Submitted by Max Saindon for Hoops Talk Nation
It’s been over a week since Dwight Howard was sent to the Los Angeles Lakers in about as big a blockbuster trade as one could imagine. That’s been plenty of time to think the deal over, prepare for a lottery-bound season and let all of the Dwightmare emotions out for good. Andre Iguodala is a Nugget, Andrew Bynum is in Philadelphia, and Dwight Howard is wearing purple and gold. How could three teams so vastly improve as the Magic send off the best center of his generation? The Denver Nuggets added one of the best defensive players in today’s NBA to their roster, and they only had to give up Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington to do it. The Philadelphia 76ers have the best center in the Eastern Conference. The Los Angeles Lakers have Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash on one starting lineup. How could the NBA change so dramatically in a span of 24 hours with the Magic not even acquiring an All-Star caliber player?
Because Rob Hennigan is a smart man, and he doesn’t care how much backlash he gets from creating another “super-team” and making two others much better than they were before. He cares about the future.
The Orlando Magic could have Andre Iguodala on their team right now. He’s an NBA All-Star and an Olympic gold medalist, so why not add him to the team? Well, ask yourself this question: Could a core group of Jameer Nelson, Andre Iguodala, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Gustavo Ayon make the playoffs? Probably not in the Eastern Conference that seems to be greatly improving with each and every summer lately. So why didn’t the Magic take Andrew Bynum? He’s the second best center in the league, he would still be in a separate conference from Howard and the Magic could probably still make it into the postseason. Before last season, Bynum was a very talented, yet frequently-injured young center. He had a spectacular 2011-12 season, but that doesn’t guarantee that his knee stays healthy for the rest of his career. He’s also an upcoming free agent, and even though it is thought that he won’t pass up on the benefits of re-signing with the same team, there’s always the possibility that another opportunity arises and he is better off taking less money for more wins. So that’s why Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bynum changed teams, but the Magic acquired neither. So what did the Magic even get out of the trade?
The bad contracts of Chris Duhon and Jason Richardson have been eliminated, both of which were signed by former Magic GM Otis Smith. The Magic acquired Al Harrington, who will most likely be flipped again before the season starts. Arron Afflalo was brought in, and while he’s no star by any means, he will be able to entertain Magic fans next season no matter how rough the games get with his ability to score the ball and defend. Possibly the most intruiging piece the Magic got in the deal was Maurice Harkless, who was drafted 15th overall by the Sixers in last June’s draft. He’s a small forward with a lot of potential that Rob Hennigan had his eyes on before he was taken four picks before Orlando. The Magic were also able to bring in quite a few draft picks that can be used for the next several years. So Hennigan did what he envisioned would be the best possible Dwight Howard deal. He eliminated bad contracts to clear up enough cap space to sign a max free agent in 2014, he collected a wide variety of draft picks, including the Magic’s next year which should end up being a very high lottery selection, and he brought in players who want to be here.
So now I’ve explained why the deal works, and why Bynum and Iguodala went elsewhere, so why didn’t the Magic deal with teams besides Denver, Philadelphia and Los Angeles? Apparently the rumored Houston Rockets offer was nowhere near as good as it sounded, and that was confirmed by the best source of them all: The Rockets general manager himself. The Nets deal never worked out because the Magic didn’t want to be trapped by a Brook Lopez max contract. And perhaps Magic management didn’t want to end up sending Dwight to Brooklyn in the first place. The Hawks were in the mix at one point, but it would have likely cost them Horford and Teague, a duo they likely would have preferred to hold onto. And even then, why send Dwight to a division rival in a win-now kind of situation?
Now here we are, in mid-August, with Dwight Howard no longer a member of the Orlando Magic. Howard spent eight seasons in blue and white after being drafted over Emeka Okafor in the 2004 NBA Draft. He became the first rookie to ever start in 82 games, he led the Magic in a surprising NBA Finals run in 2009, he became the first player in NBA history to win three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards, he led the league in numerous categories for several seasons, he was almost the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2011, he became the youngest player to reach multiple different milestones, he is the Magic’s All-Time career leader in several categories including points and rebounds, he made the Magic one of the most elite teams in the last four seasons, and he is on his way to becoming a Hall of Fame player, but it won’t be with the Magic.
Although it was a relief to see the Dwight situation finally end, it is never a good thing to lose one of the top three players in the world. It is going to be a long journey back to becoming a force in the NBA once again, but like they say, all good things have to come to an end right? If you told me three years ago, with the Magic coming off a five-game series loss to the Lakers on the league’s biggest stage, that the Magic wouldn’t return to the Finals anytime soon and that Dwight Howard would demand a trade to the Nets, but eventually end up being sent to the same Lakers that stopped him short of a ring, I would have been absolutely speechless. It’s a shame that the Magic team that silenced so many critics and continued to win had to fall apart so quickly, and be reduced to nothing in three short years. The team that was just three wins away from becoming World Champions became a lottery-bound team in the span of just three years. It’s the saddest ending you could write to the story of Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, and there’s no changing it. The franchise is in the hands of Rob Hennigan now, and it’s his turn to try and lift the Magic’s first banner. Dwight Howard won’t be a part of that, and we don’t have a clue who will lead the way, so we’ll just have to be patient and wait.
I remember Dwight once telling his fans that he wanted to do what Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway and Tracy McGrady could never accomplish here in Orlando. Dwight became the greatest player to ever wear an Orlando Magic uniform, but he couldn’t accomplish what Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway and Tracy McGrady also failed to do. He never brought Orlando a championship. That’s up to someone else now, and when it happens, that player will probably be regarded as the greatest player in Magic history. Because he did what Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard coudln’t do: Win a championship.