Rob Hennigan has become one of most exciting people in the NBA.
In a world where too often the decision-makers are afraid to make actual decisions, preferring to stand pat for fear of people second-guessing them, Hennigan is being bold and aggressive in Orlando.
Everybody scouts and drafts and does requisite deals with free agents. Not everybody trades—and almost no one trades with the sort of directedness that Hennigan has in his first year on the job.
Hired as the NBA’s youngest general manager at 30, Hennigan has been dominating the widely underutilized roster-adjusting pipeline of trading—which also happens to be one of the most exciting and fun parts of the sports world. And it’s already apparent that he’s not just getting guys back in these deals, he’s getting guys he really wants back in these deals.
Pretty much everyone has come around on the widely panned Dwight Howard trade given all that Nikola Vucevic has shown as flat-out one of the best centers in the NBA already at age 22. It’s more undeniable than ever the wisdom that Hennigan showed in not taking the easy way out and accepting Andrew Bynum in that deal.
Getting back a younger All-Star to replace the outgoing All-Star was the obvious, safe option. Hennigan dared to be different after considering all the red flags sprouting from Bynum’s knees, and it turns out that he knew what kind of dice he was rolling.
Bynum’s self-centered approach wasn’t a good fit for the Magic as they try to rebuild with the sort of motivated, team-spirited attitudes to clean out the residual mold in the house from the “Dwightmare.” But it’s the injury angle—one that the 76ers chose to ignore out of sheer optimism—that is a rare example of when you can declare a trade great without waiting to see everything play out down the road.
Orlando’s sense of Bynum’s risks exceeded that of even the Lakers, who also come out of this looking like they shed Bynum at just the right time. The reality is that if Hennigan wasn’t willing to send Howard to Los Angeles, then the Lakers’ plan was indeed to sign Bynum for the long term to anchor the franchise.
After everyone assumed Hennigan didn’t get enough back for Howard, Orlando’s latest trade to maximize the last chance to get something for free-agent-to-be J.J. Redick has proved pretty immediately profitable.
Tobias Harris first had the guts to ask for Howard’s old No. 12 with the Magic – and now given playing time, he is showing the talent to back up his confidence. In Howard’s homecoming game in Orlando on Tuesday night, Harris went for 17 points and 15 rebounds, blocking three shots and hitting three 3-pointers. He didn’t fit as a small forward in Milwaukee, limited as a perimeter defender, but he’s very well suited as a stretch four—playing power forward with fellow youngster Maurice Harkless a potential perimeter-defense maven at small forward.
Sure, Redick makes sense for Milwaukee, which is trying to make a playoff breakthrough now and also gets the chance to show him something that will get him to re-sign at season’s end. But it would’ve been foolish for the Magic to risk losing Redick for nothing.
Hennigan didn’t just get Harris. He also got another prospect in guard Doron Lamb by doing the same thing that he did when he missed out on Harkless in the draft: going out and trading for the kid instead of being resigned to missing out.
One reason the Howard trade didn’t happen sooner was that Hennigan was waiting for Harkless to become trade-eligible after the draft. While the Lakers were sitting around wondering why the Magic seemed to be wasting time and not actively trying to trade anymore, Hennigan had a distinct plan and timetable.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said the mega-transaction was all orchestrated by Hennigan—with the other parties working as he dictated. Harkless, only 19, has epic upside—and he’s already a defensive weapon that Orlando dared to use to guard Lakers point guard Steve Nash on Tuesday night.
Hennigan also managed to include Denver in the deal after the basics seemed established – and therefore got gritty shooting guard Arron Afflalo from the Nuggets. Having Afflalo set Orlando up to be able to move Redick with no qualms. That’s how general managers are supposed conduct business, with a plan and the daring to execute it one step at a time.
Will the Magic contend for a playoff spot in 2014?
Look at the most uninspired move from Hennigan so far: his sign-and-trade of Ryan Anderson to New Orleans for Gustavo Ayon. Well, Ayon didn’t look that great for the Magic, but then Hennigan turned Ayon into part of the deal to get Harris and Lamb.
Oh, and Hennigan has three extra first-round picks as a result of his deals, too.
No, this isn’t to the truly exciting part of being able to add a superstar to the mix—as might well happen with salary cap room in 2014 for Orlando—but what has happened has been exciting in its own small way.
The era of Dwight and his infamous indecision about staying or going is over.
It’s interesting that the Magic now have in Hennigan someone who can clearly make decisions—and isn’t afraid he’s making mistakes.
Kevin Ding has been a sportswriter covering the NBA and Los Angeles Lakers for OCRegister.com since 1999. His column on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James was judged the No. 1 column of 2011 by the Pro Basketball Writers Association; his column on Jeremy Lin won second place in 2012. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinDing.