Dwight Howard to L.A. Lakers Hurts NBA's, Orlando Magic's Credibility

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IAugust 10, 2012

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 13:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic reacts to a missed free-throw during the game against the Miami Heat at Amway Center on March 13, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The Dwightmare has just begun for Orlando.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is the latest Don in L.A.’s version of the Corleone family, and he just whacked his Magic counterpart, neophyte Rob Hennigan, in broad daylight, with witnesses galore, and those opposed helpless to do anything but watch it happen.

The one trade Hennigan could never allow to materialize is the one that will forever hang over him in all its disgrace.

He willingly sent another transcendent center to go play with Kobe Bryant in Hollywood. The difference this time: Orlando decision-makers had a choice and plenty of history to tell them this wasn’t the right one.

While a delirious Laker Nation celebrates, I am left to wonder about the credibility of a league where the ultimate glamour franchise can just waltz into the stalled proceedings without ski masks or firearms, steal Howard and walk away locked into probable dominance instead of handcuffs.

AMC aired Goodfellas last weekend, and the NBA I love so much has never looked more like an organized crime ring.

The association that filled my childhood with precious, timeless memories has never felt more like a sham.

The Lakers didn’t have the best deal on the table, and yet, as if to make Jimmy Conway proud, they took Howard anyway.

ESPN first reported the four-team trade, which will send Howard to L.A. and Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia. Orlando received three first-round picks, multiple second-round selections, Aaron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless. The Lakers even kept Pau Gasol.

The Magic waited many months before pulling the trigger to pull it on this abomination?

The Houston Rockets offered a roster full of talented youngsters on rookie deals, a probable lottery pick acquired from Toronto, their own unprotected 2013 pick and the chance to unload regrettable contracts.

Hennigan settled for madness. He beckoned embarrassment. He stained the first part of his tenure and his franchise forever.

What a sad, sordid day for logic in the world of sports transactions.

Howard will now start alongside Steve Nash, Bryant and Gasol. One could argue the Lakers now boast as many future Hall of Famers as the United States squad favored to win a gold medal in London this weekend.

In what universe does gift wrapping that kind of lineup for L.A. make any sense for an organization already derided and cursed for allowing Shaquille O’Neal to walk into a three-peat with Bryant and Phil Jackson?

L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote this morning, in a triumphant tone, “The Lakers are still the Lakers.” I almost upchucked my breakfast. Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski then Tweeted, Dwight Howard has joined the Los Angeles Lakers." I may never again keep down a meal.

Phoenix management donating Steve Nash to the 16-time champs in exchange for harmless draft picks seemed acceptable, if only because the Suns rewarded their favorite son’s career-long class by keeping him close to his kids.

Howard doesn’t deserve this. He can threaten to test free agency all he wants.

Everyone on the planet knows how this movie will end, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. He will sign a long-term, max extension next summer because no star in his prime ever leaves the Lakers for another suitor.

Orlando misplaced its testicles when it needed them most. Kupchak keeps his in plain sight. First Gasol, now this.

If Hennigan were so determined to shun the Rockets, he would have been better off keeping Howard until next July. Why not let him walk? That was the honest route, the one any reasonable fan could have accepted.

I would have paid to see the best center in the game gobble up the Dallas Mavericks cap space to play alongside a 36-year-old Dirk Nowitzki and a geriatric Shawn Marion.

Instead, those not living in the Lakers’ peerless bubble are resigned to a fate worse than being stuck in an elevator near the equator for three days with no air conditioning and “Call Me Maybe” on loop.

We watched a blatant robbery, and now the powers involved in concocting this heist expect us to shrug.

Not going to happen on my watch.

Kupchak followed the rules in the most masterful way, and that makes this middle finger to the overhauled CBA that much more sickening. Hennigan accepted the worst deal with the biggest shame factor.

If David Stern demoted the Magic tomorrow and designated them as the Lakers’ D-League affiliate instead of the D-Fenders, could anyone argue with him?

Why did Orlando balk at jettisoning Howard to Houston?

The Rockets could not have contended as constructed, and the worst possible outcome was Howard teaming with Nowitzki or shuffling off to his hometown Atlanta Hawks.

Instead, Superman is off to Hollywood to catch lobs from the Black Mamba and two-time MVP Nash, with Metta World Peace still providing grimy defense and Gasol operating in the high and mid posts as a lethal passer and interior scorer.

I can just picture the Buss family and Kupchak walking into an upscale joint—as Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, did with his squeeze and eventual wife—and dropping Benjamins like Kanye West does F-bombs.

How can GM Daryl Morey ever stomach picking up a phone again when he spent years collecting assets, picks and made a series of painful, questionable decisions this summer to fetch Howard and didn’t get him?

What does an executive do when his superior offer becomes an afterthought in the Lakers’ inevitable reign of supremacy?

Why point fingers at Morey for failing to close the deal when L.A. has made fleecing competitors part of its fabric and mission statement?

In July 1968, the Lakers dealt Darrell Imhoff, Archie Clark and Jerry Chambers to Philadelphia to land Wilt Chamberlain. He joined Jerry West and Elgin Baylor to form a devastating trio only the Boston Celtics managed to solve.

When West’s legs gave out in 1974, Gail Goodrich was there to keep the team in the postseason hunt. He wore purple and gold in four NBA Finals. The Lakers did miss the playoffs in 1975, but multiple-time MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar arrived in another lopsided deal.

L.A. recovered from a 1979 conference semifinals sweep at the hands of the Seattle Supersonics by drafting 6’9” point guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson. 

Precocious high school phenom Kobe Bryant was traded to the Lakers before he had played a single minute in the pros. O’Neal's defection from Orlando to Hollywood spawned a dynasty.

Hennigan’s trade allows this nauseating clown show to continue. The Magic is the clown; It’s good to be a Laker.

It’s infuriating all too often to be everyone else.

The Magic’s job was to secure the best possible haul for its six-time All-Star. It will take several years for the front office to reap any significant benefits from this transaction. What Henningan might make happen with his haul is now irrelevant.

There is no such thing as acceptable compensation for Howard. The brain trust could have accomplished the same thing it did today and accumulated as many picks by surrendering D12 as a free agent. This trade, then, is a lie built on a farce.

It should have been the Rockets deal or no deal. Why reroute two elite centers without getting one of them in return?

Why allow the Lakers to act like the Lakers when there were two other, better options?

Memphis Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace procured Marc Gasol and the cap space that became Zach Randolph in the much-maligned and ridiculed 2008 Pau Gasol trade.

The Grizzlies, though, won a single playoff series since that deal. The Lakers appeared in three consecutive NBA Finals.


Maybe Hennigan will save face the way Wallace did, but I don’t want to hear that today.

I kept reading that the Magic would not allow a trade partner to stand behind a bully pulpit and dictate the terms of Howard’s departure. Yet, the Lakers stood tall and tough as the carnivorous vanquishers, while the Magic surrendered and shrunk as the sitting prey.

Hennigan was destined to lose in the debacle, but he didn’t have to lose this way. The fiesta commences in Laker Nation. The cringe fest begins in Orlando.

The latest super team will boost the NBA’s short-term ratings and cause the kind of stir, debate and fervent fandom that makes David Stern giddy.

I don’t feel like celebrating with the commissioner.

The Dwightmare did not end today. As long as the Lakers are still the Lakers, it never will.


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