeking its future not in meager free agent acquisitions, but in the unknown wilds of the draft. There will be suffering, there will be losses, there will be unknowable traumas, even by the not-always-glorious standards set by previous Atlanta squads. But the sage knows that sometimes, the only way out is down.
But why the Hornets? They have been one of the league's most enigmatic squads for a while now, emerging from the honest-to-goodness worst season of all time to fielding teams that are consistent only in their inconsistency. One year, they're an ace defensive squad that can't create any offense. The next, they're a surprise two-way hit that depends on Al Jefferson more than you could feasibly imagine a good team doing. This year, they took a step back, sliding out of the playoff picture while guard Kemba Walker managed his best year in the NBA. The only common element is mystery. And Walker, I guess.
In pursuing Howard, it seems like the Hornets are trying to double down on defense. Coach Steve Clifford was a defensive assistant under Stan Van Gundy during the Orlando Magic's good years with Dwight, a key engineer in that ignoble squad's year-to-year defensive excellence. It stands to reason they believe that, even with Howard in a diminished form, they can recapture some of his magic in Charlotte and haul their squad out of the quantum zone and onto some terra firma they can actually build on.
But let's be honest: there is a deeper truth here, and it has nothing to do with tactics. The truth is, this trade was commanded by an organizational force way beyond Steve Clifford or general manager Rich Cho.
The fact of the matter is that this is the doing of Michael. Jeffrey. Jordan.
You might recall that before he was the owner of the Hornets and a famous bit of Internet ephemera, Michael Jordan was the most ruthlessly competitive basketball player the world had ever seen. During (and after!) his time at the forefront of the NBA world, he punched Steve Kerr in the face during practice, ragged on a random old guy in his Hall of Fame Speech, called his team's three centers "21 feet of shit," bought Charles Barkley a diamond ring to fuck with him, pretended that LaBradfod Smith shit-talked him just to work himself into a revenge-minded froth, and talked trash so much that him NOT talking trash was also, in its way, talking trash.
He fed on the negative feelings of everyone, feasted on them, used them to power his hateful engines and destroy anyone who stood in his path. His superpower, more than his alarming athleticism, or his preternatural lack of fear, or his inexhaustible work ethic, was his ability to spin hate. Be it from his opponents, his teammates, his GM, opposing crowds, randos on the street, HIMSELF, he turned it all into pure electric gold, a never-ending river of victory and power and life that decimated everything in its path for a decade and made him an insanely wealthy and powerful human being.
The fact of the matter is, beyond any basketball reason, Michael Jordan has brought Dwight Howard into his immediate orbit because he represents the ultimate fuel for his smog-spewing unstoppable hate machine. I mean, look at this tweet from five minutes before word leaked that Dwight got traded:
Howard is the kind of dude who goes online and asks everyone "2B nice" to him. He's made of softer stuff than you or me. I'm not going to do the kind of wholesale Dwight trashing everyone enjoys; he's definitely on the down slope, but he's still a good rebounder and if anyone can rediscover his defensive utility, it is Clifford. But Howard also is as big a baby as he's ever been.
Dwight fusses about his role to anyone who will listen, insists on hideous post touches (and mopes if he doesn't get them), HATES playing with guards who might be better than he is, and complains to the refs non-stop. He's the paragon of the modern DrakeMan, texting his neurosis to the first ten ladies in his phone every night, and here he is at the low point of his career, traded away from his damn hometown team, talking about trying to get into three-point shooting. And now his self-worth is going to be nestled into the hands of true Sports Lich, a human beast who transmutes bad feelings to remain in human form. This will be like watching Howard walk into feelings traffic.
Through the providence of salary cap luck (or Satan, who really knows) an aging Jordan has found the ultimate totem of the devourable teammate, an advanced form of 18-year-old Kwame Brown, the walking pit of uncontrollable need he has looked for his whole life, the perfect black hole of dark psychic energy who can give MJ another ten years of life in a week's time. Don't be surprised if, when he's done with Dwight—left him shaking and muttering somewhere outside Raleigh, begging for ANYONE who can reintroduce him to the touch of human love—Jordan draws so much venom from this vein that he decides that it's time for another comeback in which he manages to score 20 points per game on 45 percent shooting for a 31-51 Hornets Squad in 2020. If anyone can feed the demon engine one more time, it's Dwight.