On August 10, 2012, the NBA hierarchy apparently changed.
After losing in five games to a rising team from Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Lakers launched a blockbuster trade to help aging veterans Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in a final title chase.
The legendary franchise acquired Dwight Howard in a four-team trade that brought Orlando Magic Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga and several future draft picks.
We know the first The Howard-to-LA experiment was a failure: The Lakers were swept in the first round of the playoffs and Howard flew to Houstan less than a year after being traded to Tinsel Town.
For our own good, I ask a question: what can the current Magic front office learn from such an important deal?
Young players may be more valuable than future draft picks
Following the trade, a Bleacher Report article stated, “The most important part of this deal for Orlando is the fact that he acquired numerous first-round picks.”
Hindsight is 20/20, but there’s something to be said for the perceived value of future draft picks.
Ironically, the most accomplished player the Magic acquired through the deal ended up being Vucevic, who was drafted 16th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers the previous year.
In nine seasons with the Magic, Vucevic averaged 17.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, receiving two All-Star nominations along the way.
The draft picks ultimately became Romero Osby, Dario Saric, De’Aaron Fox, Wesley Iwundu and Rodions Kurucs: four players who never even donned a Magic uniform and one who played three seasons in Orlando.
There are absolutely instances where the capital project ultimately becomes the most valuable part of a successful deal. But today, front offices are more inclined to mortgage their future; especially when they have established young stars.
In Orlando’s case, if their current young core shows up, they may be in contention for the playoffs early on, but then plateau, don’t be shocked if the front office dumps a handful of future draft picks for a veteran star. . (not saying they should, just pointing out that it might become normal).
Without a star player, starting a rebuild is difficult.
It’s no surprise when the Magic missed the playoffs the next six seasons after the Howard trade.
Blame it for a myriad of reasons: low draft draws, four head coaches in five years, or a front office change in 2017, the truth is that rebuilding a franchise, especially without an established star, is a laborious challenge.
Orlando didn’t return to the playoffs until the 2018-19 season, when Vucevic played 80 games and was selected to his first All-Star team.
Replacing a player of Howard’s caliber is nearly impossible. But sometimes organizations and star players disagree, it’s just human nature.
Which brings me to my last point.
Balancing relationships is just as important as acquiring talent
Players are drawn to positive work environments.
What this entails, but is not limited to, is effective communication, trust, development and perhaps most importantly, realistic expectations.
That being said, while the team is young, the Magic’s current culture should get fans excited about the team’s future.
Players who all seem to get along and are eager to compete for the playoffs, a brand new training facility and a front office moving methodically through the rebuild: all arrows point to Orlando.
After 10 agonizing years of mediocrity, the Magic are entering a new era of basketball; one that will hopefully lead to the franchise’s first Larry O’ Brien trophy.