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Revisiting the Dwight Howard Trade

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My four-year old and I were browsing YouTube, and stumbled upon a previous favorite video of his:

This led me to two thoughts:

  1. Anne Hathaway is perfect in every sense.
  2. I wonder in which light my son views that video now, compared to two years ago when he’d watch the unwrapping of a Snuffleupagus on repeat.

(Seriously, watch. I won’t judge.)

That second part had me think of Dwight Howard – though I’m not sure how watching Big Bird led to that – and the trade that sent him off to Los Angeles. More specifically, I thought about Orlando’s situation back then, compared to now, and how they managed to survive the loss of a superstar, which, in case you forgot, Howard most certainly was at the time.

So let’s look at the four-teamer that also involved Denver and Philadelphia:

D12Trade

Let’s begin with Denver. They gave up a 2014 first-rounder that Orlando later packaged with their 12th pick to land Elfrid Payton via.. Philly, ironically. In the process, they gave up a competent two-guard, and all they got out of it was this lousy t-shirt a one-year rental of Andre Iguodala. To be fair, Iggy gave them one hell of a year, which somewhat warranted giving up future pieces at the time. But the wind changed quickly, and now Denver is looking back sighing at that 2014 first-rounder that they could have sorely used these days.

Next up, the depressing Philadelphia 76ers. They actually made a pretty good deal when you consider context. Andrew Bynum was widely considered the second-best center in the league, had just made his first All-Star game and averaged a career-high 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds a night for the Lakers. At 24, Bynum was viewed as a guy just entering his prime, which made the sacrifice of Iguodala and promising youngsters Nikola Vucevic and Maurice Harkless worth it. Or so it appeared. Bynum never played a game for Philly, having blown out his knee. He would appear in just 26 games following the trade, and hasn’t set foot in the NBA for almost two years. But hey, at least, Philly got 52 games out of Jason Richardson…

The Lakers are up, and despite the nightmare of Dwight Howard’s lone season in Hollywood, they actually fared quite well. With Bynum’s knee injuries looming, the Lakers, at least, maximized his trading value. They ended up giving away Josh McRoberts and Christian Eyenga virtually for free, but given that Howard was an annual MVP-candidate, this didn’t matter. What did matter, however, was the following season in which Howard just didn’t fit in. The Lakers gambled everything on a core consisting of Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol, but they barely made the playoffs, winning nine of their last eleven games to make the cut. The assumed dominance never happened, and Howard left the Lakers as an unrestricted free agent to team up with James Harden in Houston. In many ways, it seemed as though the Lakers had merely prolonged the inevitable for a season in regards to their center position. They’re currently rebuilding while going through the final season with Kobe Bryant, but the Dwightmare left them in the red for a long time, given the loss in raw talent.

Finally, Orlando.

Contrary to popular beliefs, Orlando didn’t suffer all that badly from losing a superstar. Sure, they’ve yet to make the playoffs since, but this was expected. What’s interesting about this group is the way they decided to build everything up post-Howard. Arron Afflalo turned into Evan Fournier, who is just 23 and already one of the better high-volume three-point shooters in the NBA. Nikola Vucevic has developed into a Top 10 center, and the picks were used in a package for Elfrid Payton. In the meantime, their struggles landed them Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, and Mario Hezonja. They made a deal with Milwaukee for then-20-year-old Tobias Harris, sending away J.J. Redick.

The Magic are currently 18-13 and in 7th place in the Eastern Conference. They’re in a dogfight with Boston, Miami, Charlotte, Detroit, Indiana, Toronto, and Chicago, and could move as far up as the third seed by just stringing together a few wins. But even if they’re the ones falling out of the playoff picture come April, their youth and potential remain awfully exciting. Of their core, only Vucevic is over the age of 25 – and he’s just a few months into that – and with promising young players at virtually every position, Orlando has put themselves in a situation where every aspect of their future starting line-up can in some way be expected to improve.

So what’s my point? That you can easily trade superstars? Not really. But I am saying there’s merit in thinking ahead. Orlando understood the piss-poor situation they were in with Howard, who openly wanted out, and instead of thinking about their reputation and getting someone back who undoubtedly would cost them a lot of money, and a lot of headaches due to knee issues, they decided to simply start over. They squeezed as much young talent, and as many draft picks, as they possibly could and cut their losses. When they made the deal at the time, I remember loving it due to the fact that they didn’t take on Bynum or even Iguodala, since there’d be no point in doing so. This isn’t a humblebrag, but my definitive Elliot Reid moment, damn it!

In all seriousness, Orlando deciding to forego all the drama and just focus on building a new team from the ground up has been a breath of fresh air. In a league so dominated by the smell of immediate success, Orlando didn’t go for a lesser All-Star or a myriad of older role players that’d push the ship juuuust into the post-season one more time. They blew it up. Blew. It. Up.

And as a result, they’re better off. That’s not to say I support tanking, but if a situation is in dire need of being re-booted, which is something Phoenix is looking at now, and the Bulls will be looking at down the road, there’s simply no other alternative that will provide you with as many tools to lay a new foundation.

What Minnesota is going through currently, goes hand-in-hand with what Orlando did. Knowing full well that Kevin Love wanted out, Minnesota decided to cash in on Love’s talent and value, gaining not one, but two top picks. Ignoring the fact that Anthony Bennett turned out to be a bust, Minnesota got a new franchise cornerstone via Andrew Wiggins, which helped their youth movement along. They could have settled for wishy-washy ho-hum talent that would have won them 25-30 games, but instead, they got a young stud who actually sped up their rebuilding process. Now, with Karl-Anthony Towns on board, Minnesota has created a similar path for their future.

Orlando being forced to face the unfortunate situation of dealing a superstar in his prime was the best thing that could have happened for them, and after just three years, they could find themselves back in the playoffs with a roster that is bound to get significantly better over the next half-decade.

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