This is admittedly unscientific, though observation-based phenomenon I realized earlier this evening. As the Dwight Howard Saga carries on, the consensus opinion seems to be that if Howard refuses to sign a contract extension, the Magic will trade him. The impossible objective then is to try and find equal value, and the inevitable outcome is settling for less. Potentially at great cost. If the Magic trade Howard for other veterans, even an All Star(s), they run the risk of taking on bloated, long-term contracts for players who, if history is any indicator, will not deliver a Championship.
The fact is, if an NBA franchise is going to win a Championship, they're going to do it behind a lottery pick. Or picks.
Don't believe me?
Let's take a look back at the last twenty NBA Champions, in reverse order.
2011: Dallas Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki* 9th overall (drafted by Milwaukee, traded to Dallas on Draft Night)
2010: Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant** 13th overall (Drafted by Charlotte, traded to Los Angeles on Draft Night)
2009: Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe, see above.
2008: Boston Celtics, Paul Pierce 10th overall
2007: San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan 1st overall
2006: Miami Heat, Dwyane Wade, 3rd overall
2005: San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan
2004: Detroit Pistons, Richard Hamilton*** 7th overall
2003: San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan
2002: Los Angeles Lakers
2001: Los Angeles Lakers > Obviously, Shaquille O'Neal was #1 then. But Kobe was #2.
2000: Los Angeles Lakers
1999: San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan and David Robinson, 1st overall
1998: Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan 3rd overall, Scottie Pippen**** 5th overall
1997: Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen
1996: Chicago Bulls, Jordan, Pippen
1995: Houston Rockets, Hakeem Olajuwon, 1st overall
1994: Houston Rockets, Hakeem Olajuwon
1993: Chicago Bulls, Jordan, Pippen
1992: Chicago Bulls, Jordan, Pippen
1991: Chicago Bulls, Jordan, Pippen
That's 20 years, but for good measure, the next five were won by the Pistons (Isiah Thomas, 2nd overall) Los Angeles Lakers (Magic Johnson, 1st overall, James Worthy, 1st overall) and the Boston Celtics (Larry Bird, 6th overall, Kevin McHale, 3rd overall, Robert Parish, 8th overall).
*Dirk Nowitzki was drafted by the Bucks, traded to the Mavericks on Draft Night
** Kobe Bryant was drafted by the Hornets, traded to the Lakers on Draft Night
***Richard Hamilton was drafted by the Washington Wizards and traded after three seasons to the Pistons
****Scottie Pippen was drafted by the Supersonics and traded to the Bulls on Draft Night
So there you have it. In the last 25 years of NBA basketball, the Championship has been won by a team built around a former lottery pick. The lone exception is the 2004 Detroit Pistons who, let's be honest, are the lone exception to a lot of things. Arguably their biggest star was Ben Wallace, a defensive-minded big who was undrafted.
To me, there are two important things to notice from this.
1) A dominant big man is pretty much always in the picture.
The 2000s were basically dominated by two men: Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan. Beyond them, every Championship team had a dominant big man ( 2011 Tyson Chandler, 2010/09 Pau Gasol, 2008 Kevin Garnett, 2004 Ben Wallace).
2) My main point, which is that there's always that Lottery guy, that guy fans pinned their hopes on, often for years. In 25 years (and likely well beyond this) a superstar player has never signed with another team and won a Championship without a hometown guy at the forefront. That guy who may have been drafted years ago, who gave his team and city hope. When Shaq went to Miami, Wade was the guy. When Garnett and Allen went to Boston, Pierce was the guy.
I don't think the Boston Celtics won it in 2008 merely because they held on to Paul Pierce. But I do think having him there for ten years, through some serious trials and tribulations, had a major impact on him, and on the team. I have to think that a guy plays that much harder, is that much hungrier if he's personally invested in a franchise, and a city. And no one is more personally invested than a player who has been there from day one, and chosen to stay.
Sure, the vast majority of lottery picks don't pan out, including #1 picks. But pick any Championship team, and I'll show you a lottery pick who has been there from day one.
I'm banking on the Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant, 2nd overall, Russell Westbrook, 4th overall, James Harden, 6th overall) to run away with the 2012 NBA Championship.
Which is to say, if we trade Dwight Howard, we need to blow it up. There's no one left. No offense to JJ Redick (11th overall). And if history is any indicator, we are not going to trade and sign our way to a Championship. Perhaps Orlando's catastrophically failed bid to sign what would've been the original (and far superior) Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady was an omen from the Sports Gods. Money can't buy love or titles. Not completely.
Championships begin on Draft Night or, really, at the Draft Lottery.