Both were All-Stars with unbelievable talents who the team attempted to build around. Both led Orlando to the playoffs—in 12 seasons since the 2000-01 season the Magic have made the playoffs nine times—and Howard even led the team to the NBA Finals in 2009.
Both were MVP-worthy players who the fans adored.
Both McGrady and Howard also grew very unhappy in Orlando and demanded trades. Those wishes were granted in both cases, with Howard being dealt to the Lakers in a four-team deal—a move which was made official Friday (h/t Sports Illustrated).
The Magic look to recover just as they did when they dealt McGrady and lost Shaquille O’Neal in free agency before him. Trading away franchise players is never a fun task for any organization, but how have the deals worked out for Orlando?
Magic trade Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines to Rockets for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato
At the time this deal was completed, it was often viewed as a fair trade. In retrospect, Orlando was the clear loser here.
Francis was the centerpiece the Magic received in this swap. In his first game with Orlando, he hit a layup at the buzzer to lead the team past the Milwaukee Bucks. But after 23 games with the Magic, Francis also grew upset because the team dealt Mobley, who Francis had played each of the previous six seasons with.
Francis said at the time (per USA Today):
I can't put it into words. Playing with a guy, living with a guy, just knowing that every day when I wake up that's something I can count on, that I'm going to be in practice or in a game with Cuttino. Him not being here is going to be tough for me. I don't know what I'm going to wake up for.
Mobley was a talented offensive player who was sent to Sacramento with Michael Bradley for the defensive-minded Doug Christie—another failed move.
Francis finished the season averaging 21.3 points per game, a shade under his career high, then was traded to the New York Knicks at next season’s trade deadline for Trevor Ariza and Penny Hardaway’s expiring contract.
Cato was also traded, in February of that second season following the deal, to Detroit for Darko Milicic and Carlos Arroyo.
The Magic got three players for Tracy McGrady—who was named to four more All-Star games in six seasons with Houston—and all were gone within two years. None brought in draft picks or franchise-altering players. The Magic didn’t make the playoffs either season.
Also, Howard would be Houston’s starting power forward over the next three seasons and made a solid addition to the lineup.
Which trade was better?
Magic trade Dwight Howard, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark to Lakers and Jason Richardson to 76ers. Magic receive Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington from Denver, Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless from Philadelphia, Josh McRoberts and Christian Eyenga from the Lakers and a lottery-protected first-round draft pick from the Lakers, 76ers and Nuggets.
The Magic traded away the league’s best center and multiple Defensive Player of the Year award-winner. Howard wanted out, and things were getting ugly. The Magic also relieved themselves of expensive contracts given to Richardson and Duhon.
However, what they got in return is a bit uncertain.
The Magic didn’t land the second- or third-best player in the deal (Andrew Bynum or Andre Iguodala in whatever order you like). They didn’t get an All-Star in return. They didn’t wind up getting Pau Gasol, like some earlier versions of the deal suggested.
They also couldn’t shed Hedo Turkoglu’s awful contract—one that they originally refused to give him when he left after the 2009 NBA Finals trip, before Orlando reacquired him.
They got Arron Afflalo, a nice defender who was also Denver’s second-leading scorer last season with 15.2 points per game. His points per game totals have risen the past few years; but will Orlando be balanced enough for him to succeed, or will he be the key guy who teams focus on, causing him to struggle?
Since the 2001-02 season, Al Harrington has never averaged fewer than 10.5 points per game. He’s another solid scorer who is a good secondary option for a contending team. But it’s hard to imagine the Magic contending this year, and there's speculation he could be moved by the February trade deadline for an expiring contract. He’s 32 years old and has three years left on his deal.
Eyenga is 23 and only played in seven games last year. Harkless is a first-round rookie with a lot of athleticism. Vucevic and McRoberts are average low-post players who will compete in a crowded frontcourt with Glen Davis, Gustavo Ayon, Justin Harper, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn for playing time. Vucevic seems to have more upside than McRoberts.
The first-round draft picks are nice; but will be spread out over the next few years, will most likely be later in the first round and are lottery-protected. For the best center in the league the Magic couldn’t even get unprotected picks?
There is also speculation that the picks could be traded in the future. Without knowing who will be available or what future trade packages they can get for them, the value is really up for debate.
It’s obviously easy to rate the McGrady deal in hindsight, and who knows if any of the young players (mainly Harkless, Afflalo and Eyenga) will blossom into bigger roles than they had with their previous teams.
But with the way the McGrady trade panned out and with the initial reaction towards the Howard deal, it’s apparent that Orlando has struggled in getting fair value in return for their franchise players.