Rebuilding a franchise is never easy. But there's something that should be remembered about the term "RE-build," anyway…namely, that to rebuild something, you must first tear down the existing structure. Orlando Magic GM Rob Hennigan took that to heart in what may appear to many to be a perplexing and unfathomable move.
The Magic appear to be on the verge of jettisoning Howard without receiving anything close to a franchise player in return.
Hennigan had the chance to bring aboard Andrew Bynum. He rejected it. He then had the chance to grab Pau Gasol, who, unlike Bynum, is not an expiring contract. He rejected that, too.
Hennigan realizes that for a franchise to go up, it must first go down. The Magic must tank this season in order to move forward. They must obtain a high draft pick and to do that they must compile a horrible regular season record.
As for the Magic...
The Magic are due to acquire Aaron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic, 2012 first round pick Moe Harkless, and three first round picks, with the picks coming from the other three teams involved in this four team blockbuster (Los Angeles Lakers, Denver, and Philadelphia).
What Does It Mean?
With the lack of franchise-altering talent coming in from this potential trade (the league office will be called Friday morning with the news according to Marc Stein of ESPN), the Magic will be moving into full on tank mode and should be quite nearly as bad as the Charlotte Bobcats. For those of you who think that's an overstatement, consider that the Magic's best player is now Hedo Turkoglu.
So, did the Magic really screw themselves?
Only if you think in the short term.
One would be inclined to look at this trade and say "That's not nearly enough for a three-time Defensive Player of the Year who has taken his team to the Finals already." But such thinking would not be taking into account that the draft picks, while coming from teams that did make the playoffs, could potentially spell much more promise than most realize. After all, All-Stars don't come from just lottery picks, and at least one of the mid-round selections could potentially pan out to be an All-Star.
Don't believe me?
Consider the fact that the Magic passed on Danny Granger in 2005 to select Fran Vasquez six picks earlier at number 11 overall. We all know what happened to Fran, or rather, what never did happen. He just signed another contract extension in Europe, while Granger has made an All-Star appearance and just helped the Pacers knock the Magic out of the 2012 Playoffs.
Magic fans have already witnessed these travesties, and now they could finally be on the other end of it with potentially three mid first round picks (or maybe two middle and one late, coming from the now stacked Lakers) in the 2012 Draft.
That's not even taking into account the players that the Magic do receive.
Moe Harkless was a highly touted player coming into this draft. The 6'8" small forward from St. John's drew comparisons to James Posey from NBADraft.net. That's not a bad comparison if you consider the role Posey played throughout his career, even in his later years as a member of the 2008 champion Boston Celtics.
Harkless is an outstanding athlete and can shoot the ball pretty well, and should eventually develop NBA three-point range. He's quick, plays good defense, and has all the tools to be a great small forward. You know what else? He, too, was drafted in the middle of the first round (15th overall). Don't sleep on Harkless.
Vucevic is another mid first round pick, selected 16th overall by the Sixers in 2011. His numbers from last year were uninspiring, until you look at his per-minute production. Per-36, Vucevic averaged 12.5 points and 10.9 rebounds, in addition to swatting away 1.5 shots. He's a big 6'10" body who can stand to add some bulk, but at 21 years of age, that's fine. The Magic have time to wait on a player who could develop into something very special in time.
Lastly, the Magic obtain Aaron Afflalo. This, too, is a very good addition. Afflalo played a solid role for the Nuggets last year and is a true lock down defender. Last year was a career year for the 6'5" shooting guard from Cal, as he posted 15.2 points per game while shooting 47% from the floor and nearly 40% from three. The best part is that he's not old either. Afflalo is just entering his prime at age 26, so if the Magic decide to keep him around, he'll still be at his best after this ugly period of rebuilding is over.
So, yes, there will be those who look at this move and think it is awful. Those same people will be saying "I told you so," all year long as the Magic swirl into the abyss of horrible teams in the Eastern Conference.
But there is a light and the end of this tunnel, and Magic fans will be thankful that Hennigan was smart enough to be far-sighted about this and consider the true future.
Do fans really want to cheer on a .500 team for a decade?
Again: You can't go up without first going down.