August 10th, 2012: the day the Dwightmare ended for the Orlando Magic. The day the landscape of the NBA changed. The day the Magic, just three seasons removed from their second trip to the NBA Finals, began their rebuilding process. The day the Los Angeles Lakers became the favorites, on paper, to win the Western Conference.
When Rob Hennigan took the Magic’s general manager position he had a monstrosity of a task in front of him: trade the team’s franchise player for the best package possible. Led by Hennigan and assistant GM Scott Perry, the organization took its time, did their due diligence and found what they believed to be the best deal for the team’s long-term future. At the time, many believed the Magic were the losers of the deal. But a year later, they clearly came out on top.
Of the 12 players that were moved between the four teams — Orlando, Los Angeles, the Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia 76ers—only four remain on the team that acquired them: Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo in Orlando, and Jason Richardson in Philadelphia. The biggest pieces moved—Howard to the Lakers, Andrew Bynum to the 76ers and Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets—find themselves preparing to sport new colors this season. On top of the players the Magic still have, they are also set to receive four more draft picks, including three in the first round.
This past season aside, a year in which the Magic posted the worst record in the league and landed the second pick in the draft, the team is poised for a brighter future. The mixture of young players Hennigan has acquired, not only in the Dwight trade, but also through other trades and the draft, has set the team up to contend for years to come. On the other hand, the Lakers, Nuggets and 76ers all find themselves scrambling to build their teams back up after losing key pieces.
After a very disappointing season in Philadelphia in which he failed to make it onto the court due to knee problems, Bynum jumped ship and signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers. With the center gone, the 76ers turn down the same path as Orlando: rebuilding. If the deal were proposed this offseason, the 76ers would turn it down, knowing what they do now about what could happen with not only Bynum’s health, but also the growth of Vucevic and the long-term potential for Harkless.
After facing a season full of injuries, disappointment and underachievement, the hits kept coming for the illustrious Lakers franchise, with Howard bolting for the Houston Rockets. The team is also facing the possibility of starting the next season without star guard Kobe Bryant after he tore his Achilles tendon late in the 2012-13 season. While losing Howard could be a blow to the team in both the near and long-term future, it won’t deter them. If Mitch Kupchak and Co. had the choice to make the deal again, I don’t see any reason to say no. The cards weren’t in their favor last year, and they’ll look to move on and reload next offseason with a projected $50 million in cap space.
Possibly the most interesting team in this deal is the Nuggets, acquiring the ferocious, high-flying wing Andre Iguodala. The organization gave up their dead-eye three-point shooter in Afflalo and scoring punch off the bench in Al Harrington. While the addition of Iguodala helped the team post its best record ever, finishing 57-25, Denver’s first-round exit left the franchise wondering if they would be able to retain the wing, who chose to opt out of the final year of his contract. Whether or not the Nuggets would do this trade now is hard to tell. Yes, they had their best season ever record-wise, but they also lost two of their better role players in the process.
Predicting if a team would still make a trade is nearly impossible—actually, it is impossible. Based on everything we know, only one or two of the teams involved in this blockbuster deal would still do it. Obviously the Magic would, as it has them set up for a very bright and promising future. The Lakers rolled the dice and took Howard even without a guarantee that he would return to the team after the season. Although his first year in Los Angeles was rough, could it have gotten better? No one will ever know, and now he starts the next leg of his journey in Houston.