THE TRADE REQUEST: It shocked some; it annoyed many and it generated uninvited adversity. Immediately after the lockout ended, Dwight Howard openly requested a trade out of Orlando. He advised the Magic to deal him to a team on a very short three-team list, including the Nets, Mavericks and Lakers. Rather than abide by his preference, however, the Magic decided to keep Howard for the time being and evaluate the situation closer to the trade deadline.
OPTING IN: Aside from one difficult stretch in late January, the Magic were generally playing well and gradually the mood around Dwight Howard altered a bit. As some expected, Howard’s frustration and craving to be traded softened up. Around the deadline, Orlando won several straight, including a memorable triumph over rival Miami and instead of insisting he still be traded, D12 decided to opt in to the final year of his contract. It was assumed at that point that perhaps Howard changed his mind and wanted to stay in Orlando long term.
THE BACK INJURY: While it didn’t initially seem serious, an unforeseen back problem began to plague Dwight Howard. After missing a few games, D12 returned but struggled to stand on his feet. During this time, controversy was restored when tension brewed between the All-Star center and head coach Stan Van Gundy after a rather peculiar interview. Just a couple weeks later, it was announced that Dwight would need back surgery and miss the remainder of the season.
DETERMINED FINISH: Though Dwight Howard was absent, the Magic played with a ton of spirit and confidence. Behind extraordinary performances from Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson, Orlando still managed to land in the playoffs and though it lost in five games in the First Round to Indiana, it raised optimism for the future.
TIME FOR FRESH START: Change was undeniably needed in Orlando. With the expectation that Howard would eventually be traded and following two straight First Round playoff exits, the Magic decided to relieve Stan Van Gundy of his coaching duties and also parted ways with general manager Otis Smith.
NEW ERA BEGINS: After two extensive searches, the Magic found two young, but promising and strong-willed, candidates to reform basketball operations. Following successful stints in San Antonio and Oklahoma City, two of the most admired franchises in the NBA today, Rob Hennigan was named the new GM. And another former Spur, Jacque Vaughn, who won an NBA championship as a player with San Antonio in 2007, was hired as the team’s head coach.
THE TRADE: It was a trade that initially raised eyebrows and disapproval from critics. After months of drama, the Magic finally traded Dwight Howard in a blockbuster four-team deal. Orlando received Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Josh McRoberts, future draft picks, a massive trade exception and financial flexibility and freedom. Howard, along with Earl Clark and Chris Duhon, went to the Lakers, while Andrew Bynum was sent to the Sixers and Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets.
EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS: In spite of being projected to finish with one of the worst records in the NBA this season, the Magic defied all the cynics in the first two months. With several impressive victories, including an unforgettable 3-2 West Coast trip in early December, the Magic have been praised across the league. Unfortunately, a recent Glen Davis shoulder injury hindered Orlando’s rapid rise. But, with many of the youngsters such as Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson playing extremely well, the Magic remain a playoff contender this season.