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Only in the NBA could a deal that has been rumored to go down for nearly a year slap us all across the face with such force. With such surprise, such weirdness, leaving us this astonished. Dwight Howard is finally going to the Los Angeles Lakers barring a last-minute NBA-styled glitch, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski was the first to report on Thursday, and because this is the NBA the deal raises more questions than answers.
[Adrian Wojnarowski: Four-team trade will send Dwight Howard to Lakers]
Save for, of course, "who's going to be in the NBA Finals next June?" That's been more or less taken care of, with this transaction. The Lakers will meet the Miami Heat 10 months from now, unless something goes terribly wrong, or someone screws up badly.
What we're left to do now is judge whether or not someone representing any of the four teams involved in this deal have screwed something up, badly. The Orlando Magic, a team that features a GM that has been in place for nearly as long as LeBron James has been an NBA champion, just shifted the entire focus of this ridiculous league back to Los Angeles, and away from James' Miami Heat. As if Los Angeles' month-old deal for one of the greatest point guards in NBA history wasn't enough.
The Magic, apparently, had to do something. Rumors abound that CEO Alex Martins put GM Rob Hennigan's feet to the fire, in a very un-San Antonio Spurs-like move, to get the deal done. We understand why the Magic's ownership group wanted nothing to do with the possibility of bringing Dwight Howard into camp in October, and we're also aware that bad luck and bad timing made it so no other deal for Howard was going to manifest itself between now and then, or now and February's trade deadline.
That is, of course, assuming you've forgotten all about the Houston Rockets and that team's myriad assets and draft picks. It is fine to forgive the Magic for not wanting to turn into those Rockets, all full of front office potential but nobody to dance with, but it's also just fine to criticize the Magic for not doing better. Even Brooklyn's final offer, as reported by Woj and made (sadly for Magic fans) in the first weeks of Hennigan's tenure, seems like the better deal — Brook Lopez at an appropriate price, one year of Kris Humphries at an inappropriate price, MarShon Brooks, and four unprotected first-round picks. Room to grow, with a 7-footer that can walk, chew gum and hit jump hooks at the same time.
In place of that, after a month and a half of nonsense, the Magic will receive Andrew Bynum Pau Gasol Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, rookie Maurice Harkless, three first-rounders from various sources and a second-round pick. We dig Vucevic. We respect Afflalo (when he isn't attempting his Adrian Dantley impersonation). We know that Harkless has potential and that Harrington can help a good team. It's not a haul, though. It's a result.
In Orlando's defense, Bynum may not have signed an extension with the team (though we doubt that). Pau Gasol's game is to be adored, but not on a rebuilding team. There were reasons to fret, but this is what this Orlando's ownership deserves after hemming and hawing with former GM Otis Smith for years, and then waiting a month and a half after its season ended to find his replacement. The Magic should have known, the minute Dwight Howard lied to himself and Orlando and bought into his 2012-13 player option, that Smith's replacement needed to be lined up the second the Magic were knocked out of the postseason.
(The Lakers? They get Dwight Howard for Andrew Bynum. Love Bynum's game, think he was underutilized for years with Los Angeles, but they got Dwight Howard. They also still have Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. I have a word count to think about, and you've seen basketball games.)
[Adrian Wojnarowski: Nigerian Oguchi draws interest from NBA teams]
The Denver Nuggets pick up Andre Iguodala in the deal, and you'll pardon some modern-era Twitter-speak, but Andre Iguodala is just about the most Denver Nuggets player in the NBA. He's a great talent that doesn't excel in any one area save for being fantastically brilliant at playing the game of professional basketball. Like all Nuggets, he can't be counted on to win a game or playoff series by his lonesome, but he will repeatedly put you in a great position to win a game or playoff series while filling in wherever needed. He is also the only part of this potential 14-player deal (once all draft picks are accounted for) that will be playing for a gold medal in London over the next three days.
Denver loses a first-round pick plus Afflalo and Harrington in the process, but it'll also shave off over $11 million in 2014-15 salary with this deal. The Nuggets might be biding their time with all these "pretty good" players, but the team and the NBA's trade market hasn't exactly offered up many star-styled players to be tempted by and chased after. Someday, not everyone will play in Los Angeles, Miami or New York. Apparently Denver will be ready to pounce on that eventual, and much hoped-for, era.
The Philadelphia 76ers are harder to understand, save for the part about where they traded for an angry and presumably willing to please All-Star center that was born a few months after Shelley Long left "Cheers."
We've rightfully regarded the 76ers' offseason as a disaster to date, but the team has wing depth enough to fill in Iguodala's spot with good enough scorers, and we've all been spared the indignity of a team that was a game away from the Eastern Conference finals deciding to start Kwame Brown and Spencer Hawes in the same frontcourt. There's no plan in Philly, save for grabbing a bunch of players that can play right now under a coach that can really draw up plays (if not make sound personnel decisions regarding minutes and lineups), and we can't fault the 76ers for hopping into this big mess.
It will also take a massive leap of faith, or giant bit of Philly-styled discomfort, for Bynum to pass on the money he can make with a maximum contract with the 76ers in the summer of 2013. He'll flirt and feint, but unless the Sixers really screw this up, he'll be a part of that team until he hits 30. All they have to endure is a few offseason months of Bynum pretending to be ticked off at the trade, a rough regular season where he flirts with every potential suitor's town, and the part in July of 2013 when his agent tells him how much money he can make in Philadelphia over how much money he can make in Dallas.
From there, with all those middle-class pretenders sadly filed away, we turn to the idea of Dwight Howard as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. And how this will challenge your appreciation of this league.
Because he's a phony, you know.
He lied to all of you about "loyalty," last March. Lied. To. You. Looked in the camera and lied to you, whether you live in either Florida or California's Orange County, or you're reading this site from a time zone that has you up at four in the morning. Dwight Howard lied to you on record and in writing, whether you're a fan of the Magic or not, about what he really wanted. He lied to his teammates, he lied to his front office, he lied to the press that had to show up to talk to him in March, and he lied to the children that he couldn't muster up the courage to face at a camp their parents paid money for them to attend.
Overwrought, this? No. For one last time, revisit the nonsense that he's created. Say goodbye to it, as he's off to El Lay, but don't forgive it.
He is a spoiled, immature, brat. And for all the condemnation that LeBron James endured from 2009-11 for his work before and following The Decision, or criticism Kobe Bryant took in during his trade demand waffling in 2007, or criticism any number of NBA stars have received following their destruction of a coach or teammate's career or franchise's decade — Howard has been worse. You're not reading some in-the-moment hack that forgets that sporting life existed before 2012. It's this bad. Dwight Howard should be ashamed of himself, and yet he's about to receive the greatest reward in his profession.
And now we have to deal with the fact that a person that should be the league's most-loathed player is on a team featuring giants of basketball spirit like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.
You're just fine to judge Dwight Howard from afar. I don't know how you or I or any other fan is supposed to handle the Los Angeles Lakers right now. They did what was right. They acquired, by far, the best player in this deal. They turned Kwame Brown (and, er, an eventual All-Star center), a mid-lottery draft pick in the crummy 2005 draft, and Lamar Odom's 2011-12 "season" into Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. The team that is a year removed from firing most of its scouting department in a money-saving maneuver is now a healthy season and sound bit of coaching away from threatening 70 wins in an NBA season.
You're OK to think this isn't fair.
This isn't Laker bashing without cause. We love what this team could give us. On Thursday morning we regarded the Lakers as the most intriguing team in the NBA for good reasons, and now we're calling them the same on Friday morning for bad reasons. There is no greater heel in the NBA than Dwight Howard, the man who couldn't own his personal behavior in the face of children whose summer highlight was going to be an afternoon in his presence, and it's just fine for you to wish that the Lakers could have continued apace with what was a championship core featuring Andrew Bynum. I don't doubt that, to a man, each Laker would prefer to do as much.
They'll get over it, though. And we will too, strangely.
Because that's what we do. Because all it takes is one furrowed brow and a bit of good low post work in June for us to forgive LeBron James. Or anyone else, failing previously in our eyes, that you want to bring up. Because we, silly us, like this sport. We like this league, even. We don't know why, but we'll be back. Even if we know exactly who we'll be watching on June 16, in 2013.
Someone save us from ourselves. Someone save us from the NBA.
(Just kidding. We're good. Stay right where we're at. We have 2 1/2 months to get over it.)
(And enjoy all of the Steve Nash, Dwight.)
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