Magic Spite Themselves to Pretend That Divisions Matter in the NBA

Rob MahoneyNBA Lead WriterAugust 10, 2012

ATLANTA - MAY 10:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic against Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 10, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Orlando Magic's trade return on Dwight Howard has been analyzed in every way possible, but from no angle does a collection of mid-level assets look promising.

Thus, Orlando's rebuild begins with a setback; rather than operating from a clean slate (after ditching the contracts of Hedo Turkoglu or Glen Davis) or picking up compelling assets (like those offered by the Houston Rockets), the Magic will move forward with Arron Afflalo and a pocket full of change.

Things certainly could have gone better for Orlando and considering the delays and deliberation throughout the trade process, they were certainly expected to.

But as is hinted above, that's essentially the Magic's fault. Whether newly hired GM Rob Hennigan, chief executive officer Alex Martins or some other front office party was responsible for the blunder is almost beside the point.

The front office as a collective failed this team's rebuilding efforts with their refusal to accept superior trade packages. Each offer that was reportedly rejected only adds to the basketball public's bewilderment.

The best bit of Orlando's inexplicable judgment yet: according to Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks may have been ruled out as a potential trade partner due to their position within the Magic's division:

[Hawks GM Danny Ferry] approached the Orlando Magic about a trade for Howard in early July but was turned down. He never had the opportunity to share his vision with Howard and try to convince him the dysfunction that Howard (an Atlanta native) was familiar with was a thing of the past. It never even got as far as being in position to convince Howard to sign an extension.

“We had discussions with Orlando about Dwight Howard,” Ferry said. “They were apprehensive to trade him within the division.”

That may seem to hard to fathom. Logically, the Magic should’ve been more concerned about acquiring strong assets for Howard than him playing for another Southeast Division team. But given the dumpster full of unspectacular players, bad contracts and lottery-protected draft picks the Magic ended up with in the four-player trade, maybe it’s not so hard to believe.

There is no construction in the NBA more arbitrary than divisions—a system of separation that seems to exist strictly for convenience's sake. Considering the difficult job that the NBA's schedule makers have as is, playing four games against each opponent in-division may help in orchestrating the complicated travel plans of 30 NBA teams.

But that's no reason to pretend like these divisional relationships really matter for any other reason, particularly among two teams who have played out playoff series against one another without much incident or contempt.

The Hawks and Magic have been introduced, but there's no spiteful chemistry to be found. Rivalry relationships can only occur organically and despite being given several chances to spark a flame, Orlando and Atlanta made for a cold postseason pairing.

Yet for whatever reason, the Magic decided to lend credence to a relatively useless construct and in the process deny themselves a chance to get players like Josh Smith, Al Horford or Jeff Teague.

Atlanta had plenty of pieces that would be worthy of inclusion in a deal for Howard, but faced an uphill battle on the basis of proximity.

Pause for a minute and consider how ridiculous that very idea is; Orlando certainly isn't the first team to be overly concerned with trading a superstar player within their own conference, but if Atlantic Division ties really had anything to do with the Hawks' inability to push a deal through, then the Magic deserve the "haul" of underwhelming assets they received in dealing Howard.

When making a deal as important as this one, teams don't really have the luxury of dictating these kinds of specifics. Yes, it'd be nice if an outgoing superstar could be dealt across the country, but that consideration should come secondary to creating cap space and acquiring high-level assets.

Somehow, Orlando did neither of those things while trading away one of the best players in the league.  If this bit of intel from Ferry (via Schultz) is at all indicative of the Magic's process, one can see how this particular trading failure came to pass.