Finally, the Dwightmare is over.
Late Thursday night, ESPN.com reported that the Los Angeles Lakers had acquired Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic in a four-team blockbuster deal also involving the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers.
According to the report, "the Lakers will receive Howard, the Denver Nuggets will acquire Andre Iguodala, the 76ers will receive Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson and the Magic will get Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and one protected future first-round pick from each of the three teams."
The deal is not entirely set in stone, as a source reportedly said "In addition, the Magic will be getting other pieces, including 76ers No. 1 draft pick Moe Harkless." Furthermore, John Hollinger reports that the Lakers may also acquire Chris Duhon and Earl Clark from the Magic.
It is immediately clear that the biggest winner of this blockbuster deal is the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers swapped the second-best center in the league and at least one low-value draft pick for the significantly superior Howard, the clear-cut best big man in the NBA and a dominant low-post defender.
In an instant, they became a favorite to not only compete for but likely win the NBA championship. Lakers fans could not have gotten a better deal.
The Nuggets and 76ers are winners too, though. The Nuggets acquired versatile All-Star Iguodala, upgrading their shooting guard position while actually shedding salary. The 76ers, meanwhile, found a franchise centerpiece while giving youngsters Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner a chance to develop without Iguodala in the way.
Through this trade, three teams got significantly better. The Magic, meanwhile, took an enormous step backward. And for what? A moderate upgrade at shooting guard, an aging journeyman and two unheralded, unproven prospects?
Even with the good but not great draft picks thrown into the deal, it seems immediately clear that the Magic got robbed. Trading Howard was necessary, and there was no way to get equal value back for losing the NBA's best center, but surely there were better offers on the table from teams like the New Jersey Nets (up until recently) and the Houston Rockets.
Having given up a one of a kind player for such a modest package, how could the Magic possibly benefit from freeing their superstar in this fashion?
Well, I'll tell you.
Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan knew his team was going to get worse. That was guaranteed. The only question was, how much worse?
Hennigan could have taken back Brook Lopez and MarShon Brooks from the Nets. He could have restocked with an arsenal of young players that would allow his team to be at least marginally competitive. He could have swapped Howard for Bynum and assets and gotten another season as a low playoff seed. Ditto with Pau Gasol.
But instead, he took a deal that brought his team down to a level that no team save the Charlotte Bobcats has managed to sink to. He chose to be terrible.
He chose to be terrible so that one day soon, just maybe, the Magic could get a player like Dwight Howard again.
By accepting such a blatantly imbalanced trade, Hennigan sacrificed the 2012-13 season for the club. He decided to place his emphasis on acquiring as high of a draft pick as possible after next season and potentially several seasons after that.
He decided to gamble on the chance of acquiring a prospect like Shabazz Muhammad or Nerlen Noels through the draft, rather than one like Brook Lopez through a trade.
He fully embraced the Thunder rebuilding model that he once helped to engineer, accepting a short term of mediocrity in exchange for the chance to rise into a long term of greatness. He resorted to tanking at its most basic level: gut the roster so that the team cannot help but lose. Get the best draft picks possible. And make them count.
Hennigan didn't care for the late first-round picks he could get in a trade with whatever team would wind up with Howard. Instead, he chose to provide his team with the promise of high lottery picks in years to come. Now he must ask the Orlando fanbase to trust its team with drafting well and embarking on a slow but steady rise back to relevance.