Mejia: Lakers land Howard as Magic settle for less than expected

Mejia: Lakers land Howard as Magic settle for less than expected

ORLANDO – The Lakers, Nuggets and 76ers woke up from their involvement in the Dwightmare with big smiles on their faces.

The Magic, likely sore and weary, face a long day ahead. The day will extend for at least a couple of years, featuring more clouds than sun. By clouds, I mean losses.

Lots of losses.

The end game will be high draft picks and making sure they don’t screw them up.

This was always the vision. How Orlando got here is where the story lies.

In the end, fans in Brooklyn and Houston are both wondering how it is that they  enter the 2012-13 season without the game’s best center, who found a way to will himself to his consolation destination, Los Angeles, where he’ll play enforcer  in a lineup that will at some point feature Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Antawn Jamison at his side.

The Lakers swapped one All-Star center for a better one,  moving Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia, who also takes on Jason Richardson, the contract Orlando most coveted moving. Iguodala, who can exercise a handsome opt-in at season’s end, acquired an Olympian who offers tremendous versatility on the defense while keeping a $13 million trade exception acquired in the Nene deal with Washington.

It’s the knowledge that piece isn’t part of this package that should annoy Magic fans.  It’s the knowledge that all three first-rounders coming over, a single one from each team involved, are lottery-protected, that should be perplexing.

Hardball was played and Orlando, despite the biggest piece in the deal, relented to a certain degree. Understanding an exception is a major commodity that Masai Ujiri declared off limits, it’s still worth wondering how in a deal that benefited everyone but the Magic so clearly, teams were allowed to safe-guard assets that should’ve been demanded.

The Magic did get a $17.8 million exception for moving Howard, perhaps affecting their thinking.  Still, an asset is an asset, so if they wanted it  and it blew up the deal, so be it.

NBA sources told me that Pau Gasol wasn’t likely to be traded, so the news that he was initially discussed in this four-way before being taken out of the equation means there was constant fluidity throughout the talks.

New GM Rob Hennigan decided he’d gotten all he was going to get, apparently, and pulled the trigger.

Orlando receives a major building block in Arron Afflalo, the likely starting shooting guard for the foreseeable future. Al Harrington, a terrific locker room presence who can fill it up when healthy, comes aboard with a salary that’s a shade over $6.6 million this year. Next season, should the veteran want to play for a contender, his contract has a clause allowing a buyout to be reached for 50 percent of the $7.15 million he’s owed. The same situation exists prior to ’14-’15.

Josh McRoberts, an athletic power forward who was once among the country’s top prep prospects, arrives eager to make an impact. An expiring contract of $3.1 million means he can be moved for an asset or simply be allowed to walk come season’s end, further creating cap space.

Center Nicola Vucevic joins wings Maurice Harkless and Christian Eyenga as the prospects in the deal, so Hennigan is hoping they can hit their ceiling given the opportunities they’ll undoubtedly received.

Vucevic, who had a promising rookie season after being one of the Pac-10′s (now Pac-12) best in his time at USC, has a great chance to be a starting center. He moves very well for his size (6-11) and gets after it, so the 21-year-old becomes a major factor in this deal not ultimately being labeled a disaster.

Harkless, who had a strong year at depleted St. John’s, was climbing up draft boards after workouts and ultimately wound up going 15th. He’s just 19 years old and offers athleticism at small forward that the Magic have sorely lacked. He was unable to generate much momentum in Summer League due to injury, but was reportedly a must-have in the deal, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s John Mitchell.

So, Hennigan did hang in there for one major get, but again, it’s unclear why Devin Ebanks or other 2012 first-round picks like Evan Fournier or Arnett Moultrie weren’t included.

There’s where your beef lies, if you choose to have one with this deal.

Is it better than what Brooklyn offered? I’m of the opinion it is. Orlando didn’t want to be saddled with Brook Lopez, even to flip him down the road, since he’s had a history of injuries and struggles with defense in rebounding.

The Magic didn’t want Bynum, not only because he was lukewarm to Central Florida but also because they wanted no part of  his own injury history and moody outbursts.

As far as Houston, the word the Magic are putting out is that Daryl Morey was never that interested in parting with what it took to hammer out a deal. I heard differently, but the fact they couldn’t reach an accord and this route was taken suggests something broke down at some point.

Orlando’s end game was a rebuild, so they’ve got one.

Magic fans need to keep one eye on the college game this year, particularly on freshmen Nerlens Noel (Kentucky) and Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA). Indiana sophomore center Cody Zeller is also a top-three pick.

Barring something unforeseen, that’s where the Orlando Magic are going to be, which means standings-watching of the Bobcats and Hornets are going to be part of the process.  Going forward, the names Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins might mean something, but for the casual fan, that’s not going to be of much consolation.

“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,” said Hennigan.  “In addition to the six players joining our team, we will be in a position to maximize our salary cap flexibility in the near future, as well as utilize the multiple draft picks we have acquired going forward.”

The Magic acquired five additional draft picks over the next five years:  a second round pick from Denver in 2013, 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 L.A. Lakers in 2015, and a conditional first round pick from the L.A. Lakers in 2017.

Those will complement their own lottery picks, which combined with shrewd acquisitions once Hedo Turkoglu comes off the books to really clear the cupboard come the start of 2014-15.

For those who want a competitive team next season, the Dwightmare turns into a nightmare. Those who understand how elite teams are built will have to close their eyes and swallow the helping of gruel.

You can’t flirt with .500 in a rebuild. Orlando won’t have any problems avoiding that.