There's a lot to absorb in the wake of the Dwight Howard trade. But one head-scratcher stands out: why on Earth did the Orlando Magic take this deal, off all the ones that have floated in the past 18 months?
Here's what the Nets put on the table in July, via Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
Final Nets offer Orlando rejected in July: Lopez, Humphries (1 year, $9.6M), Brooks, 4 unprotected No. 1's for Howard, JRich, Duhon, Clark.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) August 10, 2012
Brook Lopez is a better player than anyone the Magic get in this deal, and Kris Humphries might be, too; at least, it's an argument between him and Arron Afflalo, the single best player the Magic ultimately fetched. Al Harrington's an older, more expensive version of MarShon Brooks at a different position. Nikola Vucevic and Mo Harkless have potential, but having more potential than game is not a great thing. And the players the Magic are shipping out are the exact same four they would have shipped out then, so there's no major salary cap difference.
The four draft picks the Magic would have gotten from the Nets sound nice on paper, but it's unlikely they would have been better than the three they did get; the Nets with Howard, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson would have been picking in the 20s every year, just like the new-look Lakers will, and the picks from the Nuggets and Sixers will be "good" if they end up being 16th or 18th or something.
That Nets deal looks a little better than the one the Magic accepted, and the ways in which this one pans out better are a.) the Harkless and Vucevic dice rolls both paying off or b.) the Magic hitting gold on one of those draft picks or c.) both. There's no obvious and compelling reason to have made this trade instead of that Nets one.
In the proposed deal, the Rockets would likely take on at least three of Richardson, Glen Davis, Duhon or Hedo Turkoglu. In return, according to the report, the Magic would get back Kevin Martin, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris and Chandler Parsons to make salary work and would give up the draft rights to Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones.
Martin vs. Afflalo is probably a wash -- Martin's the more logical primary scorer, Afflalo the more well-rounded player, and neither is really an exciting return as the best player coming back for Dwight Howard. But shedding Turkoglu and/or Davis, not taking on Harrington's contract, and getting some subset of six players currently under the age of 24 (a few of whom could be very good) is substantially better for the 2012-13 Magic than Vucevic and Harkless, and probably better in the long run than the plate of offal that is the three draft picks the Magic did get.
Magic GM Rob Hennigan will be judged in part on those moves he didn't make, and, sure, because of incomplete information, that's not entirely fair. It'd be easier to not do that if it didn't look like he got hosed in the one he did make: Hennigan not only failed to get the second-best player involved in a trade (Andrew Bynum) in which he had the best trading chip, he failed to get the third-best player, Andre Iguodala.
Could Harkless turn into a very good Metta World Peace-type player? Sure. Could Vucevic be a lower-middle-class Marcin Gortat? Sure. Do even the best-case scenarios here make Magic fans deliriously happy? Not a chance.
This is a trade that reeks of myopia caused by despair and seems like a move made to get a quick return on Howard and proceed toward whatever the future is. If that's truly why it was made, Hennigan could save himself some public aeration by saying as much. Even Magic fans disappointed by the trade can understand the logic of needing a resolution to what often felt like a bizarre hostage situation.
Simply getting out of that hostage situation won't be enough in the long run, though. At some point after emerging from the darkness, there should be a better future in the light.
Right now, with a different darkness in the cellar of the Eastern Conference beckoning, it's hard to see that future for Orlando.