And thus begins a new era
What Dwight Howard did to the Orlando Magic is simply awful. For all the hate LeBron James received for The Decision, it was a thousand times kinder than the way Howard wormed his way out of Orlando. Howard got the Magic to fire an extremely successful and well-regarded head coach in Stan Van Gundy. The Magic then fired GM Otis Smith. Smith's track record makes the decision a little less egregious, but Smith wasn't fired for his record. He was fired to appease Dwight. Two men were made unemployed on the whim of a spoiled, wishy-washy superstar who refused to simply make a decision about his future. Even when new GM Rob Hennigan arrived, he continued to toy with the franchise that had made him a star, and had put pieces around him to challenge for an NBA championship. When Hennigan refused to play the game any longer and finally ended the drawn-out affair, there was a collective sigh of relief across the league. Everyone was simply tired of Dwight's endless games.
Now Orlando is left to survey the aftermath and begin the process of rebuilding the franchise. In addition to trading Howard, the Magic also traded away, in various deals, Ryan Anderson, Jason Richardson, Earl Clark, and Chris Duhon. Aside from Howard, Anderson is the biggest loss. Anderson was an excellent scorer, and a stretch four that perfectly fit Orlando's scheme. Of course, with Van Gundy and Dwight gone, the scheme will change. It didn't make sense for Orlando to pay what Anderson would command as a restricted free agent, and they worked a sign-and-trade deal with the New Orleans Hornets.
There are plenty of new faces in Orlando. Arron Afflalo was the biggest piece Orlando received back for Dwight, a paltry return for a franchise star. Denver also sent Al Harrington, who can't be pleased with being in the middle of a rebuilding project at this point in his career. Philadelphia sent prospects Mo Harkless (I know he wanted to be Maurice Harkless, but Mo is a nickname and you can't choose your nickname, Mo), and Nikola Vucevic. Neither will provide an immediate impact, but both have interesting long term potential. The Lakers sent Josh McRoberts and Christian Eyenga. McRoberts was misused with the Lakers, and has the potential to be a solid role player. Eyenga has potential, but is very raw. The other new addition is Gustavo Ayon. Ayon came out of nowhere to put together a very nice season for the Hornets, and was sent to Orlando as part of the Ryan Anderson trade. Ayon still needs some development, but should man the middle for Orlando.
Left over in Orlando are a few familiar faces. Jameer Nelson surprised everyone by returning to Orlando on a new 3-year contract. For better or worse, he is now the face of the franchise. He'll provide a sense of continuity, but will be limited in how much he can help the franchise at this point in the rebuild. J.J. Redick remains, and should back up Afflalo at shooting guard. Hedo Turkoglu remains, but in name only. Turkoglu isn't even close to the player he once was, and remains only because his contract makes trading him difficult. Glen Davis returns, but has been a complete bust since being acquired from Boston.
It's going to be a long season for Magic fans and new coach Jacque Vaughn. But at least the Magic are now out from the shadow that Howard painfully cast over the franchise last year. The Magic will need to give Hennigan and Vaughn time to develop and rebuild the team. I personally believe that the Magic will end the year with the worst record in the East. Part of this prediction is based on the assumption that the Magic are not done making trades. I could easily see Harrington, Turkoglu, Nelson and Redick all finding new homes this season. Or they could all stay. The franchise is definitely in flux. The season will involve a lot of losses, but is likely to still be more fun for Magic fans than last year.