Denton: Assessing Howard Trade One Year Later

By John Denton
August 12, 2013

ORLANDO – The one-year anniversary of the Orlando Magic trading Dwight Howard passed on Saturday with a whimper and was notable only because of the expiration of a massive trade exception attached to the date.

Normally the eclipsing of such a milestone would have caused a few shockwaves, especially considering the kind of superstar player that Howard was for eight seasons in Orlando. But the date passed with a collective yawn because of three reasons: The Magic have moved on from the daily drama and big-top atmosphere that threatened to consume them during Howard’s final season in Orlando, they looked on with ``I-told-you-so’’ glee as Howard toyed with the emotions of the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando’s franchise has already jump-started a multi-pronged recovery plan sans Howard.

Sure, the Magic won just 20 games in the first season A.D. – After Dwight – and they could be in for another season in transition, but because of all of the young and dynamic pieces in place there is tremendous hope in Orlando. And the Magic have GM Rob Hennigan to thank for leading them through the Howard minefield virtually unscathed.

Over the history of time in the NBA, when teams have been forced to trade disgruntled superstar players those squads are usually left patched together with crime-scene tape and butterfly bandages. Forget getting 50 cents on the dollar in those trades; sometimes teams are lucky if they escape with a plug nickel, a head case and a couple of hideous contracts in lopsided deals.

Panned nationally at the time because of its initial lack of evident star power, Orlando’s dealing of Howard and the return haul are looking better every day. Overlooked was Orlando’s unloading of the contracts of Jason Richardson and Chris Duhon, and the monumental avoidance of habitual malingerer, Andrew Bynum.

In Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo, the Magic acquired a rebounder, a defender and a scorer (and three starters for years to come) who help both now in the building process and later in the championship-contending stages.

Add in the heist that Hennigan pulled off at February’s trade deadline – getting scoring sensation Tobias Harris and promising shooter Doron Lamb for J.J. Redick’s expiring contract – and the Magic are teeming with promising pieces.

And the addition of second overall draft pick, Victor Oladipo, and potentially another high draft pick from a 2014 NBA Draft considered to be as deep as any in 11 years, and the Magic could end up with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to talented young players with unlimited futures.

This scenario reminds me of …

(FULL DISCLOSURE: What you are about to read refers to the St. Louis Cardinals, and I am a lifelong fan of the Redbirds. We have three generations of Cardinals fans in my family and hopefully it will someday become four with my daughter. I have pictures of me in Busch Stadium as a baby, later in the arms of former Cardinal Joe Torre when I was a kid and much, much later when I attended the 2011 World Series and the greatest game ever played.) If ever there was proof of there being life after losing a superstar player it’s … wait for it … Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals.

Stop me, Magic fans, if you’ve heard of this scenario unfolding before: Superstar player professes his love for the franchise that drafted and coddled him, believed in him and sent him on his way to a record-setting start to a career. However, that player ultimately gets a glimpse of a bigger market, sees dollar signs and marketing deals and jumps to a glitzier team on the West Coast. Shockingly, however, the move blows up in the player’s face and the spurned franchise comes out on the other side with more promise.

Still basking in the glow of the 2011 World Series title, the Cardinals were seemingly dealt a crippling blow when Albert Pujols defected to the Los Angeles Angles for a staggering 10-year, $250 million contract.

For whatever reason, Pujols’ numbers tailed off drastically in his first season on the West Coast, his team missed the playoffs and in his second year while slumping again he suffered a potential season-ending injury.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals never missed a beat without the superstar slugger, getting to the National League Championship Series in 2012 and having the best record in baseball for much of 2013. They took the money they would have used on Pujols and reinvested in the core of the team (extensions for Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright and Allen Craig) and used the draft pick acquired in the loss of Pujols on future ace pitcher, Michael Wacha.

Howard seemingly had it all in Orlando – national endorsements, three Defensive Player of the Year awards, a team with six straight playoff appearances and a record-setting number of all-star votes – but he still pressed for a trade last summer. First, it was to Brooklyn and then reluctantly it was to Los Angeles in the end. Few actually realize that Howard never wanted to play for the Lakers, and waived his opt-out clause with the Magic during the 2011-12 season only to avoid a potential trade to Los Angeles. To Howard’s credit, he knew full well how combustible the relationship would be with Kobe Bryant.

Last season in L.A. was nightmarish for Howard as he suffered through more plot twists and double-crossings than on a set of a Hollywood production. Injuries piled up, his production tiled off and a reputation built in Orlando as a fun-loving, gregarious superstar was left in tatters. Maybe the basketball world shouldn’t have been so shocked that Howard fled Bryant and L.A. as soon as possible and bolted for Houston in free agency.

Similar to the Cardinals, the Magic have moved on from losing their star player and could emerge for the better in years to come. It’s never a positive to lose a star player in the NBA, but it’s how you respond to that trying situation that means the most. Franchises such as Cleveland (LeBron James), Minnesota (Kevin Garnett), Toronto (Chris Bosh), New Orleans (Chris Paul) and Utah (Deron Williams) are still reeling from losing star players and still stuck in interminable rebuilding phases because they couldn’t get enough in return and couldn’t develop their young assets.

The anniversary of the Howard trade came and went with a whimper last weekend, and maybe the most significant aspect of it all was with how Magic fans barely even acknowledged its passing. For years after Shaquille O’Neal left in 1996, Orlando obsessed over The Big Defector’s every move 3,000 miles away. Accordingly, it took the Magic 12 seasons to win a playoff series without Shaq and finally move on.

There will be no such drought this time around because of the way the Magic and the City of Orlando have handled Howard’s departure. The roster is teeming with talent, management had a well-defined, well-executed plan and Magic fans have moved on. This time around, the fanbase correctly has its focus affixed on the bright future rather than the past. Ultimately, that could make the Magic winners in the blockbuster trade executed 12 months ago.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.





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