A lot of people said a lot of things after the four-team blockbuster trade back in August, but the general consensus was that the Magic lost out. Instead of getting 50 cents on the dollar, they settled for 30, taking on low-tier prospects and mediocre, overpriced role players like Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington.
If I had a blog at the time, I too would have probably written something about Orlando getting shortchanged. It turns out, though, that Magic might be the big winners in the long-haul. Nikola Vucevic has become one of the league’s best bargains and Maurice Harkless, while still incredibly raw, could definitely have a future as an impact player.
Considering the contracts the Magic shed, the future protected first round picks they added, and the wins they didn’t add, the blockbuster’s consensus losers could end up being the victors. Especially with what has gone down with Andrew Bynum in Philly and Dwight Howard in Los Angeles.
Below, I’ve excerpted some of the reactions and overreactions to Orlando’s coup. This is nothing more than a reminder that trades are unpredictable. Not everybody got this one wrong, but it’s looking like most did.
Bill Simmons, Grantland. (To his credit, he spent multiple paragraphs writing about the Bynum risk factors.)
LOSER: Orlando I knew the pupu platter was coming. You knew it was coming. Even Orlando’s fans knew it was coming. But when it actually happens and you’re staring at those lukewarm spareribs? Man … there’s nothing worse …”
“Hey, at least there isn’t a storied history of NBA teams giving away superstars for 50 cents on the dollar, then totally regretting it after the fact … well, except for the two Wilt trades, the Kareem trade, the Dr. J trade, the T-Mac/Rockets trade, the Moses/Philly trade and the Barkley/Phoenix trade.
Was it a bad sign for Orlando that they got significantly less for the league’s only dominant center than the Hornets got for Chris Paul and the Nuggets got for Carmelo Anthony? I’m going out on a limb and saying “yes.” Had I been running the Magic, there would have been a zero percent chance — repeat: zero percent chance — that I was trading Howard unless I was getting Bynum back AND dumping Turkoglu’s contract. Without those two things, I’m just keeping Howard, letting the soap opera drag on and on for a few more months, then hoping I could do better in February.
And guess what? I’m pretty sure that, six months from now, Philly, Denver and the Lakers would all still want to do a four-team trade in which all of them made out great and the Magic made out like crap. I hate how Orlando handled this saga; I hate that they caved; and I hate this trade for them.
Yuck. Here’s the problem – this isn’t a bottom five team in the NBA based on the trade. A bad team that misses the playoffs and wins 30 games? Yes. But not a terrible team in the mix for the No. 1 pick….
“Would you have rather taken on Brook Lopez, his contract, and draft picks, or the Afflalo/Harrington package? Reminder: all these draft picks will be crap – Philly, Denver and LA are making the playoffs, so forget any of those being lottery picks. The bright side of Lopez would have been the potential for injury, thus enhancing your chances of getting in the mix for the No. 1 pick.
Oh, the Magic got some other things out of it, but it’s all flotsam. They received three first-round picks, but they won’t get much immediate help from those — Philly’s pick won’t arrive until 2015 at the earliest, and the pick from the Lakers won’t be available until 2017.
The Magic also get two recent draft picks in the deal, Harkless and Vucevic, so they’ll argue that they got five first-round picks for Howard. But they’ll likely end up being five low-value firsts at the back end of the draft. In fact, they’re guaranteed to be bad, since our Marc Stein reports that all three future ones are lottery protected. Of the other two, Vucevic is a solid backup center but nothing special, and I thought Harkless was a reach as a first-rounder.
The Magic is better positioned for the future today than they were with Howard. Losing eight wins next season is actually a positive, given it will translate into a better draft pick, and Orlando got two useful young pieces in Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic, both of whom could start by 2014-15. And we haven’t valued the draft picks because only one of them (the lesser of the Denver/New York picks in 2014) fits into the three-year window for WARP projections. Because of lottery projections and the time value of picks, these selections are not exceptionally valuable, but they will help.
Nonetheless, the overwhelming sense is “this is it?” The market for a deal like the Utah Jazz got for Deron Williams or the Nuggets got for Carmelo Anthony was never there for Howard. Still, I think the Magic could have gotten similar or better picks and prospects from the Houston Rockets without taking on nearly as much future salary. We may look back on this as a missed opportunity for Orlando to kickstart its rebuilding for a post-Howard era.
This is all about Orlando, and quite what on Earth they have done….
“However, Afflalo ($7.75 million in 2013-14) is incoming, as is Harrington. And even if Orlando waives Al to take advantage of the 50 percent unguaranteed portion of his contract, that’s still a $3,574,300 chunk of cap space going out to a player you no longer have. Those two combine with the similarly guaranteed portion of Hedo Turkoglu’s salary ($6 million), Jameer Nelson’s ambitious new contract ($8.6 million), the incumbent Glen Davis ($6.4 million), Quentin Richardson ($2,808,600) and the smaller but not insignificant amounts still owed to what now defaults into being the “young core” — Harkless, Vucevic, Gustavo Ayon, and the picks. Even Fran Vasquez will still cost….
“For some reason they wanted that more than Andrew Bynum. For some reason they even wanted it more than Brook Lopez. Pretensions of following the “Thunder model” are so ridiculously ambitious, and so reliant upon many years of perfect timing, that it’s just not believable.
It’s over, thank God. So that’s something. But it shouldn’t be. Orlando lost a lot of leverage in the Howard struggle, but they surely still had a lot more than this.
The Magic took a bad deal because that’s what they were looking for. That’s something the NBA should change. The best players in the world almost all go high in the lottery, to a collection of the teams that lose the most. If the best players found employment almost any other way, there’d be no reason for the Magic to have made the crucial decision to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
But for the lure of high picks born of terrible play, the Magic would have demanded great heaps of talented players for Howard, and the league wouldn’t feel so lopsided.
Let’s keep this simple: How can you trade the best center of his generation in a deal in which two other All-Stars switch teams (Bynum, Iguodala), yet wind up with neither of them? No offense, but Afflalo, Harrington, Vucevic and Philly first-rounder Mo Harkless evoke memories of Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann and Lee Shaffer — the three guys San Francisco landed when Wilt Chamberlain wanted off the Warriors in 1965.
So did the Magic get a good return on Howard? I don’t know. None of us will know for sure until we see where the picks land and how Harkless and Vucevic develop.
By virtue of not taking on Lopez’ contract, Hennigan saved the Magic from exactly the sort of predicament that got the Magic here in the first place.
Orlando’s leverage was so thoroughly destroyed by Howard’s diva act that any critique of the return they got should be tempered. But there is reason to believe that this deal will not turn out to be the disaster it was reported as in the immediate aftermath. What it does do is bring the Magic closer to the fresh start they so desperately need after this entire ordeal.