By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
WATCH: NBA Labor Battle Part 2: How the lockout impacts the Celtics
If you love the NBA, your heart is in some serious pain right about now.
The league owners and players union are gearing up for what looks like the NBA version of Armageddon, with neither side showing any signs of backing down soon.
TNT analyst and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley wasn't off his rocker -- not this time, at least -- when he talked about the possibility that the NBA might miss the entire 2011-2012 season.
It seems unfathomable to most of us that a league that's at its apex in popularity and growth, would allow a work stoppage at such a critical time in the game's development globally.
But the owners seem hell-bent on changing the economic model used by the league, and the players are digging their heels in for what is expected to be a long and tumultuous fight between owners and the player's union which wants to keep as much of what they've had in the last couple collective bargaining agreements.
The idea of there not being any NBA basketball in 2011-2012, in a word, sucks.
However, as bad as that may seem, there's the potential for things to brighten up quickly for the Celtics.
And it can be summed up in two words - Dwight Howard.
For weeks, I have not wavered from my belief that Howard will never wear the Green and White, at least not in these prime years of his career.
And the reason is simple.
If the Orlando Magic can't re-sign him at some point during the 2011-2012 season, they will surely trade him to the highest bidder.
And the Celtics don't have enough attractive chips to be a real player in the Howard sweepstakes.
But if there's no 2011-2012 season, that is what we would call a game-changer in the pursuit of Howard.
He could terminate his contract and thus become a free agent next summer.
This would rob the Magic of having an opportunity to move him and get something in return this upcoming season. They could still do that if Howard were to agree to be moved via sign-and-trade next summer. But if he's interested in joining the C's, it's highly unlikely that the Celtics will have enough pieces that they would be willing to part with, or that the Magic would be interested in having.
Once a free agent, it would then be up to Howard to pick the team that he feels will 1) give him the max-salary contract that he deserves and 2) can give him the best chance at winning a championship.
With Kevin Garnett likely retiring after the '11-12 season, the void in the C's frontcourt for a veteran defensive presence is obvious.
And when you look around the NBA, there's no player that dominates the interior better than Howard.
When you combine that ability defensively with a franchise that has placed a high premium on great play defensively, he would give the C's the kind of presence defensively that, as we have seen, is essential to winning a championship.
And then there's point guard Rajon Rondo, who spent most of this past season as the top assist man in the NBA.
Well aware that this Celtics team will be his sooner rather than later, the C's have gone about assembling the kind of frontcourt players (Jeff Green, first-round pick JaJuan Johnson) who can best take advantage of Rondo's strengths - running the floor and finding teammates in position to score.
Of course, this is all pie-in-the-sky, best-case-scenario type stuff that hinges on there not being an NBA season.
And that is something that nobody wants to see.
But if the players and the owners can't come to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in time to salvage the 2011-2012 season, adding Dwight Howard is not a bad consolation prize for the Celtics.