By now, everyone knows the Orlando Magic are going to trade All-Star center Dwight Howard. Despite the Brookyln Nets, his desired destination, virtually pulling out of the Howard sweepstakes by trading for Joe Johnson, Howard has seemingly burned too many bridges in Orlando to stick around.
Howard has been the face of the Magic franchise for the past few seasons, winning Defensive Player of the Year three times, made the All-Star team six times and even led the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009.
Clearly, this trade will be one of the most pivotal moments in franchise history. Before the Magic completely overhauled their front office, led by the hiring of general manager Rob Hennigan, the Magic were looking for veterans. Players that could "win now" and appease 86-year old owner Rich DeVos. That's why the initial rumor we heard connected with the Magic involved the team acquiring Nets center Brook Lopez and then Blazers and current Nets forward Gerald Wallace. A move like that would have kept the Magic somewhat competitive, meaning they would have remained a playoff team, but what good is being a team that continues to get knocked out in the first round every season?
Everyone raves about the haul the Denver Nuggets got in return for Carmelo Anthony. In exchange for Anthony, the Nuggets received Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, a 2014 first-round pick from the Knicks, a 2012 and 2013 second-round pick from the Warriors and cash considerations. The deal has kept the Nuggets afloat and helped them make the playoffs each of the last two seasons, but that's it.They've failed to advance past the first round in both seasons. In 2011, the Nuggets were ousted by the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games and were dispatched by the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games this year.
There are two real and consistent ways to rebuild a team in the NBA. One option is bottoming out and starting from scratch, which is what the Magic did in order to acquire Howard in the first place.
The western conference champion Thunder used this method to get where they are today. Back in 2007, the then Seattle Supersonics lost Rashard Lewis to the Magic via a sign and trade and dealt Ray Allen to the Boston Celtics. During that same offseason, the Sonics used the second overall pick to select Kevin Durant. A year later, the Sonics went a franchise-worst 20-62, packed up and head to Oklahoma City. The Thunder used the fourth overall pick to select UCLA guard Russsell Westbrook. A year later, the Thunder were back in the lottery, this time holding the third overall pick and they selected Arizona State guard James Harden, giving them the third of their three centerpieces.
The other option is simply clearing cap room and giving the right pitch to free agents has led to great success. The Magic tried this in 2000 when they acquired Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill, but Hill's ankle never let it work out.
The NBA champion Miami Heat were built this way. The Heat virtually traded away everyone with a contract that lasted passed the 2010-11 season and wound up with the cap room to court the league's top free agents. They wound up retaining Dwyane Wade and adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh, culminating in a championship last month.
With Howard, the league's best defensive player on the market, the Magic are position to do both. If the Magic can trade Howard for young players and picks while dumping some of their bloated salaries (They'd love to move Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, Glen Davis, Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson), they could set themselves up perfectly for the future.