If the New York Knicks are about to lose their breath chasing another superstar the way they chased Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James before him, they should at least identify the most sensible blue-chipper to recruit.
Dwight Howard is bigger and better than Chris Paul, and he might be more attainable between now and the trade deadline, too. The Knicks don't have the necessary parts to deal for Paul because they surrendered everything but the Chrysler Building for Anthony, and rightfully so.
Chauncey Billups' expiring contract and a couple of misfit toys won't cut it for the New Orleans Hornets, and the Knicks aren't interested in moving Anthony or Amare Stoudemire for Paul. You know how it goes -- never trade big for small.
Only you do trade big for bigger, and that's where the 6-foot-11 Howard comes in. The Orlando Magic need to deal him. They can't let him walk as a free agent like they let Shaquille O'Neal walk as a free agent in a different life.
So the Knicks should offer Stoudemire or Anthony for Howard and see what Orlando says. If the Knicks can't deliver a credible bid for Paul, they certainly can deliver one for Howard.
Not that such an offer would be made lightly. Stoudemire has embraced New York, played hurt, shown maturity in the locker room, and carried himself about town with dignity and grace. He accepted a challenge LeBron ran away from, and if this generation of Knicks ever wins the franchise's first title since 1973, New Yorkers will always remember Stoudemire as the first to sign up and the first to lead.
Anthony? Jim Dolan didn't go through all that last winter to kiss Melomania goodbye less than a year later. But business is business, just like it was when Anthony told Dolan at the All-Star Game that he couldn't gamble on post-lockout free agency, and that he would accept a trade and his $65 million extension with the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets if the Knicks didn't cough up the extra players required to close the deal with Denver.
Dolan did what he had to do because getting Anthony was good for business then, just like getting Howard would be better for business now.
All along, the notion of a future Knicks Big Three to compete with Miami's Big Three was built around the belief that Stoudemire and Anthony would represent two-thirds of the group. But who said the Knicks' Big Two had to be this Big Two?
Either Howard-Stoudemire or Howard-Anthony would be stronger than Stoudemire-Anthony. If you were courtside in Orlando this past spring, when Howard dropped 30 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks on the Knicks, you would understand why.
Stoudemire is an extra-large man, and yet he looked like Spud Webb when he stood next to Howard and his video-game frame.
That night in Orlando, Howard was asked about the prospect of someday ending up a Knick.
"New York's a beautiful city to visit," he said, "but it's too cold for me."
He was wearing a smile when he said it, but honestly, it didn't sound like he was joking.
Nobody said this would be easy. The Lakers can offer sunny skies and Kobe Bryant to Howard, and Andrew Bynum and a talented friend or two to the Magic. The Nets can offer Deron Williams and a new arena to Howard, and Brook Lopez and two first-rounders to the Magic.
But if the Knicks were willing to ship either Stoudemire or Anthony, especially Anthony, they would put themselves in the game for Howard. And right now, they can't get in the game for Paul.
On the heels of a report from ESPN's Chris Broussard that Paul wants to become a Knick, a report from Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Spears stated that Paul's agent informed New Orleans management his client wants to be FedExed to Madison Square Garden. As the three journalists have a history of getting it right, whatever denials and non-denials are floating out there shouldn't be taken too seriously.
Paul wants to be a Knick, wants to make his famous toast at Anthony's wedding come to be. While one source close to the situation maintained that Paul is "very intrigued by the Clippers" and that the Clippers are serious competitors for the point guard's services, the source also said, "The Knicks are the ones in the driver's seat. Chris is the Knicks' to lose."
But unless Paul is willing to sacrifice tens of millions by signing as a free agent, lose him the Knicks probably will.
So Howard should be New York's primary target. Back in his senior year of high school, I watched him live four times while researching a book, watched him break a full-court press all by himself by dribbling through and around five opponents half his size.
The young Howard told me he thought he could develop into a better player than LeBron James, and I remember thinking that anyone who took Emeka Okafor in the draft ahead of this kid would be positively nuts.
All these years later, the first pick of that 2004 draft remains at the head of his class. Paul and Williams are desirable free-agent-to-be commodities, but they don't measure up to Howard in any literal or figurative way.
So the Knicks should devote their time and energy to a more realistic and profitable trade scenario. Make a play for Howard with one of their Big Two, and then check back on Paul and Williams in July.
Maybe Paul will make it to free agency and actually take a significant pay cut to sign with the Knicks. Maybe Williams will feel abandoned in Brooklyn, and beat Paul on the fast break to the Garden and his own scaled-down contract.
Or maybe the Knicks will swing and miss on both point guards, and take their cap space elsewhere.
In the end, it doesn't matter. Dwight Howard is better than anyone on the Knicks' roster and better than anyone else the Knicks want on their roster. He's the blue-chip recruit they need to chase.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.