The Orlando Magic dealt from a position of weakness when they shipped out a discontented Dwight Howard in a massive four-team trade on August 10, 2012. But less than a year later, they find themselves in the more enviable position than any of the other participants in the deal.
Former Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy recently weighed in on last summer's blockbuster move in an interview with Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports. SVG pointed out that now that Howard has ended up in Houston and none of the other teams in the deal have much to show for their involvement, the Magic are looking pretty good.
Per Tomasson, Van Gundy said:
Certainly, right now, they’ve won the trade. Everything down the road, you don’t know because there’s salary-cap implications for all the teams. For Denver, they lose Andre Iguodala, and you don’t know who they’re going to replace him with. The same thing with L.A., they don’t have cap space. But down the road, they could start getting out of money, and in two years, go out and hit the jackpot. I think the only conclusion could be right now that Orlando got the best of that trade.
It'd be easy to argue that Van Gundy was coming from a biased perspective. But remember, the Magic completely cut his legs out from under him during the original Dwightmare. He was fired three months before the Magic dealt Howard as part of management's misguided attempt to appease its cranky big man.
He's got no reason to praise the Magic, yet SVG has been almost unfailingly professional since his ouster. And, more importantly, he's completely correct in his analysis.
In Philly, the Andrew Bynum experiment never got out of the theoretical phase. The big man didn't play a second for the Sixers, and now that the team is in full-on rebuilding mode, the league's most infamous bowler is a free agent with no chance of coming back.
The Nuggets just watched Andre Iguodala opt out of the final year of his deal in favor of a new four-year agreement with the Golden State Warriors (the very team that bounced them from the first round of the 2013 playoffs).
Denver is now a franchise adrift, lacking the services of George Karl and Masai Ujiri after that duo earned hardware as the league's best coach and executive, respectively, last year.
And if you're at all unclear about the Lakers' current fortunes, here's a quick refresher: Howard is gone, everyone hates Mike D'Antoni, the team is still comically capped out, the 34-year-old Kobe Bryant will never be the same player he was before Achilles surgery, Steve Nash is pushing 40 and there's not a capable role player on the roster.
Other than that, things are great in L.A.
Then, there's the Magic. Armed with a ton of young talent and just a year away from having a remarkably clean payroll sheet, things are looking up in Central Florida.
(As an aside, Orlando is paying Gilbert Arenas more than $22 million next year, and even though his amnestied salary doesn't count against the team's cap figure, its payroll is still north of $80 million in 2013-14. So, the Magic aren't in an enviable salary situation, either. But they will be after next season.)
Orlando's current state of affairs is far from perfect, but it's still easily the most promising of any of the teams that took part in last summer's mega-deal.
Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless, both of whom came over in the trade, each showed signs of being very good players. Vucevic, in particular, appears to be a keeper. He averaged 13.1 points and 11.9 rebounds last season, occasionally erupting for 20-20 performances despite playing in just his second NBA season.
And trading Howard provided the opportunity to collect young talent during a rebuilding effort. In that sense, D12's departure has indirectly led to the team's acquisition of still more valuable assets.
Tobias Harris came over in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks, and all he did in 27 games last year was average 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds. Plus, Howard's absence helped hasten the development of Andrew Nicholson, who could be the perfect high-post complement to Vucevic down low. A look at Nicholson's prolific mid-range shooting shows he's got the ability to function very well alongside a conventional big man.
Orlando's roster is not only young and talented, but it also makes sense strategically.
Finally, by unloading Howard, the Magic had a chance to bottom out. As their young players took their lumps, the losses mounted. And all of those defeats led to a lottery pick, which turned into Victor Oladipo.
In short, there's an awful lot to like about the team the Magic have assembled since dealing Howard.
But there's far less promise for the Sixers, Lakers or Nuggets.
Usually, it takes a few years before it's safe to declare winners/losers in a trade, especially if it's one as complicated and far-reaching as last summer's. But now, just about 11 months removed from the biggest deal of 2012, it's already fairly clear the Orlando Magic are the real victors.