Olympics victories notwithstanding, the main topic lighting up the inbox this weekend was the Dwight Howard trade. Reactions range from raised eyebrows, raised fists (Lakers fans), to raised voices of disbelief and anguish (Blazers fans who hate the Lakers). Everybody's asking for reaction, so here you go.
In case you've been living under a rock--or trying to digest 37 hours of Olympics coverage in each 24-hour cycle--here are the particulars:
Lakers Get: Dwight Howard, Chris Duhon, Earl Clark
76'ers Get: Andrew Bynum, Jason Richardson
Nuggets Get: Andre Iguodala
Magic Get: Screwed
OK, maybe that's a little unfair. The Magic actually got six players in this deal, as many as everybody else combined! Unfortunately those players are Al Harrington, Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, Josh McRoberts, and Christian Eyenga. Orlando also receives five draft picks, three of which are protected first-rounders, one each from Denver, L.A., and Philadelphia. All three of those teams made the playoffs last year. The Sixers are the only team with a ghost of a chance of missing the post-season in the next few years. Therefore it's likely that all three picks will be in the bottom half of the first round, a couple of them below 20 for sure. The Magic also got an $18 million trade exception, you know, in case they want to pick up Amare Stoudemire.
In case you're thinking this was a cap move for Orlando, other than Howard's salary (which was worth every penny and was expiring next year anyway) they didn't save a dime. They'll likely spend more with this deal than they would have just letting Dwight go.
It's easy to see how the Nuggets, Sixers, and Lakers benefited from the move. All acquired prime players. Orlando got younger. They did get a couple prospects but unless they get plenty lucky none of them will add up to half of Howard.
If you want to simulate this deal, take three friends to an upscale restaurant...the fanciest you can find. Have one order Filet Mignon. That's L.A. Have another go slightly below with the New York Strip Steak. That would be Philly. Your Denver friend doesn't want beef so have him order the wonderful salmon on rice. Lucky you...you get to be Orlando. Look your server right in the eye and order four of the finest Twinkies, two Ding Dongs, and pre-order six Ho-Hos for dessert later on. Then when the check comes, you pick up the bill.
One can only imagine the about the press conference where Orlando General Manager Rob Hennigan explains the swap.
Hennigan: Good news! I have taken our cow to market and returned with these magic beans.
Press: Oh, so you expect those beans to grow into a beanstalk that you will then climb, slaying giants and claiming the golden goose which will allow you to prosper forevermore?
Hennigan: Uhhhh, no. They're just beans. But we are the Magic, so technically speaking they're now, you know, "magic" beans. Al Harrington! Wheeee!
Press: We're done.
Hennigan: Pretty much.
I'm not sure if Orlando fans will have such a charitable interpretation. If these picks and players don't turn out to be wondrous then they've just consummated a trade involving both Andrew Bynum and Andre Iguodala and they got neither. For Dwight Howard. Obviously rebuilding is the focus and the two other stars carried large salaries. But neither is that old. Bynum especially could have served as the focus of a new generation. Instead they got a guy named Moe. What's the plan there? If they can just get Larry Smith and Curly Neal out of retirement they can have the most hilarious three-on-three squad ever.
Granted Howard's value had diminished in the last six months due to the follies surrounding his contract and conduct. But this is a valuable lesson, one that the Blazers know well. You either manage your circumstances or they're going to manage you. Through machinations not entirely their own the Magic ended up a downward slope, watching Howard's value diminish week by week. They finally ended up having to sell low, the alternative being waiting and getting even less. I guess they figured a couple youngsters and a bunch of draft picks was an acceptable gamble but it's a far cry from what Howard would have fetched a year ago. They probably made the best deal they could in August of 2012 but the situation never should have gotten that far.
Blazers fans understand the phenomenon. The circumstances were different, involving injury rather than recalcitrant superstar, but Portland has been in a spiral of diminishing returns for the last five years now. They know the huge difference between making the best of things and being able to do something right. Releasing Greg Oden and using the amnesty clause on Brandon Roy are prime examples. Ideally the Blazers would have kept both men, both would have been healthy, and Portland would have challenged in the West in perpetuity. Instead the Blazers got stuck choosing between bad and worse, victims of circumstance instead of its master. Nobody will ever know what they could have done differently--how much they could have changed--but we've all seen the cost in wins, anguish, and wasted time that such an inversion brings. The only way out is to change the game entirely. Perhaps that's what the Magic are trying to do here. Too bad the cost was so high.
Not so with the Lakers. Like many of you, my initial reaction to this deal was to slap my forehead and wonder if there isn't a league-wide conspiracy to keep them relevant...you know, the old, "What's good for L.A. is good for the bottom line of all teams" thing. Then I cursed all teams everywhere who settle for making their teams incrementally better while at the same time setting up other teams to make runs at titles, in effect winning today's battle while conceding tomorrow's war. But let's be fair. This trade is directly attributable to a smart move by L.A. They took Andrew Bynum with the 10th pick of the 2005 NBA Draft. Bynum turned out to be arguably the second best center in the league and he still has room to grow. The Lakers traded talent for talent. Without a second prime pivot this deal doesn't get done. Any of the 9 teams in front of the Lakers in that 2005 draft, including the Trail Blazers (Martell Webster, anyone?), could have made that pick. They didn't. L.A. did. Therefore the Lakers had the right bargaining chip to pry loose their dream center.
The rich do get richer here. Howard makes the Lakers better than they were. But it's incremental, not revolutionary. A couple years from now Bynum may well be the better player of the two. Injury may play a factor even if development doesn't. Even if Howard remains healthy and productive the Lakers are still bound to Bryant, his points, and most importantly his age. They'll be good with Howard but they'll only be championship level with Howard plus an elite version of Kobe. They're on a two year clock with this experiment. If the Lakers aspect of this deal bothers you, you only need hide your eyes for a couple years. After that they'll need to pull another rabbit out of their hats in order to run for rings.
That's not going to ease the drubbings Howard will give the center-less Blazers in the meantime, though. Thanks for that, Orlando.