Why Magic's Inability to Obtain a Solid Package Will Keep 12 from the Rafters
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Eight years ago in the "Big Apple," the Orlando Magic selected a lanky, recent high school graduate from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy with the first overall pick, ahead of the likes of Conneticut's Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon.
Despite the bruising Okafor and sharpshooter Gordon coming off a miraculous NCAA championship run with the Huskies, the Magic instilled their confidence in an 18-year-old with a ridiculously raw offensive game, but unmatched athleticism.
This teenager was, of course, Dwight Howard, who would thrive in the NBA from the beginning.
While the UCONN duo would finish higher than him in the Rookie of the Year race, as Okafor would win this early battle, Dwight Howard would go on dominate the war.
The big man out of high school would be named Defensive Player of the Year three times in a row (2009-11), an All-Star six times (2007-12) and the All-NBA First Team center in five consecutive years (2008-12).
Simply put, the center distanced himself from his fellow 2004 draft classmates.
Despite his early success in the Association, Howard would not immediately become a household name. Whether it be from the success of other big man across the league like Yao Ming or the lack of a major market in Orlando, the center was flying under the radar for his first few professional seasons.
Well, this obscurity surrounding Howard abruptly ended in 2008 at the All-Star weekend in New Orleans.
Just a few years ago, the Slam Dunk Contest was actually quite entertaining. The league's brightest young talents would come together and put on a spectacular show.
However, these talents would usually range from energizing guards to long forwards, not big men. Centers were always considered to be grounded players, who thrived off put-back slams and bland dunks.
The events that transpired Saturday night shocked the NBA community.
A near seven-footer showed the grace of Michael Jordan and the power of Shawn Kemp while performing his most impressive slams.
Howard would win the competition in dominating fashion, culminating in a dunk where the big man took of right in front of the free-throw line donning a "Superman" cape.
The Man of Steel was born.
This dunk left everybody in awe. How did a man as large as Orlando's center fly across the paint?
Ladies and gentlemen, Dwight Howard was on top of the world.
The marketing deals started rolling in. He would begin appearing on talk shows. He even had a cameo in the movie Just Wright.
Everybody wanted a piece of the big man, which left Howard desiring more. He was arguably the most popular athlete in the NBA, sans Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Fast-forward two years, Dwight Howard is public-enemy No. 1 in the eyes of the NBA community. The exception is obviously the Los Angeles Lakers, who are rejoicing over their perennial All-Star acquisition.
Nonetheless, Howard has tarnished his legacy, and this once goofy, lovable giant has surpassed "The Chosen One" as the most hated player in the entire league.
This fall from grace was unexpected, but nobody can deny the constant complaining by Dwight Howard struck a chord from NBA fans around the world. Whether it be from desiring a more talented supporting cast to wanting a trade out of the city that drafted him, Howard's whining left many organizations reluctant to trade for him in the first place.
For Orlando, the real question is—will Howard's number ever hang from the rafters?
Howard hasn't helped his case over the past year, but many legends have had bad breakups with a franchise and then had their number retired.
Just look at Shaquille O'Neal's story.
O'Neal left the Los Angeles Lakers on probably the worst terms possible. Not only did he publicly argue with fellow superstar Kobe Bryant, often complaining to the media on his ball-hog tendencies, but the big man out of LSU also feuded with coach Phil Jackson, general manager Mitch Kupchak and the entire Lakers brass.
O'Neal would later be shipped to the Miami Heat for essentially Lamar Odom and Caron Butler, where he would bring one championship to South Beach. This transaction officially ended a dynasty that finished with three championship for the city of Los Angeles.
After the constant arguing and finally the deal that O'Neal out of California, nobody would have expected to ever see Shaq's No. 34 retired by the team.
Nevertheless, 34 is off-limits for current and future Lakers players, as the Los Angeles front office has decided to honor the big man's production.
What changed? Why would the team raise a banner for O'Neal after he ridiculed the organization only eight years ago?
Well, the reason for this phenomenon is simple. The Lakers had immediate success after the deal.
The triumvirate of Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol went on to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy two more times during the post-Shaq era. Due to acquiring Odom's services, and other assets that they would later convert into Pau Gasol, the Lakers had enough talent to compete at the highest level.
The moral of the story is, winning cures everything.
Shaquille O'Neal will have his jersey retired this season. The questions regarding whether Kobe Bryant can win a championship without Shaq have been lifted. Even LeBron James has become loved within more NBA circles now that he finally has a ring, which is hard to believe after the horrendous "Decision."
People tend to forget the past when winning occurs.
Simply put, the Magic will not be winning anytime soon—and—in turn, there is no hope for the city of Orlando to forget the travesty that has been committed by Dwight Howard.
Rob Hennigan and the brass made an inexcusable deal that sends shivers down the backs of Magic fans.
To replace arguably the most dominant player in the game, the Magic acquired the services of Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo from Denver Nuggets (both of which have unfavorable contracts), Nikola Vučević (a seven-foot center with limited potential) and Moe Harkless (a decent rookie small forward) from Philadelphia, three protected first-round picks and two second-round picks.
First of all, Afflalo and Harrington do not help the rebuilding process that the Orlando Magic are "trying" to pursue. This is an obvious attempt to keep the team somewhat competitive, as the team is worried about filling seats in their new arena.
Afflalo's contract is horrendous. In 2011, the marksman signed a massive five year, $43 million extension with the Denver Nuggets. Now that the Magic have the cumbersome deal, the team's future flexibility will be undoubtedly hampered.
Harrington's contract is a bit less egregious, but still the veteran power forward has three years and over $22 million remaining. It makes no sense to invest this much money in an elder statesman whose skills and athleticism are rapidly declining
Well, the second half to the Magic's haul from the blockbuster deal must be better, right? Wrong.
The Magic added Nikola Vučević and Moe Harkless, two young promising players that will almost certainly not compensate for the loss of the best center of the past decade.
Neither of these two prospects have the potential to turn into All-NBA talents, let alone All-Stars. It is not even a sure thing that either of these young men become quality starters in this league.
At least, we received five draft picks. That will usher in the rebuilding phase faster and help right this capsizing ship, correct? Absolutely false.
The first-round picks acquired from Philadelphia (2015) and Los Angeles (2017) are both protected, meaning the Magic can't acquire the pick unless it is high enough in the draft order. In other words, there is no chance these choices will be in the top-five.
The first-round pick sent from Denver is unprotected, but has an unfavorable catch. Due to having two picks, as the franchise added one from New York, the Magic will receive the highest choice between the two in 2014.
The other two selections are in the second-round, and one is a conditional selection. Yikes.
The worst part about this deal, however, is the inability of Hennigan to rid the team of all the horrendous contracts dealt by his predecessor, Otis Smith.
Glen Davis and Hedo Türkoğlu are still on the roster, meaning their cumbersome deals are still present as well.
Sure, the team managed to trade away Chris Duhon and Jason Richardson (both own large contracts), but Türkoğlu and Davis are the two players that would have most benefited the organization if they were off the roster.
In the end, the Orlando Magic failed to obtain a significant package for their former franchise cornerstone, and won't be in contention for any playoff runs in the foreseeable future.
Orlando's anger at Dwight will, in turn, keep festering, and when it comes time to retire Howard's number all the Magic will be thinking about is the miserable years that transpired after his departure.
In my opinion, Howard has the credentials in Orlando to warrant the No. 12 to never be worn again by a Magic player. He led the franchise to a Finals berth, a few deep playoff runs and inspired hope in a city that has lost many stars unjustly.
Nonetheless, his actions should not be condoned, as the team crumbled due to them, but it was Hennigan and the Orlando Magic brass' actions that etched in stone Howard's jersey will never be retired.
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