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In the two weeks or so since Dwight Howard became a Laker, I’ve gone back and forth countless times on whether or not I actually like the trade for the Magic.
The most prevalent criticism — and the most valid — is of the draft picks Orlando received in the deal, which are something of a small travesty. They were sent one future first-rounder from each of the other three teams involved in the trade, the Lakers (2017), Sixers (2015), and Nuggets (2014). However, all three picks have lottery protections. There’s no excuse for this whatsoever.
Sure, all three of those teams are expected to be playoff teams for years to come, especially given how well they all made out in this trade. But none of them gave up what the Magic did: an indisputable top five player, one of the few players in the league who is an instant franchise-changer. Was the Magic’s leverage so far gone by early August that they couldn’t even swing unprotected draft picks?
The deal is going to look bad for the Magic if you try to view it under the parameters of the Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony trades in the last 18 months. But viewing Arron Afflalo, the best player the Magic got for Howard, as the “centerpiece” of this trade a la Danilo Gallinari or Eric Gordon is missing the point entirely.
With the Magic’s options as limited as they were, general manager Rob Hennigan’s main goal should have been creating flexibility and not hamstringing the franchise with the type of cap-destroying contracts Otis Smith was famous for. That’s why they made the right move by turning down the offers they were receiving from the Brooklyn Nets.
On an individual basis, outside of Andrew Bynum, Brook Lopez is the best player that was on the table between the handful of offers they received. But in order to make the financial side of the deal work, Lopez would have had to be signed-and-traded to the same four-year, $61 million max contract the Nets eventually gave him when he re-signed. And for a team that’s rebuilding with almost no prospects of being a playoff team in the next several seasons, having a deal like that accomplishes nothing.
As for the aforementioned Bynum, Orlando had little interest in acquiring him for a number of reasons, which makes him nothing more than a footnote in the discussion.
Instead, Orlando was left with Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, and Moe Harlkess.
The latter two are solid prospects the Magic will have on rookie-scale contracts for the next several years.
Harrington’s deal is 50 percent guaranteed in 2014 and 2015 after this season, meaning the Magic can either waive him and only pay half his salary or dangle him in some kind of draft-day deal next season with a team wanting to save money, possibly acquiring more picks or young players in the process.
Afflalo is a complimentary player, best suited to the role he had in Denver, who upgraded to Andre Iguodala. He’s an excellent shooter (47.1 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from three last season) and efficient scorer (True Shooting percentage of 58.4 percent last season) who will likely become the Magic’s primary perimeter option with Ryan Anderson gone. His presence also makes J.J. Redick expendable — yet another method by which Hennigan could acquire more picks. Either that or Afflalo himself could be flipped if he plays well.
The picks the Magic received in the trade leave a lot to be desired, but one of those was never going to be what got them their next star. That role is filled by their own pick in next year’s draft (or the subsequent years after).
Regardless of the complementary pieces they got for Paul, the primary reason the Hornets’ future is looking bright is Anthony Davis. That’s the kind of player the Magic need in order to vault themselves back into the playoff conversation and stay there. It’s in their best interests to tank in the short term and land, say, Nerlens Noel or Shabazz Muhammad in the 2013 NBA Draft or continue to bottom out for a shot at Andrew Wiggins in the 2014 NBA Draft.
As the last three years have shown, the NBA is a superstar’s league now more than ever and unless the Magic get one, they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Getting Lopez for that kind of contract would have kept them squarely in the not-quite-playoffs, not-quite-high-lottery purgatory that no team wants to inhabit.
So did the Magic get a good return on Howard? I don’t know. None of us will know for sure until we see where the picks land and how Harkless and Vucevic develop.
By virtue of not taking on Lopez’ contract, Hennigan saved the Magic from exactly the sort of predicament that got the Magic here in the first place.
Orlando’s leverage was so thoroughly destroyed by Howard’s diva act that any critique of the return they got should be tempered. But there is reason to believe that this deal will not turn out to be the disaster it was reported as in the immediate aftermath. What it does do is bring the Magic closer to the fresh start they so desperately need after this entire ordeal.