It’s finally over. But it shouldn’t be.
Orlando have finally traded Dwight Howard today, sending him to the Lakers in a four team deal that sees them get in return Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington from Denver, Mo Harkless and Nikola Vucevic from Philadelphia, and three protected first round picks from each of the other three teams. In addition to this, the reported deal sees Andrew Bynum go to the Sixers, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, and a few other contracts thrown in that frankly do not matter.
It takes only a moment to understand quite how ridiculously good a Lakers team of Nash, Kobe, anybody, Pau and Dwight should be. It’s a team that has everything, and even if Kobe continues to play the Black Mamba way that means the unit produces at less than its optimum capacity, the lineup is so good that it just shouldn’t matter. The same guy who built the Smush Parker-Chris Mihm team has now built arguably the strongest on-paper team in NBA history, and it’s frankly brilliant. All those teams who had been maneuvering to sign him as a free agent next summer need to now change their plan, for Dwight has no incentive to leave.
Denver, meanwhile, does it again. Just as they previously overpaid to re-sign Nene without ever really wanting to, they have done something similar with Afflalo, re-signing the player to a long term contract without intending to have him long-term. The Nuggets stockpiled players always with an eye to move them on later, as evidenced by the subsequent Wilson Chandler signing, and sought to get younger, more athletic, and better. They’ve done that while also managing to get cheaper; the approximately $45 million outstanding to Afflalo and Harrington dwarfs the $30.6 mil still owed to Iggy. With Ty Lawson about to command eight figures annually, this is not to be overlooked.
Philly remains a confused, ill-fitting question mark, but upgraded their best player, which is never a bad thing. Their offseason hasn’t made a whole lot of sense to date, and the players they did bring in are now even more awkward of a fit with Bynum in play. Then again, they probably never thought this was possible. And while they had to give up their best player, a huge cog of their impressive defense and three decent young assets to do it, they got an elite offensive player at his position, something they haven’t had since Allen Iverson. In downgrading their defense slightly, they should upgrade their offense significantly, a move they simply needed to make. Now, they just need a Lou Williams type. Whoops.
But all of that is secondary. Tertiary, even. This is all about Orlando, and quite what on Earth they have done.
In letting the baby finally have its bottle, the Magic seemingly decided they preferred cap space and draft picks to quality players. That’s acceptable, even when talking about a multi-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner, if you get back enough future assets. But that isn’t close to what happened here. What Orlando has done instead is trade the best center in the NBA and turn down the opportunity to get the second-best, instead settling for non-lottery picks, players with the upside of fringe starters, and not nearly as much cap space as we would like to believe.
The cumbersome salaries of Jason Richardson and Chris Duhon are going out in the deal, to Philadelphia and Los Angeles respectively. However, Afflalo ($7.75 million in 2013-14) is incoming, as is Harrington. And even if Orlando waives Al to take advantage of the 50 percent unguaranteed portion of his contract, that’s still a $3,574,300 chunk of cap space going out to a player you no longer have. Those two combine with the similarly guaranteed portion of Hedo Turkoglu’s salary ($6 million), Jameer Nelson’s ambitious new contract ($8.6 million), the incumbent Glen Davis ($6.4 million), Quentin Richardson ($2,808,600) and the smaller but not insignificant amounts still owed to what now defaults into being the “young core” — Harkless, Vucevic, Gustavo Ayon, and the picks. Even Fran Vasquez will still cost. The idea that Orlando just traded Dwight for cap space is insincere, disingenuous and misleading. It’s more accurate to say they traded him mainly for Afflalo. And that’s impossible to stomach.
This summer, they have lost one of the NBA’s best coaches, declined to re-sign one of the league’s better young power forwards to a competitive price, and declined to trade for a 24-year-old All-Star center. Instead, they got a decent but average shooting guard who stopped playing defense when he got paid, negligible salary savings, and a variety of forgettably average parts with upsides of, oh, I don’t know, the next Zaza Pachulia or something. For some reason they wanted that more than Andrew Bynum. For some reason they even wanted it more than Brook Lopez. Pretensions of following the “Thunder model” are so ridiculously ambitious, and so reliant upon many years of perfect timing, that it’s just not believable.
It’s over, thank God. So that’s something. But it shouldn’t be. Orlando lost a lot of leverage in the Howard struggle, but they surely still had a lot more than this.