Magic fans are rightly upset. NBA fans are rightly upset. The analysts are correct.
In this four-team deal, the Magic got royally screwed.
For Dwight Howard (and Jason Richardson, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark), Orlando received Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Maurice Harkless, Christian Eyenga, Nikola Vucevic and Josh McRoberts. There are no All Star appearances among the six players Orlando acquired — although, in fairness, the team could have gotten an All Star in Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum if that is what the team wanted.
At first glance, and probably second glance, everyone got a star player to complete their roster except Orlando. Andrew Bynum gives the 76ers a low post threat to go with the balanced scoring on the perimeter Philadelphia has featured the last two years. Denver got Andre Iguodala, who should fit right in with the young, defensive-minded core George Karl and the Nuggets have build. And the Lakers got Dwight Howard.
Orlando did not get a star. It did not get anything that helps it complete the puzzle. It tried to buy an entirely new puzzle box and start the game all over.
There was a different motivation on the Magic’s part. While the Lakers, 76ers and Nuggets were thinking about the short-term future and trying to win now, the Magic just wanted to start over.
So quite clearly the Magic were not going to get the “best package” in the short term. That is not what they were looking for. And, not only that, Orlando was trading the best player. If the old adage for evaluating trades — the team who gets the best player wins — the Lakers are the clear winner, the Magic are the clear loser.
That is not enough in evaluating this trade. At least, for right now. Often trades cannot properly be evaluated for years ahead of time when you see what the trades lead to. The Grizzlies were slammed for trading away Pau Gasol for nothing, but then let Kwame Brown walk for cap space, traded Javaris Crittenton for Xavier Henry and saw Marc Gasol turn into an All Star.
Memphis was back in the Playoffs three years after the trade and are one of the darling teams in the West (although not a title contender). So, it may take a few years to see where the Magic go next. This is chess (or at least it is supposed to be).
So how do you value trading a superstar player? We can try and use statistics to do so. Basketball-Reference has a nifty trade evaluator tool that uses win shares as a measure to compare relative value. Take a look at the other high-caliber players traded and what teams got back.
In January 1965, the Warriors traded Wilt Chamberlain to the 76ers for Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann and Lee Shafer. You are excused if you do not know those three names. Most people do not. According to Basketball-Reference, the 76ers traded 26.3 past win shares for 71.2 future win shares — a 170.7 percent increase! — while the Warriors traded 112.4 past win shares for 13.0 future win shares — an 88.4 percent decrease.
The players the Warriors got in return had their production cut by just more than 50 percent after the trade. Shaffer, in fact, never even played a game for the Warriors after playing 126 for the 76ers before the trade
The season before the trade Chamberlain had a league-best 25.0 win shares and his first season after the trade he had a league-best 21.4 win shares. The players the Warriors received had 4.9 the year before and added 2.7. The Warriors did not realize 0.5 of those win shares as Dierking was traded to the Cincinnati Royals before the 1965 season. Really the Warriors were completely robbed. Neumann was the supposed centerpiece of the deal and he accounted for only 28.4 win shares… in his career.
So what about another big-man deal. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The Bucks fared slightly better in acquiring Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith and Brian Winters. Again, don’t worry if you have never heard of any of those players. In his last season with the Bucks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar posted 12.9 win shares and then upped it to a league-best 17.0 his first year in Los Angeles.
In all, the Lakers added 17.0 win shares the next season in the deal. Walt Wesley, also trade from Milwaukee, played only seven games for the Lakers.
The Bucks acquired two Lakers rookies in the deal. Bridgeman was the eighth pick int he draft and posted 2.1 win shares his rookie year — his career high was 6.7 in 1981, six years into his career. Meyers was the second overall pick in the draft and added 2.4 win shares his rookie year. But his career lasted only four seasons. Smith posted a career-best 8.7 win shares in his first — and only full — season in Milwaukee. Winters had 5.0 win shares his first year in Milwaukee.
In total then, the Bucks received 18.2 win shares.
That first year, then, you could argue the Bucks received more than the Lakers. Then again, Abdul-Jabbar is a one of a kind player and the team he was playing on finished only two games ahead of Milwaukee in the Western Conference standings. Initially it looked like Milwaukee — who received two top-10 picks — did a decent job in this deal.
Of course, the long run proved otherwise. It is the move made after the big trade that ultimately determines whether rebuilding takes a few years or a decade or longer — the Bucks, still have not been back to the NBA Finals since trading Abdul-Jabbar and their only top overall picks were Glenn Robinson and Andrew Bogut.
A look at the Dwight Howard deal, using last year’s statistics as the base for comparison gives us an idea of this deal:
Magic get: Arron Afflalo (5.3 WS 2011-12), Al Harrington (3.2 WS), Maurice Harkless (1.3 WS*), Nikola Vucevic (1.8 WS), Josh McRoberts (1.4 WS), Christian Eyenga (0.0)
Total WS: 13.0 WS
Magic trade: Dwight Howard (7.7 WS 2011-12), Jason Richardson (2.8), Chris Duhon (1.3), Earl Clark (0.3)
Total WS: 12.1 WS
By this basic measure, you could argue the Magic actually got a decent deal. Or at least similar to one that Milwaukee got for Abdul-Jabbar. Of course, this is all based on last year’s stats and the win shares for rookie Maurice Harkless was calculated by taking the average win shares for the last 10 players picked No. 15 in their rookie years.
It should also be considered that Howard had a down year last year. His career high for win shares is 13.8 set in 2009. The 7.7 win shares Howard garnered in 2012 were his lowest since his rookie year.
Yes, Howard is the jewel of the deal and the Lakers win that by default. And his ceiling is far higher than anything Orlando got. Harrington is on the downside of his career. Afflalo is getting closer to 30 too so his productivity is likely reaching its peak soon. And Orlando brought in a lot of uncertainty in the young players like Eyenga, Harkless and Vucevic. This does not even mention the fact that players like Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick have played their entire careers with Dwight Howard. No one is quite sure what their effectiveness will be for the Magic without him.
Orlando has a lot of quesitons to answer in this trade, which is normal when you trade away a superstar and begin a rebuild.
The one question Rob Hennigan did seem to answer in Friday’s press conference is the Magic are going to take a step back to rebuild their assets and remake the roster through the draft.
The Magic were not going to immediately win this deal. They couldn’t. They were trading away the best center in the league and a top-five guy. What they wanted to do is put themselves in position to rebuild and make the next move.
It is that next move that will determine whether Orlando picked the right deal for Howard. Any judgment of the Magic’s haul right now is not likely complete.