Submitted by Cory Bernstein of Hoops Talk Nation
Is Rob Hennigan smarter than all of us?
For the last week, the newly anointed General Manager of the Orlando Magic has been grilled by the media for his handling of the Dwight Howard saga, trading him to the Los Angeles Lakers for what appears to be pennies on the dollar. Orlando received a group of players headlined by Arron Afflalo for the All-Star center. Read that again. ARRON AFFLALO was the centerpiece of a trade for DWIGHT HOWARD. Howard is the best center since Shaq, and is an absolute force on both ends of the floor, single-handedly taking a mediocre Orlando team into the playoffs for the past four years. Oh, and the Magic got no immediate cap relief. So to recap, Orlando has no Dwight Howard, but the fifth highest payroll in the NBA. Sounds like a disaster, right?
It may not seem like it, but by not trading for Pau Gasol and instead taking on a group of younger, less talented players will help the Magic in the long run. Had Orlando made a deal to get Gasol or Bynum, they would have been stuck in NBA limbo for the next 4-5 years. Just good enough to be the eight seed in the East or the best of the Lottery bunch, but never even close to being a championship contender. Ditto for the Nets trade offer. Getting Brook Lopez on a max contract, Kris Humphries and Marshon Brooks would have made for a nice team in Orlando, but one not nearly good enough to contend for an NBA title. When evaluating the possible Howard trades solely on how their affect on the Magic’s immediate future, the Gasol or Lopez trades would have been much more beneficial to Orlando. The Magic would remain semi-relevant nationally and their fans may be more interested in the team as they are in and out of the playoffs each season. However, there is no worse fate in the NBA than mediocrity.
Essentially, Rob Hennigan made a trade that allowed his team to become REALLY BAD for the next two years. Like, Bobcats bad. Yeah, they are going to suck next year, and some fans may lose some interest. But, you know what happens when a team sucks? Ping-pong balls! The Magic should be heavy favorites at next year’s lottery, and probably will have a fair shot at winning the lottery in 2014. Even though the Magic did not get any unprotected lottery picks in this trade, by dealing Dwight it allowed their picks to become extremely valuable assets for the next two years, if that makes sense. Had they traded for Gasol, their first round picks for the next two years would have probably been in the 9-15 range, whereas now top-five picks are pretty much assured for the next two years.
Also, the Magic received Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless in this deal, two young big men with starter potential. Between Vucevic, Harkless, Orlando’s first round pick Andrew Nicholson and newly acquired Gustavo Ayon, the Magic can give four young, talented big men tons of minutes with almost no pressure on any of them for the next two seasons. I’m sure not all four will be great, but Ayon showed lots of promise last year with New Orleans (16.71 PER as a rookie) and Vucevic looked well in limited minutes with Philadelphia as well. In addition, Arron Afflalo is by no means comparable to Dwight Howard in terms of talent, but Afflalo a fabulous role player and one of the league’s best wing defenders. For the next season or two, Afflalo will see an offense run through him and should improve as a scorer, and when the high draft picks, say Shabazz Muhammad this year and Kasey Hill next, join the squad Afflalo will become a great third option and a rock at shooting guard.
Moreover, Orlando was harshly criticized for not getting cap relief in the Howard deal, actually increasing their payroll for next season. This is an issue that many have blown way out of proportion. Had Orlando been able to trade Hedo Turkoglu’s comically large contract (nearly twenty-four million dollars are owed over the next two years) that would have been nice. But, having that much cap room would have hurt Orlando. As a non-contender for the next few years, Orlando would have been forced to do massively overpay any free agent, potentially crippling the franchise for years to come. Instead, Turkoglu and Quentin Richardson will come off the books in 2014, giving Orlando the ability to sign a marquee free agent or two solid ones in two years, which just so happens to be the same time two high first round picks will have joined the team. This trade may not have given Orlando immediate cap relief, but immediate cap relief most likely would mean an immediate spending spree on marginal talent, something which would kill the Magic for years to come.
Though it was not optimal, the Dwightmare may have been solved in a relatively peaceful manner for Orlando. They will stink for the next two seasons, but could become a very good team after this rebuilding stretch. Rob Hennigan needs to make smart draft picks and new coach Jacque Vaughn must work hard to develop his young, potentially potent big man rotation. But, with some luck in the Lottery and smart decision-making in the front office, Orlando could expedite its rebuilding process in a similar fashion to the jobs New Orleans and Cleveland did the past two seasons. Rob Hennigan was forced to trade Dwight Howard, Orlando’s new GM may have made a savvy move that will allow the team to bottom out and then rise up the ranks of the league once again.