It was mid-August when the world passed judgment on the Orlando Magic and their trade of franchise center Dwight Howard. We killed them for receiving bit players in return, as well as for the direction the team was heading. Some thought GM Rob Hennigan was too young and maybe even in over his head. Most, if not all, believed the Magic were on a path towards historic futility this season with uncertainty clouding the future beyond that.
Instead, what ensued over the first month or so of the season showed us the Orlando Magic aren’t as bad as initially thought. Even more importantly is that their locker room is drama free. They have players that want to be there as a result of the trade, and have come together nicely despite some early injuries to key personnel (Jameer Nelson, Al Harrington and Hedo Turkoglu).
With the exception of Harrington, each player Orlando received in the deal is making valuable contributions – even if just by not being a distraction. Arron Afflalo battled an early groin injury but now has his offense going, leading the Magic in scoring at 16.1 points per game. Nikola Vucevic has been better than advertised, a serviceable and talented young center giving Orlando averages of 9.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per night after their first 18 games. Rookie Moe Harkless has been starting for the injured Turkoglu, and Josh McRoberts has even seen action, starting two games when Harkless missed time. Everybody is doing their part in Orlando while the key players acquired by the Magic’s trade partners struggle or sit on their new teams.
Andrew Bynum, the once prized return for Howard, has yet to play a game for the Philadelphia 76ers with mysterious knee trouble. Andre Iguodala is still finding his way for the streaking Denver Nuggets.
Then there is Howard, who may or may not be fully recovered from his back injury depending on who you ask. He isn’t having a bad season, but his points (18.5), rebounds (11.2), and free throw percentage (47 percent) are at their lowest averages in five years. Howard and the Lakers have already undergone a coaching change and are in the midst of discovering their identity as a team. The Lakers have been nothing like the “Avengers,” as Howard playfully alluded to before the season began. If they aren’t careful and turn things around soon, a sequel to the “Dwightmare” may follow in La La land, something Orlando is all too familiar with.
When the Magic came into the Staples Center and defeated the Lakers on December 2, it was like closure with an ex. They implored the same Hack-a-Howard strategy they had to endure for the many years Superman donned the blue and white for their team… and it worked. After what might be the biggest win they have all season, J.J. Redick tweeted: “Sweet win. That’s for Orlando. On to the next one!”
Let’s be clear, one win does not make a season and the Magic are not playoff bound in the Eastern Conference. The lottery is still in their future, even if that seems to be by design. But they are getting along just fine without Howard, and are certainly better than most thought they would be at this point in the season.
In the wake of the Howard trade, the Lakers were credited based on a well-deserved reputation of astute transactions (and oh yeah, because Dwight Howard is still pretty good), but the Magic appear to have been wrongfully convicted of incompetence.
Has your opinion changed of Orlando’s role in the Howard trade?
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