Everyone is still deconstructing and figuring out exactly what the Magic got in the Dwight Howard trade.
As just about everyone who is trying to defend the trade will point out, this was not a move made to keep the competitive this year. That would have been extremely shortsighted as, quite simply, there is no replacing Dwight Howard. Not even close. Sorry, Andrew Bynum.
The Magic saw a lot more value in bottoming out and pushing the ultimate reset button. The trade was more about collecting assets to assist in that effort and bounce back that way. The hope is the Magic get a franchise-changing player in the Draft Lottery and to rebuild the foundations of the franchise from there.
Who Orlando sent out with Dwight Howard was just as important as who the team acquired in the trade. Jason Richardson and Chris Duhon’s contracts had become albatrosses as neither player was producing at an acceptable level. The players Orlando acquired for Dwight Howard might be the same kind of long-term commitments, but they provide a lot more flexibility because players like Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington are more likely to contribute on the court somewhere near the levels they are getting paid at.
Flexibility was the key of this deal.
Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington, if they continue producing at the same level they are producing at, can be moved in the future. It was clear from the way Jason Richardson, Chris Duhon and, even, Hedo Turkoglu (who is still on the roster) are on the decline and not able to produce at their current contracts.
“As we went through this process and we tried to navigate through all our options, our goals remained consistent throughout,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said Friday at the press conference announcing the Dwight Howard trade. “We wanted to put ourselves in position to create some long term sustainability over time and do that with a mixture of young players, young veterans, draft picks and some other assets to use going forward.
“We wanted to make sure we could put the wheels in motion to establish a basketball culture that has sticking power, that our fans and our community can relate to, that our team can start to identify with. We wanted to stay committed to our beliefs and how to make that happen, which we feel is through incremental, methodical decisionmaking and steps and not something that happens in one fell swoop.”
This has been Hennigan’s common refrain since taking over the job. What Magic fans want to know is what this team’s future looks like.
So what exactly did the Magic gain?
What most people want is cap space. This has been the main mode through which the Magic have built for the better part of 24 years. The Magic have not really been methodical in their building since they struck lottery gold in 1992 and 1993. Orlando went through a strong run of Playoff appearances after that and were rarely bad enough to have draft picks. After Shaquille O’Neal left, the team still had Anfernee Hardaway. It took a year after trading Hardaway to have the cap room to sign Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill in one fell swoop. And the McGrady era was notable for its failed draft picks and attempts at free agency.
The same could be said of the Magic the last two or three years as they tried to buy their way to a championship as quickly as possible.
Orlando seems to be favoring a rebuilding project that uses the Draft as its main piece of collecting the foundations. This does not mean that the Magic will completely throw themselves into the crapshoot that the draft can be. Flexibility, remember?
“I think that we’re pliable and we’ve set ourselves up to look at both avenues,” Hennigan said. “And that was something that was important to us. I don’t think you can ever get too parochial and say this is the model that we need to subscribe to. We have a lot of flexilbity to build through the draft. We have flexibility to build through free agency. We have flexibility to build through trade. We have flexibility through different pieces of each avenue.”
So let’s take a closer look at exactly what the Magic gained financially in this trade:
As you can see, the Magic saved about $8 million in salary for this year alone. However, the long-term savings are not readily apparent. It would appear the Magic took on much more long-term salary in the deal even if they decline all options and buyout any unguaranteed portions of contracts. Of course, these numbers do not take into account the estimated $19.1 million Howard would make in a max contract beginning in 2014.
Orlando though took the way of flexibility, hoping that collecting players and assets like Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Christian Eyenga — all on rookie contracts — will pay out in the end. The team hopes Afflalo can continue to produce and become either a good player to have for the long-term future (not likely since he will be 30 years old at the end of his contract) or to move later on. Harrington’s 50 percent guarantee on the final two years of his contract may give the team some flexibility.
There were better deals that the Magic passed up if they were looking for supreme cap flexibility. Likely the Nets deal back in December and March were better on that front.
The difference though is the Magic have all that salary wrapped up into five players rather than three players. That, technically does provide more flexibility.
And then when you look at player effectiveness — and thus, perhaps, trade value — it is clear the Magic gained something. Excluding Dwight Howard, Orlando was the clear winner.
Jason Richardson had a 13.3 PER last year and made $5.4 million for $405,639 per PER point. Arron Afflalo had a 14.7 PER and made $7.6 million for $514,456 per PER point. Al Harrington had a 15.3 PER and made $6.2 million for $406,941 per PER point. Remember, Chris Duhon posted an 8.4 PER with a $3.5 million salary — a $416,667 per PER point rating.
If the Magic were going to go after winning, they might have gotten the better end of the deal (except for Howard, of course). And most agree Afflalo had a down year last season. You can look at those numbers and judge for yourself what Orlando received.
The point is that because of the various options and non-guaranteed contracts Orlando acquired, there is a large difference between what the Magic must pay and what they could pay in the near future. There is flexibility, particularly if Afflalo and Harrington and the young players Orlando acquired, produce at a decent level. They certainly will be able to move easier than Jason Richardson and Chris Duhon were. They were only leaving with Dwight Howard.
It is OK to be a little leery of those long-term salary commitments. But as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel points out, Orlando only has $29.2 million committed for the 2014 season. This is when the Magic may strike in free agency… or continue building their assets.