The Orlando Magic had to trade Dwight Howard this summer, and they eventually did in a four-team blockbuster in August. But nobody said that the Magic had to accept a return package that accomplished none of their stated goals and can only be defended by suggesting that the Magic intended to be a terrible team for the next half-decade.
Let's talk more about that awful trade.
ACQUIRED ARRON AFFLALO, AL HARRINGTON, MAURICE HARKLESS AND MORE FOR DWIGHT HOWARD
This was the best that could be done? Surely you jest. Conceivably, the Magic could have received some cap space and a treasure chest of young assets from the Houston Rockets. Instead, they got this package back. It's hard to view this as anything less than a colossal failure for new general manager Rob Hennigan, even considering the circumstances.
There are two major problems with this return package. First, for a team clearly on the Oklahoma City Thunder bottoming out plan, the Magic didn't really bottom out with this trade. Rather than acquire all young pieces that can grow together, the Magic took back veterans like Afflalo and Harrington that could do just enough to push them toward mediocrity. Afflalo is an above-average starting shooting guard, and Harrington can still hit big shots and be a stretch 4. On this team, though, they will simply block other players that will play a bigger role in Orlando's future. If Harrington and Afflalo help lead this team to 26 wins next year, that will be a huge problem.
(I guess the Magic could still flip them in future trades to receive younger assets, but they're never going to get the kind of value back that they could have for Howard).
The other issue? The Magic aren't actually saving much long-term money with this trade. Afflalo is under contract for four more years. Harrington is under contract for three more years (though the final two years are partially guaranteed). The Magic won't have cap space next summer, and they were going to have cap space the summer after that anyway.
Throw in the lack of a marquee young player coming back in the trade package, and the Magic did about as bad as they could in dealing their superstar. The new Magic front office certainly inherited a very difficult situation, but this first move doesn't inspire much confidence in their ability to rebuild the team.
FIRED STAN VAN GUNDY, HIRED JACQUE VAUGHN
The decision to let Van Gundy go was made by a previous regime and was a horrendous one for so many reasons. While Van Gundy and Howard certainly didn't get along, they were both at the top of their respective crafts. The Magic should have at least ensured they kept one of the two. They kept neither.
In Van Gundy's place, they hired Vaughn in the hopes that he could grow into the role. Vaughn comes from a great pedigree and will be afforded plenty of time to become the coach he is capable of becoming. At least he has a chance to one day be as good a coach as Van Gundy.
TRADED RYAN ANDERSON FOR GUSTAVO AYON
Anderson's a really good player, and a rebuilding team like the Magic should probably do more to sign really good players to relatively affordable contracts like the one Anderson got from the New Orleans Hornets. But on some level, I can understand the reluctance to pay him at the start of a rebuilding effort when nobody really knows how well he can play without Howard. Hennigan did well to at least get Ayon back in a sign-and-trade; Ayon was really underrated last year and does a very good job of cutting into open space to get easy scores.
RE-SIGNED JAMEER NELSON
Another strange decision. The Magic are beginning a long rebuilding effort, so why give a guy like Nelson a three-year contract? We've seen enough of him play to know that he's not getting any better. It's especially curious that, given the choice to keep one rotation player with a long-term deal, Hennigan chose Nelson over Anderson.
I guess Hennigan believes a team needs decent point guard play to help facilitate the development of other young players, but it's not like Nelson is an elite passer that can set others up for easy scores. He's more of a scoring point guard, and while he's competent, he needs others to make him look better, not the other way around. About the only redeeming quality of this signing is that the Magic really didn't have many other options. Then again, throwing someone random out there to sink or swim would have fit more with the Magic's stated rebuilding plan than keeping Nelson.
DRAFTED ANDREW NICHOLSON AND KYLE O'QUINN
I really liked both of these picks. Nicholson needs to work on his body a bit, but he's fantastically skilled and well-suited for the modern hybrid-forward position. His presence helps mitigate the loss of Anderson. O'Quinn is a big body that can rebound, and you can do far worse than that in the second round of the draft.