The Magic will be dealing with the aftermath of the Dwight Howard trade for some time. This was not a deal "made for tomorrow" or for a culture of instant gratification, as Magic general manager Rob Hennigan put it during his press conference, this was a deal made for years down the road. For the team the Magic want to be. This was about tearing down the building and beginning to rebuild the foundation -- the culture and identity the Magic franchise wants to have.
Orlando officially traded Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, sending Howard along with Jason Richardson, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark in the four-team deal. The Magic acquired Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic and Christian Eyenga. Orlando also got three future first round picks, two second round picks and a robust $7.8 million trade exception.
If you talk to Rob Hennigan though, the most important thing Orlando got in this trade is flexibility.
"Clearly there is a lot of raw emotion that comes with a trade of this magnitude," Hennigan said during the press conference announcing the trade at Amway Center on Friday. "Any time you're trading one of the best players in the league, that is a hard pill to swallow. Especially when we live in a world of instancy and immediate gratification.
"But what we're trying to build here is the antithesis of that. As we went through this, we really challenged ourselves to stay flexible. We challenged ourselves to keep long-term planning at the forefront of anything that we decided to do. It was time for this organization to move forward."
The instant gratification part is certainly what Magic fans are having the toughest time swallowing at this stage. It is going to take time to build. Hennigan explicity said that when describing the goals of this trade and where Orlando goes from here.
Hennigan did not expressly address the other rumors or other offers that the Magic may have considered. What he did say was that this was the best offer he felt was on the table. He said somtimes what is offered in theory and what is offered in fact are not the same thing. Magic fans may not ever know if that universally beloved Rockets deal was ever on the table. Hennigan said with all the offers that were actually on the table, this was the best one.
The question is whether this deal provides the flexibility Hennigan continuously touted.
Arron Afflalo is as underrated as a 26-year-old on the second year of a four-year contract can be. Afflalo seems reasonably priced at just north of $7 million per year for the next three years but he will be 30 when his contract ends. Al Harrington is a veteran who has had a strange looking career as a scorer but not much of a defender or rebounder for a power forward. He has three years left on his deal too, although the last two years are only partially guaranteed.
Heading out, Orlando got rid of Jason Richardson and Chris Duhon, but still have Hedo Turkoglu (two years at more than $22 million remaining) and Quentin Richardson under contract.
Flexibility will come, but when? And how patient will Magic fans be waiting for that flexibility to pan out?
These are important questions Rob Hennigan and the Magic have to think about.
"Well, I don't have a crystal ball. But I can tell you next season and, really, subsequent seasons will be about getting better every day," Hennigan said when asked about how far back the team might regress. "It will be about punching the drum on trying to improve individually and as a collective team. It's about trying to do the best we can, trying to improve internally, trying to develop and trying to create habits. From there, we will continue to find methods to improve the team and we feel confident that we have a lot of flexibility and assets to do just that."
The plan is not quite fully developed it seems. The Dwight Howard trade was a major piece, but it is not the only piece. Orlando still has work to do to put itself in position to get back into contention. And it will take time and patience.
In the meantime, Hennigan again emphasized the culture he wants to build in Orlando. One that is at least partially realized it seems in the players the Magic acquired.
Hennigan said that fans can look forward to the Magic acquiring players who "are going to bring their hard hats" and play with energy and effort. And as Jacque Vaughn has repeated numerous times, Orlando wants players who want to be in The City Beautiful. There is a big cultural change Hennigan is beginning to endeavor upon.
There is still a stadium to sell and a championship to go after. Accomplishing both those goals on a nightly basis feels very very far away. And it is. The Magic are at the bottom, doing the due diligence it takes to rebuild and climb back up.
Orlando has a lot more assets to use now. The Magic are not backed into a corner like they were before the Dwight trade. But they will not be able to move quickly to rise back up. Afflalo and Harrington are not huge commitments, but they are big commitments. Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis also have three year deals and J.J. Redick will be a free agent next summer if he wants to stay in Orlando.
Hennigan still has work to do to complete the roster for 2013 -- the team has 15 guaranteed contracts and only one point guard.
Hennigan talked a lot about the flexibility that comes with this deal. It does exist. Just not immediately. Orlando is asking its fans for some patience. The journey is just beginning.
In all honesty, it was probably the best deal that Orlando could have gotten. They got three first rounders, $7.8 million trade exemption, and some pretty decent young pieces. Add the fact that if Orlando ever decides to tank the season they would be in line for at least a top five pick. All in all I think Orlando did quite well for itself.
At least they did not lose Howard for absolutely nothing the way they did with Shaq. In the next couple of years, Orlando will not only have young prospects, but also plenty of cap space to boot as well in a couple of years. Hedo onerous contract will expire by that time along with a couple of others. In addition, the Magic have a few tradeable pieces in not only Hedo, but also JJ Reddick, and Glenn Davis in order to get a quasi All Star players such as Al Jefferson.
I don't think Orlando will be that bad, however as many predict. I expect them to win 30-35 games this upcoming season which is not bad for a team whom has lost its franchise player. Who knows? Perhaps Orlando will miracoulusly find themselves with the number one pick in this upcoming draft the same way that Cleveland and New Orleans did when they losr their franchise players.
I like this deal for Orlando. Flexibility is hard for fans to swallow because they like players. Players, like say, Andrew Bynum. But I wouldn't want Bynum if I were Orlando. I'd rather start from the ground up, try to build with a certain style of franchise that can win games, and go from there.
Do I think Orlando fans want to hear that? Of course they don't. It's even less so when you factor in Dwight going to the Lakers. That makes the bitterness of it impossible for many to swallow.
Rob Hennigan's job is to get a deal that works out well for Orlando. That's what I think he did given that he wasn't going to get a player anywhere near of Dwight Howard's caliber in return.
A 17.8 million Trade Exception is nothing to sneeze at. That's useful. Non-lottery draft picks aren't sexy, but they are assets.Arron Afflalo is a nice role player if you have a superstar on the roster. Al Harrington is still an useful scorer in the right circumstances. His contract isn't great, but it isn't terrible either. There isn't just this season, but next season and beyond to consider. Does Orlando want to have cap space? Does Orlando want to maintain flexibility and keep Harrington? Does trading any of the players Orlando has feasible?
The real test for Hennigan is to make this deal fly on the basis of the Orlando draft picks that will be coming for the Magic that in theory will see the Magic have a bad team for the next few seasons at the least. The luck and the picks that are available to Orlando will determine whether or not Hennigan is successful.
Nonetheless, it's best to not judge Hennigan based on what he "received" from the Howard trade, but on what he did as a whole in guiding the franchise from admittedly a huge rough spot that the Magic are now in. Can he? I don't know if he can. But I know if the Magic had gotten Bynum in a trade, let him walk for a year from now, the fans would be a lot less happy than they would be with multiple draft picks, players, and a big trade exception that may or may not be useful down the line.
This is a deal that has to be judge 3 years from now. Not today. Not at the end of the next season. This deal has to be judged when 2015 rolls around and we've seen all the moves Hennigan makes. The Dwight Howard trade was going to be a loser. But it can help the franchise win by getting better through draft picks, smart trading and strategic monetary planning long term. There is a future if Hennigan can take advantage of opportunities when they come up. But taking advantage of that opportunity is easier said than done, and we'll see how he does.
Based on what he got so far though, I like what Hennigan did. The name of the NBA rebuild game is assets, and whether or not you like the haul, the Magic got back a number of quality or even prime assets in the case of the trade exception.
That's not bad for a guy who has been on the job for 2 months, has had to deal with drama that he didn't create and couldn't control, and was left with the smoking ruins and expectations of fans both tired and demanding from such a long dumb dramatic ordeal.
What Hennigan did was really hard. But if it works, many will be praising him in the years to come.