If you have any rooted interest in the NBA, you’ve probably heard about the reported blockbuster trade sending Dwight Howard to the Lakers by now. The trade is sure to shake up the outlook of the upcoming season, as the Lakers will add a three-time Defensive Player of the Year to a core that already included two former MVPs (Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash) and a perennial All-Star (Pau Gasol).
That the Lakers were able to land Howard while giving up only Andrew Bynum is obviously a huge boost to their title chances, at the least in the short term. But with so much set to change in the NBA, it’s worth looking at which teams and players are set to benefit from this trade and who should be shaking their head at the news of this blockbuster.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
One look at the Lakers’ roster must put the fear of God in most of the NBA’s contenders. In one night, the purple and gold went from being just another solid team in the West to a legitimate title contender, and arguably the favorite to win it all. Behind the most dangerous frontcourt in the league, the Lakers will be a terrifying matchup for the wing-loaded Heat and have added perhaps the only player that can cover up for Nash’s inability to guard the league’s elite point guards.
But time will really tell whether this trade benefits L.A. in the long run; Howard hasn’t committed to extending his contract with the Lakers next offseason, and if he doesn’t, the Lakers just gave up Bynum to rent Howard for a year. Either way, you’d have to say GM Mitch Kupchak pushed the right button here, as getting Howard puts the Lakers in the best position to take advantage of the narrow window they have to contend for a title as Bryant and Nash reach to twilight of their careers.
Loser: Orlando Magic
New Magic Rob Hennigan GM was clearly handed an impossible task when trying to obtain assets in exchange for Howard without any leverage. However, the haul the Magic received in return was perhaps less appetizing than anyone could have expected, especially when there were rumors that Orlando could receive big man Brook Lopez from the Nets.
Instead, the only young player they received that could potentially play a role in their next winning team is Arron Afflalo, who would likely be no more than a role player on any successful team. What’s worse is that they weren’t able to unload Hedo Turkoglu’s massive contract in the deal, and there are reports all three first-round picks the Magic will receive will be protected. Even without leverage, you’d think the Magic could have gotten more in return for the best defensive player in the league.
Winners: Philadelphia 76ers, Andrew Bynum
The Sixers clearly used savvy management to turn their glut of wing players into the second best center in the league, all while staying under the radar and out of the media spotlight. Philly gave up Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, and a future first-round pick to get Bynum, who clearly has the talent to make them a formidable team in the East and badly needed a change of scenery. Perhaps the Sixers aren’t a favorite in the East, but Bynum immediately becomes the conference’s best center, and they’ve accumulated enough depth at the wings to try to replace what they’ll lose by giving up Iguodala.
Things couldn’t have worked out much better for Bynum in this deal, as he moves to a promising young team that will now be built around him. He’ll get all the touches he can handle on a playoff team with room for improvement.
Loser: Denver Nuggets
While some will argue that the Nuggets didn’t give up much to get All-Star and defensive stalwart Iguodala, I’m struggling to see how the acquisition fits into their long term plan. Iguodala isn’t the premier scorer that will put Denver into contention in the West, and his contract over the next three years will be expensive as he drifts into his age 30 season and out of the prime of his career. After extending JaVale McGee this offseason, the Nuggets will have a great deal of their salary cap invested in McGee and Iguodala, which shouldn’t inspire too much fear among their Western Conference rivals. Long term, the Nuggets might have been better off preserving their cap flexibility and retaining Afflalo, who has a similar skill set to that of Iguodala.
Winners: Arron Afflalo, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic
We’ve seen how losing a superstar can set back a franchise in Cleveland, and this trade launches Orlando into similar territory. However, the young players involved in this deal must view this as an opportunity to they belong in the NBA.
Afflalo will become perhaps the most potent scorer in Orlando after scoring 15 points per game as a role player for the Nuggets last season, and he will be handed all the minutes and scoring chances he can handle. Vucevic will be given an opportunity to win the starting center spot as a stretch-five, which he would likely not have on most other teams. Meanwhile, Harkless’ path to the NBA got a lot smoother by getting out of Philadelphia, a team with plenty of players at his position, and moving to a team that will be more than willing to work with him as a developmental project.
Losers: Jason Richardson, Al Harrington
It’s never a good sign for veterans when they’re used as supplementary pieces in blockbuster trades like these, and unfortunately Richardson and Harrington find themselves in that position. Richardson moves into a crowded wing position in Philly, who added Nick Young and Dorell Wright in the offseasonto compete for shooting guard and small forward minutes alongside Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young. At age 31 with four years remaining on his contract, Richardson may struggle to see the same compliment of minutes to which he’s accustomed if the Sixers stick with their young players.
Harrington had carved out a nice niche off the bench in Denver, and while he may not see a dip in minutes with the Magic, the veteran forward will not sniff playoff contention for at least a few years in the midst of Orlando’s rebuilding project.
Loser: San Antonio Spurs
Sure, the Spurs weren’t directly involved in this trade, but their road to title contention just got much tougher with the news of this trade. With their aging core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the Spurs are clearly built to win now, but the Lakers may have just emphatically shut their window by adding Howard and Nash.
San Antonio might look back at last season as being their last realistic chance at reaching the Finals, and the Spurs will be even more disappointed that they were unable to take advantage of their 2-0 lead over the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.