On August 10, 2012, the NBA’s hierarchy seemingly shifted.
After losing in five games to an up-and-coming Oklahoma City squad, the Los Angeles Lakers issued a blockbuster trade to assist aging veterans Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in one last title run.
The storied franchise acquired Dwight Howard in a four-team trade that netted the Orlando Magic Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga and multiple future draft picks.
We know the first Howard-to-LA experiment was a failure: the Lakers were swept in the first round of the playoffs and Howard jetted to Houstan less than one year after being traded to Tinsel Town.
For our sake I ask one question: what can the Magic’s current front office learn from such a momentous 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 it acquired numerous first-round draft picks.”
Hindsight is 20/20, but there is something to be said about the perceived value of future draft picks.
Ironically enough, the most accomplished player the Magic acquired from the deal ended up being Vucevic, who was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers 16th overall the year prior.
In nine seasons with the Magic, Vucevic averaged 17.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, receiving two All-Star nods 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 examples where draft capital eventually becomes the most valuable part of a blockbuster deal. But nowadays, front offices are more willing to mortgage their future; especially when they have young established stars.
In Orlando’s case, if their current young core showcases they can contend for the playoffs early on, but subsequently plateau, do not be shocked if the front office offloads a handful of future draft picks for a veteran star (not saying they should do this, just pointing out it could become a normality).
Without a star player, commencing a rebuild is difficult.
It came as no surprise when the Magic missed the playoffs the following six seasons after the Howard trade.
Blame it on a myriad of reasons: weak draft hauls, four head coaches in five years or a 2017 front office changeover, the truth is rebuilding a franchise, especially without an established star, is a laborious challenge.
Orlando did not get back 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 do not see eye to eye, it is simply human nature.
Which leads me to my final point.
Balancing relationships is just as important as acquiring talent
Players are attracted to positive workplace environments.
What that entails, but is not limited to, is effective communication, trust, development and perhaps most importantly, realistic expectations.
That being said, although the team is young, the Magic’s current culture has to get fans excited about the team’s future.
Players who seemingly all get along and are eager to compete for the playoffs, a brand new training facility and a front office methodically pacing themselves through the rebuild: all arrows are pointing up in Orlando.
After 10 agonizing years of mediocracy, the Magic are entering a new era of basketball; one that hopefully results in the franchise’s first Larry O’ Brien trophy.