A generational talent requests a trade. A small market team is painted into a corner. A long road to recovery begins.
If that scenario isn’t frightening enough for the New Orleans Pelicans and their fans in the wake of Anthony Davis requesting a trade, there is also this: the Orlando Magic were in a similar position seven years ago and still have not come close to recovering.
True, there are differences between the Davis situation and the 2012 Dwight Howard saga in Orlando that became known as the “Dwightmare.” And yes, in the years since the Magic traded Howard to the Lakers that summer, the Orlando front office has made ensuing decisions that crippled the organization more than Howard’s departure did.
But the parallels the Pelicans and Magic faced are obvious: a former top pick goes from being the league’s best big man to the league’s most high-profile disgruntled star to the league’s hottest commodity on the trade market. And ultimately to the player who has left a small market team in a state of an instant rebuild, struggling to fill the void left behind.
The Magic are a cautionary tale for the New Orleans Pelicans, an ugly precedent that shows the long and winding road back to NBA relevancy in the post-superstar era. It is a proposition made all the more alarming when considering the Magic actually won the Dwight Howard trade.
Here we are all these years after the trade and Nikola Vucevic, seemingly a throw-in the Magic received in the four-deal deal, is set to become an All-Star for the first time in his eighth-year career. Time, as it turned out, showed that Howard peaked in Orlando and never again reached that pinnacle with the five teams he has played for since.
For Howard, the 2012 trade came shortly after the Magic made a run to the 2009 NBA Finals and 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. Davis, despite some failed efforts by the Pelicans’ front office, has gone no further than the second round of the playoffs with New Orleans.
Davis’ departure, and the impact he ultimately makes on his new team, will probably end up feeling more like Shaquille O’Neal winning titles in Los Angeles than Dwight Howard deteriorating in Atlanta and Charlotte and Washington.
But the position that Howard and Davis put their respective teams in are the same. (Even if Howard’s came with an odd and very public back-and-forth where he first requested a trade and then changed his mind, waiving his Early Termination Option to remain in Orlando for the final year of his contract).
With Davis, who still has another year remaining on his contract plus a player option he’ll most certainly opt out of, the Pelicans are left scrambling to find a suitor for a star player who ultimately controls the narrative.
The long process of trying to replace the irreplaceable has begun. The first step of that process is watching the beloved face of your franchise spend his prime in another uniform.
And, even from a team like the Magic that is in year seven of a seemingly never-ending, post-trade, 20-something-wins-a-season rebuild, there is not much that can be offered to the Pelicans in terms of advice (or realistic trade proposals for a one-and-a-half year rental).
All we can say to those in the front office (and city) of New Orleans is to be patient, both in making a trade for Davis and, perhaps more importantly, in the years that follow. Build properly. Give the players acquired, or drafted with the lottery picks inevitably headed your way, the proper time to develop. Don’t allow the sense of urgency to return to relevancy that is bred during a grueling rebuild become a trigger for ill-fated panic moves. Take it from fans that know the Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris trades set the Magic back much further than Dwight Howard ever could.
You will miss Anthony Davis. You will wonder how in the hell the team got to where it is. You will become convinced that better days will never come.
They will, eventually.
For the Magic, maybe it will be in year eight.