LONDON — Dwight Howard got his wish: He’s out of Orlando.
The All-Star center was traded Friday to the Los Angeles Lakers, the last act of his long, drawn-out departure from the Magic. It took four teams, 12 players, five draft picks and countless rounds of talks with different clubs to get done, but it finally was completed Friday after the NBA approved the deal.
So after an off-season where the Magic fired coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith, now they’re truly beginning anew. Howard is gone as well, the second time the franchise has lost a big-man star to the Lakers.
In 1996, the Magic watched Shaquille O’Neal sign as a free agent with the Lakers.
“Well, it looks like Superman has found a home,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant wrote on his Facebook page.
A lot of players found new homes, including Andrew Bynum, sent by the Lakers to the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers sent Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets. Orlando got guard Arron Afflalo and forward Al Harrington from Denver, forward Moe Harkless and center Nikola Vucevic from Philadelphia, and forward Josh McRoberts and guard Christian Eyenga from the Lakers. The Lakers got Howard, guard Chris Duhon and forward Earl Clark from Orlando. The Magic also traded guard Jason Richardson to Philadelphia. Orlando also gets five draft picks over five years.
“A primary goal for our basketball team is to achieve sustainability while maintaining a long-term vision. We feel this deal puts us in a position to begin building in that direction,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said.
The Lakers pulled off the deal and somehow kept Pau Gasol in the process – something many didn’t expect.
The trade was announced during the Spain-Russia semifinal matchup at the Olympics. Gasol scored 16 points, helping the Spanish team reach the gold medal game with a 67-59 win.
Afterward, that was secondary. He was still with the Lakers, and now has the game’s most dominant big man alongside him.
“That’s big news,” Gasol said. “Huge. I’ve been involved in so many talks and so many rumors. I feel relieved. I’m anxious and excited to be back with our team.”
The Magic said they were also getting a second-round draft pick from Denver next year, a first-round pick from either Denver or New York in 2014, a conditional first-round pick from Philadelphia and a conditional second-round pick from the Lakers in 2015, and a conditional first-round pick from the Lakers in 2017.
Howard averaged 20.6 points and 14.5 rebounds in 54 regular-season games for Orlando last season. In eight seasons with the Magic, he averaged 18.4 points and 13.0 rebounds.
And he would figure to make the Lakers even more of a title contender.
The Western Conference is loaded – Oklahoma City is young, talented and likely to be driven after losing the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat, San Antonio was spectacular last season, the Los Angeles Clippers are rising, and the Nuggets could be much better with Iguodala.
But the Lakers have clearly loaded up to make a run at what would be Bryant’s sixth title next season. Steve Nash was added from Phoenix to run the offense, and now they’ve got Howard to occupy the low post.
“Unreal!” Bryant wrote.
The Nuggets believe Iguodala is a good fit.
“It’s not often you get the opportunity to improve your team by adding an All-Star player like Andre Iguodala,” Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said. “He’s an Olympian, a great defender and a great all-around player.”
Howard entered last season as the subject of trade rumors, especially since he could have opted out of his deal at season’s end and become a free agent. He decided that he would not exercise that option, then found himself in another firestorm in April when Van Gundy said Howard wanted him fired.
Howard denied it. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Van Gundy’s gone, Smith is gone, and now so is Howard.
He went to Los Angeles for back surgery in April, when it was announced that he would miss both the rest of the Orlando season and the London Olympics.
Maybe it was fitting that the surgery was in Los Angeles.
It’s been Howard’s home base ever since, and now it’s where he’ll work.
“We’d like to thank Andrew for all he’s done for the team and the organization,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “Andrew has been with us since we drafted him at 17 years old and over the last seven years we have watched him develop into an All-Star player who has helped the team win two NBA championships. He’s a special talent with a bright future.”
Howard had asked for a trade to Brooklyn. Despite several scenarios being discussed, Orlando failed to work out a deal with the Nets, but remained determined to move their disgruntled big man.
“I wish nothing but the best for Big Bynum,” Bryant wrote. “I hope he follows what was a great season last year with an even better one next year. I know LA is excited about the deal and rightfully so. The Lakers landed a piece that will hopefully carry the franchise long after I’m gone. I have spoken to Dwight Howard already and we are locked and loaded to bring back the title.”