Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Most of the free world panned the Magic for what it got out of the Dwight Howard trade. The package isn't looking so bad now, all things considered.
If there's one indisputable lesson from the Dwight Howard trade, it's that nothing is indisputable.
When the Magic sent Howard to the Lakers and Jason Richardson to the 76ers, while the Nuggets picked up Andre Iguodala and Philly landed Andrew Bynum, it sure looked like Orlando was on the short end. The Magic ended up with Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Arron Afflalo and three future (as in 2014 and beyond) first-round picks. So the Magic traded away the best player in the deal and ended up with what looked like the worst package ... without losing any truly onerous contracts. (J-Rich's deal wasn't exactly good, but it wasn't Hedo Turkoglu's.)
Folks like me believed in Rob Hennigan, the GM who pulled the deal, because we believed in his pedigree. He learned the trade under Sam Presti, the genius who built the Thunder into a powerhouse. But the trade looked positively un-Prestian. Orlando didn't grab any immediate picks, didn't shed much salary (thanks to taking on Al Harrington) and didn't pick up a single elite player on a rookie deal. This looked more like a deal the pre-Prokhorov Nets would do. (It reminded me of the Vince Carter deal that the Magic had participated in.)
Meanwhile, the Sixers picked up the pivot they desperately needed and the Lakers became a juggernaut again. Welp. Things have worked out for Denver, but Philadelphia is hanging its head and L.A. is fighting for a playoff spot. Meanwhile, at least one of the pieces the Magic picked up -- Vucevic -- looks something like a fine young player on a rookie deal.
The 22-year-old Montenegrin is shooting 52 percent from the floor while averaging 14 points and 13 rebounds per 36 minutes. He's not and may never be a plus scorer, but that rebounding is excellent and his defense seems promising. You could do a whole heck of a lot worse than Vucevic as a center to build around. And he'll be cheap for the Magic for the next couple of years as the team leverages assets for prospects and picks.
Harkless, a rookie, hasn't looked as promising, but he needs time to find himself. And the spacing out of picks acquired in the Howard deal could pay dividends if Orlando improves over the next couple of years. With a very high pick this year and probably next, the Magic could find itself receiving timely infusions of cheap young talent as those picks come due in 2015 and 2017.
When Howard was last in Orlando, as he'll be tonight as the Lakers visit, it looked like the Magic had peddled him for a pittance. Now it's not so clear. It might be time to stop doubting the House of Presti and all those who pass through.
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