Wednesday, July 17, 2013

So, Dwight Howard is a Rocket. Re-evaluating The Howard Trade From Last Summer

At long last the three-ring circus is over, and after two tumultuous offseasons Dwight Howard officially has a home for the long term.  The circus that has come with Dwight Howard over the past couple years has been an abhorrent nightmare, one that SportsCenter shoved down the throats of every NBA fan.  Dwight has made his comments about loyalty, he has wavered on where he's going, he has demanded to play in certain areas, and his image has taken an absolute beating.  However, Dwight Howard and his immaturity appear to finally have found a home.

Daryl Morey, the current GM for the Houston Rockets has been pushing for a marquee player since last off-season and now it appears that he finally has one.  Morey made a play for Howard last off-season when he pursued a trade with Orlando, one that Magic GM Rob Hennigan promptly rejected.  Morey ultimately ended up trading pennies on the dollar for James Harden who appears to be a superstar in the making, and signing Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, as consolation prizes.  Morey did not give up however, and ultimately managed to land his guy, someone who will put fans in the stands, and could potentially be the asset that vaults Houston into the realm of contenders.  

So, how did Dwight ultimately become a Rocket?  I could go way back and talk about Otis Smith's incompetence, but I'm not trying to give myself an ulcer recalling how Otis Smith ultimately deteriorated my favorite team, so I will instead start with Rob Hennigan's genius. Last Summer Howard was demanding a trade to Brooklyn, and Brooklyn offered a deal that appeared to be the best the Magic were going to receive.  The deal was not ideal for Orlando, but it appeared all but inevitable that they would accept and that Dwight would be a Brooklyn Net, but the Nets were unable to find a fourth team to facilitate the trade and the deal died.  So both teams pressed on, Orlando looking for the best possible deal and the Nets frantically trying to find a way to land Howard, something they ultimately failed at.
 Oh what could have been

Though Dwight's insistence that he be traded nowhere other than Brooklyn, as that was the only place he said he would sign an extension Hennigan continued to call other teams that wanted Howard, and other teams that wanted Howard continued to call Hennigan, and finally, on August 10, 2012 Howard was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers.  The Howard trade was facilitated between four teams, Orlando, Los Angeles, Denver, and Philly.  Denver received Andre Igoudala from Philly, Philly received Andrew Bynum from Los Angeles, Los Angeles received Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, and Chris Duhon from Orlando, and Orlando received a protected first round pick, Nikola Vucevic, and Moe Harkless from Philly, Arron Afflalo, and Al Harrington from Denver, a protected first round pick, Josh McRoberts, and Christian Eyenga from the Lakers and a first round pick from either the Nuggets or the Knicks.

When the trade was first announced it appeared that Orlando had traded Howard for pennies on the dollar, and several analysts felt that Orlando had handed the Lakers, who had also just secured Steve Nash, another championship.  New Orlando GM Rob Hennigan was also criticized for not even at least getting Andrew Bynum who was widely considered to be the 2nd best center in the league and someone who Orlando could surround with young talent for the future.  Yes it appeared that everyone else got something better than Orlando did.  Philly got a nice piece to help them further contend in Andrew Bynum, Denver got an athletic, defensive minded wing who would fit nicely in the up tempo offense George Karl was employing at the time, and Los Angeles got the most dominant center in the league in Dwight Howard.  Yes, this trade seemed to have worked out for everyone but Orlando who got some draft picks and some young pieces nobody thought too highly of, and yet as of today it's hard to argue that Orlando didn't win this trade.

First of all, Andrew Bynum sat out the entire year with a knee injury and never played a single minute for the 76ers this past season.  The 76ers eventually became a lottery team, and blew up their young core when they traded Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for the draft rights to Nerlens Noel, and a 2014 first round pick, and they don't appear to have any plans to resign Bynum which would suggest they are going into full blown rebuilding mode.  Because of this, you could argue that the 76ers actually took a few steps backwards in terms of where they went with this trade considering they traded two nice young pieces in Vucevic and Moe Harkless as well as a savvy veteran in Andre Igoudala only to end up rebuilding instead of making the playoffs. 

There were so many great photos of Bynum, but I had to choose this one

Denver had a pretty great season and Igoudala seemed to workout nicely in the system playing good defense and putting up solid numbers on the offensive end (13ppg, 5.4 assists, 5.3 rebounds, on 45% shooting).  However Denver was ultimately bounced in the first round of the playoffs by Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.  George Karl was eventually fired, and just recently Igoudala was signed by, who else but the Golden State Warriors.  This is unfortunate for Denver because they've not only lost a first round pick in a loaded 2014 draft, but they also lost a very talented wing player in Afflalo, and got absolutely nothing back for Igoudala.  Denver can easily also be ranked as another loser of this trade.

This of course brings us to the Lakers.  Los Angeles traded for Dwight Howard who was supposed to be the next superstar to wear a Lakers uniform.  Howard was supposed to be the next great Lakers center joining the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O'Neal.  This was Howard's chance to ascend into greatness, nevermind that he had immaturity levels, that his leadership was questioned in Orlando, or the fact that he got Stan Van Gundy fired.  This guy was a franchise changer, a guy who could help Kobe get one more ring and ultimately put him in the discussion for GOAT.  Sure, the baggage that he came with was bad, but Kobe would be able to get him to grow up right?  Surely Dwight Howard wouldn't whine and complain when he was on a team featuring Kobe Bryant, the man known for his work ethic, his intensity, his attention to every minor detail of his game.  Unfortunately for the Lakers, none of this was true.  Howard never seemed comfortable in LA, he was injured, and despite what the two may say he and Kobe did not like each other.  Ultimately Kobe went down with a torn achilles and Dwight did nothing for the Lakers in the playoffs as they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.  Dwight was ejected from the final game of that series and it was evident he was not coming back.  While Dwight Howard is a great basketball player, he is not mentally strong enough to handle the criticism that he had brought upon himself, and was not prepared to handle the pressures of playing in Los Angeles and being the next Lakers superstar.  Consequently, the Lakers got a mediocre season, and took on a few terrible contracts (notably Chris Duhon's) when they took on Dwight Howard, not exactly what they had hoped to receive.  Though the 76ers and the Nuggets both struck out with this trade as well, the Lakers were hands down the biggest loser of this fiasco.  They lost Howard for nothing, and they have zero draft picks going all the way until 2017.  They have little to no talent coming off the bench, an injured Kobe, an aging Gasol and little assets to trade with.  Unless the Lakers pull off a Lakers move and somehow fall ass backwards into a big time player, it could be a rough stretch for the Lakers in the next couple of years.  Speaking of the Lakers pulling of Lakers moves, how un-Laker like was this whole stay Dwight campaign?  That's not the Los Angeles Lakers that I know, or the one that the late Dr. Buss used to run.  I have zero doubts the Lakers will return to the top of the NBA, I mean it's the freaking Lakers, but I'll tell you now it's not happening anytime soon (anybody that thinks LeBron James is walking through those doors in 2014 is delusional).

Finally, we get to Orlando.  I will be completely honest, as a Magic fan I thought there was no chance in hell that we got anything of remote value for Dwight Howard and figured we'd be settling on Brooke Lopez and some other average players making us one of those middling teams that makes the ass end of the playoffs or the ass end of the lottery, in other words, basketball hell.  However, through the sheer brilliance of GM Rob Hennigan my beloved Magic somehow came out on top here.  Were any of the players we got in return in this trade superstars?  Simply put, no.  However, the young ones we received look to be key pieces in an up and coming team.  Nikola Vucevic looks to be one of the bright young big men in the game, last season he averaged 13.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game while shooting 52% from the floor.  Those 11.9 rebounds were good for 2nd best in the league, and Vucevic even put up a 30 point 20 rebound one night against Milwaukee.  Harkless saw decent minutes at the beginning of the season, but was not a significant impact.  However, once Afflalo went down with injury, and JJ Redick was dealt to Milwaukee (yes, I teared up when I wrote that so what?) Harkless saw a sharp increase in minutes and his role.  During his time starting at the small forward position it was evident that Harkless has the tools to be an elite defender in this league as he was able to hold his own against the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and other top scorers in the NBA.  Though not a young piece Afflalo showed that he can be a solid veteran leader for this team, and unless Orlando trades him for more rebuilding pieces should be a valuable player for the remainder of his contract, as he can defend well and is an above average scorer.

Overall, this trade looks like highway robbery for Orlando, and as a Magic fan, I feel pretty damn good about that.  Nearly every other team took a couple steps back, and Orlando took a giant leap forward, kudos to you Rob Hennigan.

Follow me on Twitter - @DbRedickulous

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