The team traded the disgruntled superstar to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday in a four-team deal that prompted many fans and NBA analysts to say the Magic received too little in return but left team officials saying the move provided hope for the future.
“Clearly, there’s a lot of raw emotion that comes with a trade of this magnitude,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said.
“Any time you’re trading one of the best players in the league, that’s 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 in a lot of ways is the antithesis of that.”
In the deal, the Magic received shooting guard Arron Afflalo and power forward Al Harrington from the Denver Nuggets, center Nikola Vucevic and rookie small forward Moe Harkless from the Philadelphia 76ers and power forward Josh McRoberts and small forward Christian Eyenga from the Lakers.
Orlando also received five draft picks: a protected first-round pick in 2015 from the Sixers, the Nuggets' lowest first-round pick in 2014 and a protected first-round pick in 2017 from the Lakers. Orlando also received a 2013 second-round pick from the Nuggets and a conditional 2015 second-round pick from the Lakers.
Howard smiled repeatedly when the Lakers held a press conference to introduce him Friday night.
“Oh, man!” he said after Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak handed him his new jersey.
“I’m so happy right now,” Howard said. “It’s hard to talk, hard to think.”
Howard thanked the city of Orlando and Magic fans “for eight great years.”
When asked why his relationship with the Magic deteriorated after he waived the early termination option March 15, he dodged the question.
“Today is about the Lakers,” he said. “There’s no need to go back into what happened with the Magic. I’ve had eight great years in Orlando, and I’m going to miss the fans. I’m going to miss the city. But it’s time for a change for me. It’s time for a change in Orlando.”
The Magic are getting a change, that’s for sure.
Team officials said the trade creates salary-cap flexibility, and the draft picks and the young players provide an infusion of youth. Orlando also obtained a $17.8 million traded-player exception that can be used to acquire a player or players over the next year.
But at the same time, team officials acknowledged that they did not receive equal value for Howard, a six-time NBA All-Star and a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year who made it clear he would only sign long-term with the Brooklyn Nets before he signaled that he likely would re-sign with the Lakers if he was traded to them.
“Are we taking a step back?” Hennigan said. “Absolutely we are. But we’re taking a step back with a vision and some ingredients that we’re really comfortable with and encouraged by.”
The four-team trade ended more than a year of discussion about Howard’s future — a year of speculation, intrigue and drama that came to be known as the “Dwightmare.”
Fans and analysts criticized the Magic for not acquiring Bynum, who arguably is the NBA's second-best center.
Magic officials were concerned about the health of Bynum's knees and his occasional immaturity.
Not acquiring Bynum seems to ensure that the Magic will miss the playoffs in 2012-13, which could put the franchise in line to receive a high draft choice next June.
The Magic also passed up a potential deal with the Houston Rockets. Reports last month indicated that Houston officials were willing to trade away their most promising young players and also accept several of the Magic’s long-term contracts.
Hennigan indicated that Houston’s offer wasn’t nearly as good as advertised.
"At the end of the day, you look at what’s available in theory and what’s available in reality,” he said. “And sometimes those two things aren’t always the same. And we felt that with all the options we did explore, this was the best one for us.”
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