The Dwight Howard Trade’s Top 5 Winners

It’s possible the biggest group of winners in the trade of Dwight Howard to Los Angeles are the Magic fans. At least, at first, until they realize trades with Houston and Brooklyn would have been more beneficial and brought a big man as an immediate Howard replacement. But the deal is done, and relative peace of mind has come to not only central Florida, but the rest of the NBA, because talk of the Dwightmare was over when David Stern’s signed off on the trade. The talk of the last 10 months that was once all about Howard being fed up will now become about a possible Los Angeles super team — but if that’s no consolation to you consider at least it’s about basketball, not attitudes. Orlando’s fed-up fans won’t be the only winners, though: Here are the picks of the five directly involved who came out the best.

Orlando’s draft pick this summer just got a lot more responsibility, in theory. Jacque Vaughn wasn’t coach during Orlando’s Summer League games, but he had to have been watching the first, impressive games of Nicholson’s career. The St. Bonaventure post isn’t a Howard replacement — he’ll struggle mightily against 7-footers but could be a mismatch against some power forwards with his mid-range shooting. That, however, is looking to far into what he can do right now. His biggest benefit as a post on an Orlando team now without Howard is simply the more minutes he could see as the Magic enter full-rebuild mode. That, coupled with Howard’s exiting shadow, means a player believed to be a short-term success with long-term questions has a much larger opportunity to upset that expectation.

It may sound silly to note this above Howard’s chance to win his first NBA championship, but if it does, you haven’t been following Howard much. His need to leave Orlando was fueled not by basketball reasons so much as the chance to grow into a national icon from one of the league’s largest markets. He felt pinched but either never got the research or glossed over the data here that one of the nation’s top marketability polls had him in its top 10 in 2010, the year of his Finals run. Now, less than half who said they liked him “a lot” then do now (his jersey sales slipped five spots to No. 14, too, reported Darren Rovell). Even without an extension agreed to in Los Angeles, if he can focus the conversation back to basketaball he can come out ahead in both his game and fame — both of which will determine where he plays in 2013. His game will be unquestioned if he stays healthy as the NBA’s best center, and nothing is going to change Dallas/Atlanta going after him in free agency with max money. His reputation could be the biggest winner, though, and the Lakers have to worry about that as much as his points and rebounds. If Dwight is happy in L.A. they’ll have the upper hand next year in free agency.

Look at Philadelphia and Denver from last season and two similar teams emerge, devoid of a central superstar, but flush with above-average role players. While losing Arron Afflalo is a hit to Denver’s already league-worst defense from last season, adding Andre Iguodala more than makes up the difference. He is as good as Corey Brewer and Afflalo in one person but is more offensively versatile and capable than either. The points the 76ers allowed per 100 possessions jumped five points to 109 when he stepped off the court last year, while the offense stayed the same. That, more than offense, is where Karl needs Denver to improve. Iguodala’s career transformation has turned him from a one-man star in Philly to the leader of its many role-playing parts. It’s a role he’ll barely have to change in Denver under Karl, who now has a top-line defender with Team USA cred.

When Turner was drafted it was to be the logical successor to Iguodala, the small forward/shooting guard combo who has been consistent trade bait most of his time in Philadelphia. Turner’s horrific rookie season — measured relative to expectations as a top-two pick — maintained the need to keep Iggy around longer, but last year’s improvement by the Ohio State guard must have inspired hope he could work into a player. Of Philadelphia’s 20 most-used lineups last year, the 76ers were 57-53 when both players shared the court and 54-43 when it was just Turner. He improved his shooting percentage, points and rebounds per game last year. It is possible to win with Turner, though it’s premature to say he might ever work as well as Iggy did in Philly. Now he should see his minutes increase from the 26.0 he earned last year to prove it.

Welcome back to the cream of the crop, Los Angeles. Kobe got the best point guard of his career in Los Angeles and the second-best center added this summer, while the team hasn’t applied pressure to his own pressure despite advancing age. It’s a dream transformation and a 180-degree reversal from the dire days of seeing GM Mitch Kupchak standing alone in a sea of Oklahoma City fans during the Lakers’ playoff exit. Kobe just got the trump card to OKC six weeks after landing a counterpunch to Russell Westbrook in Nash. And what of Nash? He’s getting a center whose pick-and-roll skills aren’t incredible (there’s a Pau for that, though) but whose ability to rise and finish on lobs is one of the very best in the league, as is his skill at grabbing rebounds and creating an outlet quickly. All this happened because both players made it clear they weren’t ready to ride slowly into the retirement sunset. They might only have one shot at turning it into a title with Howard unsteady on an extension (it would have to be signed in the next sixth months), but it’s put the Lakers and its title-less new additions front and center to the title race.

Who came out the best in this trade?

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