On August 10, 2012, Rob Hennigan informed the world that the Magic would end their part in the seemingly never-ending courtship for Dwight Howard's services. Orlando traded Howard, along with Chris Duhon, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark, for Nikola Vucevic, Arron Afflalo, Maurice Harkless, Josh McRoberts, Al Harrington and Christian Eyenga.
In one feel swoop, the organization set in motion its process to reach a sustainable championship level by clearing the decks and collecting some young assets. The machinations were beginning to turn in the back rooms at Amway Center.
However, there was no escaping Dwight Howard. It was a difficult breakup a year ago. The end of Howard's eight-year tenure left a deep scar. In one moment, the Magic were just a player away from contending for championships, the next they were counting ping pong balls and suffering through the league's worst record in the 2013 season.
Howard had that kind of impact. The venom spewed in March when Howard returned to Orlando for the first time since his back surgery in Los Angeles in April 2012 was a release and recognition of the impact Howard had on the team and its short-term future prospects.
At long last, to the delight of many fans around the NBA, the Dwight Howard saga is over. Howard announced he will sign with the Houston Rockets on July 10 when the NBA's free agent moratorium is lifted. This is a final decision — Howard's Twitter account now features him in a Rockets uniform and lists Houston, Texas as his location.
There was only one hiccup this evening as Chris Broussard of ESPN.com reported Howard was wavering as he flew to Los Angeles to inform the Lakers of his decision. That was unfounded and the original reports — from Sam Amico of USA TODAY and then, finally, Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld — that Howard had agreed to sign with the Rockets won out.
There is no more Indecision, no more Dwightmare, no more trying to please everyone. Maybe now, Dwight Howard can focus on what he does best — playing basketball — and find his peace.
It stinks it will not be in Orlando. The glitz and glamor of Los Angeles proved to be too much. So he moved to a more nondescript location in Houston. Less media pressure, but still perhaps the marketing opportunities he wants. More importantly for Howard, it has the championship opportunity all players should jump for.
That is no solace to Magic fans.
With this saga over, the focus is on the future and all the franchises involved — Howard's never-ending free agency touched the Magic, Lakers, Nets, Rockets, Hawks, Mavericks, Sixers and Nuggets — can move on for at least the next three years.
Orlando likes the young core it has built. The strong assets include 20-year-old Maurice Harkless, third-year players Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic, another solid second-year player in Andrew Nicholson, the veteran leadership of Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis. And then there is second overall pick Victor Oladipo.
That roster on its own probably is not going to win many games. It certainly will not win a championship (still the ultimate goal). But with some moves there is the ability to improve when the time is right.
Rob Hennigan has a clear vision for what he wants to build and an idea of how to get there. He knows what kind of team he wants to build — that was proven somewhat in his selection of Victor Oladipo over Ben McLemore and Nerlens Noel — and seems to have the patience to get there — again, proven in his passing on Nerlens Noel and Andrew Bynum.
At the time he pulled that trade in August a year ago, he was panned for not getting enough back for a superstar player. Now, it seems clear the Magic are the team that has pulled out ahead of the four teams involved in that deal. The future feels bright, it is up to the players and management to make good on that promise.
That day in December in 2011 when Dwight Howard told the media he had requested a trade from Orlando was a rough one. It was the end of an era even if we were all in denial that it could end at that time. The Magic were in denial as an organization and that started the winding road that had Howard yo-yoing in his decision, turning down his opt out and staying with Orlando for five more months than he had to.
It culminated with his trade to Los Angeles last year and finally ended Friday night.