It's just about official now: Dwight Howard is heading to Hollywood in a blockbuster, four-team trade.
As the opinions start rolling in, it seems a lot of people think that Orlando is an unqualified loser in this, that rookie GM Rob Hennigan got taken to school in his first big-time trade.
But the Magic were always going to be losers in this deal—that's what happens when the best player at arguably the most valuable position in the league throws a fit and forces his way out of town. For the hand he was dealt, though, I think Hennigan actually made out okay.
Orlando had one goal throughout the whole Howard fiasco—hit the reset button, and hit it hard. Otis Smith had run the franchise into the ground, lumping bad contract after bad contract onto a bloated payroll. Gilbert Arenas, Rashard Lewis, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu were all handed excessive deals, to the point where the Magic had almost no roster flexibility without a very good roster.
With that in mind, Hennigan had three goals (listed in no particular order)—cap flexibility, a boatload of draft picks and finding a franchise guy to replace D12.
The first two were absolutely accomplished in the Howard trade. Jason Richardson, Earl Clark and Chris Duhon are all on their way out (with no substantial contracts on their way in), and Orlando will be getting three first-round picks in return. Sure, the picks are lottery-protected, but why does that really matter in this scenario?
Look at the three teams the Magic will be getting those picks from—the Lakers (third in the West last year, now with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard on board), Nuggets (sixth in the West last year, now with Wilson Chandler back healthy and Andre Iguodala) and 76ers (Eastern Conference semifinalist, now with Andrew Bynum). Do any of those really sound like lottery teams in the near future?
The one thing irking fans is the Magic's failure to pick up any significant talent to fill the Howard-sized void on the roster. On a closer look, though, what could Hennigan have really done? Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Brook Lopez were the three main pieces talked about in potential trades over the past few months, and to me none of them were guys the Magic should've targeted.
Bynum certainly has the talent to be the cornerstone of a franchise and eventually rival Howard as the best center in the league—he probably has a more refined offensive game at this point. But he had shown no willingness to sign an extension, and the last thing a rebuilding team wants is the guy you're trying to rebuild around leaving after one year. There's plenty of reason to doubt Bynum would've signed long-term in Orlando, so why would Hennigan make a one-year rental the centerpiece of a trade?
Gasol is incredibly gifted, but he's now 32 and not getting any younger. The clock is ticking on his prime years, and that's not an ideal situation for the Magic. This team will be in rebuilding mode for a few years to come, and by the time they get all of the pieces in place for a playoff run, Gasol—the guy they built the whole thing around—will be in his mid-30s. He's the sort of piece a contender goes after to get a championship, not one that bad teams put at their foundation.
Lopez is a legitimate, skilled center in an age where legitimate, skilled centers are rare commodities. But he's never been better than an average rebounder and defender, and he comes with serious health concerns. NBA history is littered with seven-footers with bad feet (see Ming, Yao) and there's a possibility Lopez might join that list. He played in just five games last year after breaking two different bones in his right foot. Rebuilding an NBA franchise is a delicate process, and an injury to your (figurative and literal) center could set you back years.
Hennigan accomplished two of his main goals, and he refused to overspend or compromise to accomplish the third. Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless both have the potential to be very solid role players, and Arron Afflalo already is. Orlando will have a few years of sitting in the draft lottery to find their star, and ultimately, this trade will be defined by what Hennigan does with the draft picks now at his disposal.
Magic fans will be frustrated at the lack of talent coming back, and that's understandable. But it's Howard, not Hennigan, who they should direct their anger at—one created the mess, the other is just trying to pick up the pieces.