The rumors are back!
Just when you thought things were officially put on hold, a fressh, new, insane rumor came to light. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that the Golden State Warriors are making a push to acquire Dwight Howard, hoping to convince him to stay based on a half-year rental. Only problem is, the Magic would likely request Stephen Curry over Monta Ellis back and, if Orlando is only trading Howard to avoid a past mistake, I doubt Orlando trades for someone who has sprained his surgically repaired ankle for the third time this season already.
In other words, Golden State might like to make a splash and acquire a superstar, as Matt Steinmetz of CSN Bay Area reports, that doesn't mean they are in the Dwight Howard running. Or that the Magic are actively looking to trade Howard. Otis Smith told Steinmetz that Orlando is not looking for Howard trades. That does not mean they are still not coming in.
And that leaves the ultimate question as the calendar hurdles toward March and the final deadline for a decision of deal or no deal: What do the Magic want?
Judging from the Magic's refusal to do the Gerald Wallace/Brook Lopez deal with the Nets and the Trail Blazers and the team's rumored insistence on taking Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in a deal with the Lakers, it is clear winning now is the most important return the Magic can get in any proposed deal.
It is no secret of the Magic's desire to win now. It has shaped their strategy the past three years. And that strategy has been all about acquiring talentto make the Magic champions now rather than later.
"It seems like the Magic have manufactured upside from a roster that seemingly had none, and could coalesce into an efficient squad that features the contributions from its youngest players while veterans fill in the gaps. These seem like mundane observations, but when you consider the players who are giving the Magic a spark right now, you realize the organizational rift that will have to be repaired if the Magic want a shot at contending now or keeping Dwight Howard in pinstripes.
"Put simply: the players giving the Magic a prayer right now are players developed by Stan Van Gundy and the Magic organization, while the players who seem stuck in molasses are endemic of the strategy the team has pursued the past two seasons and has said it will pursue in the future. If the Magic continue to devote resources to veteran retreads who don't fit their team, then the fresh legs and minds which might otherwise have weathered the upcoming fatigue will fail just the same."
Orlando was faced with a difficult and telling decision in the summer of 2009. Hedo Turkoglu was a free agent after that strong Finals run. Orlando had the decision whether to re-sign him or let him walk. If the franchise let him walk, then it became a question of who could Orlando get to replace him. The way the Magic answered this question was Vince Carter. Orlando traded Courtney Lee, the most promising young piece on the team at the time, and then went on a spending spree.
Rich DeVos made it clear after coming three wins from a championship that he wanted to win a title now. Not down the road. There was no chance then that the Magic would say, "Let's take a step back to take two steps forward." They were going to go into free agency and buy themselves a team.
It almost worked. The 2010 team was extremely talented and was built for a deep run.
The problems came in 2011 though when age crept in. When you build a team through free agency, inevitably you are going to overpay some guys. Marcin Gortat was overpaid, but not in a horrible way. Orlando could not figure out how to use Brandon Bass and he was very much a square peg in a round hole. Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson filled needs, but at a heavy price -- especially considering their production last year.
Then the trades. ... When you build a team through trades, you are often building with the "trash" from other teams. Unless you have the glue guys and discount players to fill roles around them, that strategy does not often work. Worse, because Orlando was already in win-now mode and had several bad contracts, taking on more bad contracts made the situation worse.
When you make trades, there is always a reason the team is looking to get rid of the player you are acquiring.
That is a synopsis of how Orlando got into this pickle. But it explains what the Magic were trying to do. They wanted to acquire proven players that would help them win now. What they may not have realized, that Nowell points out very clearly, is that Orlando does a great job developing its players and really only needed to bring in veterans to fill specific roles and who specifically fit the system.
Players like Jason Richardson have struggled, whereas players Orlando drafted like Dwight Howard (a superstar), Jameer Nelson, Marcin Gortat and J.J. Redick flourished. Even Hedo Turkoglu, a player who was a veteran before Stan Van Gundy came in, developed into an All-Star caliber player under Van Gundy.
Development is the true way to win a championship. It does take time. And the Magic have tried to build on the fly. Multiple times.
That appears to be where they are going still. With or without Dwight Howard.
Orlando does not appear to have much interest in acquiring young players or draft picks. They want stars or expiring contracts for a quick rebuild if they trade Howard. That $300 million arena will not fill itself and DeVos is not getting any younger.
These clearly weigh on what the Magic are trying to do.
The question is whether this is the right thing to do. Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop made a compelling argument that letting Howard simply walk without getting anything in return might be the right thing to do. A deal that makes the Magic horrible might be better than staying competitive for the long term. After all, good building occurs through the cheap contracts of the Draft and young players hold more trade value. Orlando's cupboard is completely bare and so they have to reload it with young players.
The Magic appear to have no interest in that. They want to remain competitive and go to the Playoffs.
With that mentality, it makes it much more difficult to find a deal because Orlando is looking for something resembling equal value in return. That is going to be almost impossible to find. Howard is the best center in the league and a top five player. Equal value does not exist -- at least not in the way the Magic imagine.
It will be extremely difficult to find a deal that keeps the Magic in championship contention.
That will make finding a trade near impossible when the deadline comes around. At some point, Orlando may have to settle. And settling on a deal like this could be disastrous for the long-term prospects of the franchise. There may be nothing wrong with being in the NBA's middle class and having to claw just to make the Playoffs, but it is incredibly difficult to get out of that middle class.
Without some luck one year in the lottery, they can burst through. Otherwise, it takes some extreme skill in free agency and trades to build.
The Magic have to weigh the options very heavily. If the goal is to win a championship for DeVos as soon as possible, a Howard deal might be better if it eliminates more of the longer contracts the team has and focuses on a complete rebuild in one or two years. It might be something on the table depending on what is offered.
The Magic clearly want to continue to compete. If a team cannot offer that, the management believes they can still persuade Howard to stay and will take their chances. It is a risky proposition for the future of the franchise -- this team without Howard is in big trouble... and would still desperately need a center to just fill minutes.