Friday, August 10, 2012

Hawks May Miss Out on Howard as Magic Seek to Minimize Further Embarrassment

I was all set to write a post blasting the Orlando Magic’s young and inexperienced GM Rob Hennigan for the poor haul of assets Orlando is set to receive for Dwight Howard when I saw this tweet from ESPN’s John Hollinger:

Go easy on Hennigan. Hearing Orl Pres Alex Martins likely ran this one. Always good to have non-bball folks make critical decision.

In the end, it appears Orlando will make a PR decision and let a former PR guy (Martins) execute it, rather than take the best deal available. Multiple sources are reporting that the Magic will trade Howard to the Lakers in a 4-team deal that will bring back Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and multiple first- and second-round draft picks. Since all of the teams sending picks to the Magic are playoff-caliber, it’s possible none of them will be lottery picks.

The Hawks will deny that Al Horford was ever offered as a part of any trade package, but he’s the best player with a long-term contract Orlando could have conceivably landed. Horford’s ties to Florida and status as a former 3rd-team All-NBA center would have made landing him a huge win for Orlando’s front office. If the team preferred to build through the draft, Houston had a guaranteed lottery pick from Toronto to offer in addition to its own picks and young assets. So why did Orlando, if the rumored deal goes through, settle for such a horrible offer?

To answer that question, you’ve got to go back through the history of one of the worst-run organizations in the history of professional sports. It goes back to when the young expansion team drafted what would become arguably one of the 10 greatest players to ever dribble a basketball, Shaquille O’Neal. As Shaq approached unrestricted free agency, the Magic undervalued him and allowed him to depart to the Lakers without receiving any compensation. I won’t go into a lengthy analysis of Otis Smith’s tenure as GM. Suffice it to say the record speaks for itself, from burning a lottery pick on a player who will likely never play in the NBA (Fran Vazquez) to trading the best backup center in the league (Marcin Gortat) for two players Orlando is now anxious to dump (Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson).

Smith’s comedy of errors as GM and Stan Van Gundy’s poor coaching in the 2009 NBA Finals were contributing factors in Howard’s disillusionment with the organization as free agency approached. But the fateful moment came when Magic president Bob Vander Weide made a late-night call to Howard while allegedly under the influence of alcohol. Shortly after this story broke, Vander Weide resigned his position with the Magic. However, Vander Weide remains associated with the organization because his wife Cheri, daughter of Magic owner Rich DeVos, stands to inherit the team.

At the 2012 trading deadline, Howard opted in for the final year of his contract. It’s difficult to overstate what a gift this was for the Magic franchise as it provided more time to assemble a roster suitable to Howard and allowed the team to control his rights and command assets should a trade become unavoidable. Days later Van Gundy threw Howard under the bus, telling media that Dwight had asked management to replace him as coach. Van Gundy cited a source in upper management, but it’s hard to imagine the source was Martins, who had only recently taken over for Vander Weide and was still trying to establish himself in his new position.

So what person associated with the Magic was so motivated to humiliate Howard that he or she was willing to cause irreparable damage to the franchise? Vander Weide will live with the humiliation of resigning after the alleged drunk dialing incident for the rest of his life. The dots are there for the connecting.

From that point, it would only get worse for the Magic. On July 12, Ric Bucher reported on ESPN.com that Hennigan called Howard to ask that he be given a chance to make the situation work and not be held accountable for the mistakes the organization made before his arrival. Bucher’s source said Howard responded by saying he had already heard the same plea from Martins, who was also on the call.

News of this bumbling attempt to placate Howard would serve as another black eye for the Magic. But it would get worse. Much worse.

On July 25th, Jarrod Rudolph reported on RealGM.com that Hennigan met with Howard in Los Angeles to once again ask that he back off his trade demand. According to Rudolph, Howard replied that he would never sign another contract with the Magic.

This revelation was so damaging to the Magic that it angered NBA commissioner David Stern, who accused Howard’s agent Dan Fegan of leaking details of the meeting to the press. Bucher then reported on July 27th that Fegan denied being the source and made multiple attempts to contact Hennigan about inquiries from the media. Wrote Fegan in an email to Bucher:

“After receiving these media inquiries, I called Rob and left several messages expressing concern that what had occurred in the meeting was not going to be accurately reported -- as had happened on previous occasions -- and that we were going to respond to the media inquiries to make sure that reports were accurate.”

This is probably the point at which the Magic organization decided it had had enough. Even with the NBA commissioner attempting to step in and defend the franchise, the embarrassments kept piling on.

Which brings us back to the Hawks losing out on Howard, despite having better assets to offer than the Magic will apparently receive. While the final humiliation of making a bad trade will undoubtedly haunt the Magic for years to come, at least there is that finality. Trading Howard to a division rival would have only kept the humiliations going several times a year for the foreseeable future.

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