We learned Saturday morning that former Orlando Magic big man Dwight Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team trade. This trade is not a smart deal for the Magic and will cripple the franchise for years. The assets Orlando is receiving in return are poor enough that the Magic won't sniff the playoffs for at least another half a decade.
The trade itself breaks down like this, according to NBA.com:
|Orlando Magic||Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga and five future draft picks from L.A., Denver and Philadelphia|
|Los Angeles Lakers||
|Denver Nuggets||Andre Iguodala|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson|
When a superstar is traded, a team is looking to get back three things: talent, draft picks and salary-cap flexibility. A team that just traded a superstar will clearly be looking to rebuild, and these three ingredients are the best way to do that.
Talent is the most basic aspect of a superstar trade. If a team is trading a superstar, they need a player in exchange whom they can market to their fanbase to prove that they are still committed to winning. Without talent coming back, a team can forget about maintaining its fanbase.
Draft picks aid a team in the hunt for a new star. Chances are that any talent acquired in the trade is not another superstar, but rather a stopgap until the organization can acquire a new franchise player. Arguably, the best way to build a team is through high first-round draft picks. Any team is looking for a superstar, and the easiest way to find one is to draft him using a lottery pick. Worst-case scenario, you have a decent player on a cheap contract for four years.
Was this the right move for Orlando?
A team can use salary-cap flexibility as a way to "start over." In order to really get a fresh start, any team with a multitude of bad contracts can ask for a trading partner to accept those contracts along with the star. Common ways to garner salary flexibility include using cap space to absorb a contract or sending expiring contracts to make up the difference and provide flexibility for the following offseason and beyond.
An example of a great trade for a superstar involving all three of these assets is last season's Chris Paul trade.
The Hornets acquired talent in the form of Clippers shooting guard Eric Gordon, a perennial 20-point-per-game scorer and borderline All-Star. New Orleans also obtained draft picks in the form of Minnesota's 2012 first-round unprotected draft pick, which it used this season to acquire Austin Rivers. Lastly, the Hornets achieved cap flexibility in the form of the $14 million expiring contract of Chris Kaman, which allowed them to be financially flexible enough this offseason to re-sign Eric Gordon and add Orlando power forward Ryan Anderson in a sign-and-trade.
This is the ideal trade if you must move your superstar.
In contrast, let's take a look at Orlando's trade:
What talent is Orlando getting back? Arron Afflalo is a guy who is maybe your fourth-best starter at best. He doesn't have much to offer a rebuilding team. Al Harrington puts up a lot of shots, but doesn't really do much else and is over the hill in his NBA career.
In terms of younger players, Nikola Vucevic only played 15 minutes a game in 2011-12, and most of those minutes were due to injuries on the roster. Christian Eyenga played only seven games last season. Josh McRoberts has been a backup big man his whole career. And Moe Harkless is the only player in this trade with any potential at all, but he has been projected as a fringe starter as best.
Orlando didn't receive any talent that will help it win now, or any talent that will help much later. All the Magic seemed to get was other teams' scraps.
At first glance, things don't look too bad. The Magic acquired five total draft picks, including one first-round pick from each team in the trade. However, all three of these teams are playoff teams, so how effective will these draft picks really be?
In the 2008 NBA draft, there were 16 players taken in the first round outside of the lottery. Only five players were consistent starters for their teams. In the late first round of the last five drafts, only one player has been selected as an All-Star, and that was Roy Hibbert, who isn't considered a franchise player.
The point I'm trying to make is that even though the Magic got three draft picks, the picks more likely than not will turn into bench players or players who are out of the league in five years. That is not what a rebuilding team is looking for.
The post-Otis Smith Magic are a team that could have used salary flexibility more than any of these other factors. Poor signings and trades for other bad contracts have marred this team. Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis and Chris Duhon are just a few of the horrendous contracts that they have on their books.
Taking into account the trade, HoopsHype reports the Magic now have about $65.5 million committed to Turkoglu, Afflalo, Harrington and Glen Davis over the next two years. That doesn't even count the new contract for point guard Jameer Nelson. Harrington and Davis' contracts extend for another year after that. Afflalo's goes on for two. The average age of said players? Twenty-nine.
The Magic have a lot of money tied up in old players who really aren't that good. To make things worse, they will be stuck with this mediocre, old team for a while. They will not have the flexibility to bring in a franchise-changing piece through free agency for at least two more seasons. Honestly, Orlando would have just been better off letting Dwight walk in free agency and freeing up salary cap.
The Magic may have finally pulled the trigger and traded Dwight Howard, but they made a mistake. This trade cripples the franchise in the short term because it did not get short-term talent back. Similarly, the deal hurts it in the long run by tying up salary long term.
Even though the Magic just hired a new GM this offseason, this trade could have him out the door faster than anyone could imagine.