The Orlando Magic May Have Taken The Best Deal Available After All

Yep. Magic GM Rob Hennigan recently spoke with SI‘s Sam Amick about the progression of the Dwight Howard trade talks, and there was a lot of revealing information previously unavailable to the public eye. Before we get to analyzing what actually went down, let’s hear the details first.

“Sources with knowledge of the talks said that wasn’t the case with Brooklyn’s most recent proposal. Before Brook Lopez’s re-signing on July 11 ended the talks with the Nets because he could no longer be included in the deal, the Magic — who had a chance to get four first-round picks (with Nets guard MarShon Brooks being traded to the Clippers, or some other third team, in exchange for one of the picks) — had been against the idea of saddling their payroll with Lopez on a maximum contract (four years, $61 million) or, to a much lesser degree, power forward Kris Humphries on a deal that would guarantee him about $10 million next season. Most, if not all, of those picks would likely have all been late first-rounders based on any reasonable projections of the Nets’ future (and that of the Clippers, if they had signed off on that deal).

The offerings from Houston, sources said, weren’t as plentiful as previously believed either. In both the two-team talks with Houston and three-team discussions that involved the Lakers and would have sent center Andrew Bynum to the Rockets, sources said Houston was offering only two first-round picks. From Houston’s perspective, however, the comparative value of the picks far outweighed anything available to the Magic elsewhere and it had been made clear that a third pick could be added ‘if it got the deal done.’
One of the picks, which would have come via Toronto as part of Houston’s recent trade of point guard Kyle Lowry, has protections that make it likely to land in the lottery. The other being offered, by way of Dallas, had an outside chance at becoming completely unprotected in 2018 if the Mavericks didn’t finish the regular season in the league’s top 10 in the five years prior.

[…] Many assumed that the Rockets’ three first-round picks from this year’s draft — guard Jeremy Lamb and forwards Royce White and Terrence Jones — would be made available in a Howard deal. But sources close to the Magic said Lamb was the only such prospect offered, and that he was off the table by the time the talks involved the Lakers and Lamb had impressed at the Las Vegas summer league in July (he averaged 20 points in five games). Meanwhile, unwanted players like Gary Forbes, Jon Brockman and Marcus Morris were made available (along with shooting guard Kevin Martin, whose expiring $12.9 million contract was a must to make the money work).”

The NBA rumor mill is vicious and impetuous and largely false these days. In our haste to break stories and tweet every semi-sustainable fact, the truth gets lost. Rumormongering takes over, and it’s a battle of who said what and when. When initial reports of the Rockets’ offer to Orlando came out, they were reportedly annihilating their roster for Howard. Clearly that was not the case, as only one or two prospects and two (maybe three) first rounders were offered.

In the case of the Nets, the Magic simply weren’t willing to hamstring their future with the Lopez contract. And, as we’ve preached here before, it’s championship or 60 losses in the NBA. The middle ground is a futile no man’s land. By rejecting Brook Lopez as the centerpiece of any deal, that’s what the Magic were doing – rejecting mediocrity.

Instead, they came away with Arron Afflalo, who’s only owed $7,750,000 in each of the next three (possibly four, if Afflalo picks up his player option) seasons, Al Harrington, Josh McRoberts (both expiring contracts), 23-year-old Christian Eyenga, second year player Nikola Vucevic and four first round picks (if we included 2012 draft pick Moe Harkless as one of them). While the haul may not be ideal, they avoided any and all bad contracts. In the summer of 2014, they’ll have only $29 million in guaranteed contracts.

And, let’s remember this: Orlando had zero leverage. Sure, they had competing buyers willing to one-up each other, but a Lakers’ deal would always center around Andrew Bynum and little else. The Rockets’ deal was always going to center around two higher quality first round picks and some small pick of the litter on prospects. And with the Nets, Lopez and/or Humphries would have to be included in the deal to make the salaries work.

Was this a great deal for Orlando? By no means. But no one ever expected them to reel in signifcant returns on Howard. Instead, we have a GM planning for the future. In today’s NBA, trades of equal value are rare. And, with more and more players coming to grips with their unique control over franchises, the tables are turned even more. So what we’re left with is a team looking to restart from scratch. And how do you restart from scratch? You acquire draft picks and shed salary. Ultimately Orlando wasn’t going to land a top five draft pick or a superstar young player. In Oklahoma City, Sam Presti landed three such picks and turned them into Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. If Hennigan is lucky, the Magic will be bad enough to land in that position. If not, Hennigan will still have the maneuverability to shape this franchise as he sees fit, with no salary strings or concerns for winning attached. And that’s a win, in our book.

What do you think?

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