It was supposed to be yet another blockbuster trade by the Los Angeles Lakers, who have won championships over the years after dealing for the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Not so fast.
Eleven months after Orlando shipped center Dwight Howard to the Lakers in a four-team deal that was panned by many when it came to what the Magic received, who’s the winner so far in the trade?
Try Orlando. That’s the word from Stan Van Gundy, who was fired as Magic coach three months before the Aug. 10, 2012 deal.
With Howard announcing Friday he will sign as a free agent with Houston, that means three of the teams in the trade will have lost the top piece they received. Center Andrew Bynum never played for Philadelphia due to injury and will leave the 76ers as a free agent. And swingman Andre Iguodala is departing Denver to sign as a free agent with Golden State.
“Certainly, right now, they’ve won the trade,’’ Van Gundy said about the Magic in a phone interview Saturday with FOX Sports Florida.
“Everything down the road you don’t know, because there’s salary-cap implications for all the teams. For Denver, they lose Andre Iguodala, and you don’t know who they’re going to replace him with. The same thing with L.A., they don’t have cap space, but down the road they could start getting out of money and in two years go out and hit the jackpot.
“I think the only conclusion could be right now that Orlando got the best of that trade. (Nikola) Vucevic was a very productive guy for them last year and (Moe) Harkless certainly looked like he has some potential, and Arron Afflalo is a good player. But to me what it comes down to is you’ve got to wait three or four years and see if they’re winning because that’s all that matters. … They’re one of the teams that decided they wanted to be awful for a couple of years, and that seems to be the accepted way to do things (now). But, if you follow their plan, it seems to be that they’re off to a really good start and that trade really helped them.’’
But where the future really is looking bright now is in Houston. Van Gundy, an NBC Sports Radio analyst who doesn’t know when or if he will return to coaching, believes Howard will be a good fit for the Rockets.
Van Gundy coached Howard with the Magic from 2007-12. The two had their ups and downs, including Van Gundy publicly saying late in the 2011-12 season that Howard was trying to get him fired. But they’ve generally remained on good terms.
Van Gundy said the two text each other regularly. He said he sent a text to Howard on Friday night congratulating the big man on going to the Rockets, and soon got back a thank-you message.
“For Dwight, I think it’s a good fit roster-wise,’’ Van Gundy said. “(The Rockets are) a team that will surround him with skilled perimeter guys with (James) Harden and Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin, an average NBA point guard. But with shooting around him and things like that, I think it’s a good roster for him.
“It was a tough decision for him, but I know he was very glad to be able to make the decision and to have real say over where he went. … I just really hope it works out for him, because it’s a great opportunity. … He liked the fact that Houston didn’t really have to give up anything to get him. … He liked the fact that (Rockets coach) Kevin McHale is one of the most accomplished offensive low-post guys that has ever played in our league. I think he thinks that will help his development and will probably give him more opportunities because Kevin McHale will play through the post more.’’
Van Gundy said he “wasn’t surprised’’ by the move. He believes Howard, 27, felt it was important to surround himself with young players such as the Rockets have.
“I just think he thought it was a better situation in Houston,’’ Van Gundy said. “Houston’s best player (Harden) is a young guy that he can be with for a long period of time. Kobe is not, Pau is not, Steve Nash is not (those Lakers players are 34, 33, 39, respectively).’’
What Van Gundy really likes from the Rockets’ perspective is how they’ve been able to build up their team without becoming really bad. Houston, under general manager Daryl Morey, has had winning records in each of the past seven seasons.
The Rockets did miss the playoffs for three straight years before they made it last season after acquiring Harden from Oklahoma City. But they always remained competitive.
“Houston has been able to rebuild their roster into what everybody perceives to be a contender without doing the losing for years and getting rid of all your good players,’’ said Van Gundy, whose brother, Jeff, was fired as Rockets coach in 2007.
“There’s this sort of an accepted idea now that the only way to rebuild a team is to break it all down and give fans a terrible product for a few years and build it back up. There’s the adage you have to be really bad before you can get really good, and Daryl Morey has taken a different approach. He’s trying to stay good and competitive … without tanking games like everybody else is doing and trying to lose.
“It seems two-thirds of the league now is trying to lose, especially going into this coming year. I think there’s more teams that are trying to get the first pick in the draft than are trying to win, and I don’t that’s good for the league. … I think this whole trend that you have to be bad, I think a lot of it is as much a plan of self preservation for the GMs. They have no pressure on them to win for four or five years when they take that approach.’’
Van Gundy doesn’t deny the Magic, who went 20-62 last season after six straight winning records under Van Gundy, have gone that route by tearing down the team and becoming very bad. But, for now, he does have them as the winner of last August’s blockbuster deal.