Sixteen years after Shaquille O’Neal left the Orlando Magic via free agency for the Los Angeles Lakers, another superstar Magic center appears to be headed to Southern California.
The Magic, Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers have reached a deal in principle on a four-team trade that would send Howard to L.A.
The Magic are set to receive Denver shooting guard Arron Afflalo, Denver power forward Al Harrington, Philly center Nikola Vucevic, Philadelphia rookie small forward Moe Harkless and at least one future protected first-round pick from each of the three other teams and perhaps other assets, ESPN reported late Thursday night.
Meanwhile, the Sixers would receive Orlando swingman Jason Richardson and L.A. center Andrew Bynum, while the Nuggets would receive Philly swingman Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets. Magic point guard Chris Duhon told the Orlando Sentinel on Friday morning that he definitely will be included in the deal, and it appears he will be sent to the Lakers along with power forward Earl Clark.
Magic general manger Rob Hennigan and CEO Alex Martins did not respond to messages Thursday from the Sentinel. The complicated trade could be approved by the league as early as Friday, but any deal would be contingent on Howard passing a physical.
The proposed trade would inaugurate a massive rebuilding project for the Magic — a rebuilding project that could take years to complete and could require significant luck in the NBA’s draft lottery, in addition to skillful drafting.
New Magic coach Jacque Vaughn kept mostly mum Friday morning when he was asked about the trade on the Open Mike radio show.
“Well, you know, I’m still trying to keep my job this first month and not get fined, so I can’t deny or confirm that,” Vaughn said. “We’ll hold to what we talked about earlier this in year, and that’s doing what’s in the best interests of this ballclub and having people here that want to be here, and that won’t change.”
The four-team deal appears to have left many Magic fans underwhelmed judging by their reactions on social-media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
Earlier Thursday, it appeared that the Magic could receive all-star big man Pau Gasol from the Lakers, but Gasol is no longer in the mix, a league source familiar with the deal told the Sentinel.
The Magic wanted to gain draft picks and gain cap flexibility by trading away the long-term salaries of players such as Richardson and Duhon. But the protected draft picks will be coming from three teams — the Lakers, Nuggets and Sixers — that are playoff contenders.
Afflalo, 26, is slated to earn about $31 million over the next four seasons if he invokes his player option for the 2015-16 season.
Afflalo tweeted about the pending trade early Friday morning. He wrote: "Orlando .... above all i love this game .... destiny and opportunity ... excited".
Harrington, 32, is owed about $6.7 million this upcoming season. His salary of $7,148,600 for 2013-14 and $7,609,800 for 2014-15 are only 50 percent guaranteed, according to the website ShamSports.com.
Still, the Magic could be major players in free agency next summer or in 2014.
Howard desperately wanted to be traded, and he made that point clear to Hennigan during a face-to-face meeting in Southern California on July 25.
The Lakers emerged as Howard's preferred trade destination once a potential deal between the Magic and the Brooklyn Nets fell through last month.
Howard would not answer a question about the potential trade to the Lakers when a TMZ paparazzo confronted him Thursday afternoon.
The Magic showed little interest in acquiring Bynum, who arguably is the NBA's second-best center. Magic officials were concerned about the health of Bynum's knees and his occasional immaturity, and it was unclear whether Bynum would have considered re-signing with the Magic in free agency next summer.
Orlando is scheduled to begin its training camp Oct. 1. Although Hennigan had not ruled out the possibility of Howard starting camp with the Magic, Howard's presence — and the resulting distractions — would have made it difficult for Vaughn to instill a team-first culture.
The Magic selected Howard out of Southwest Atlanta (Ga.) Christian Academy with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft.
In the eight seasons that followed, he played in the NBA All-Star Game six times, was named first-team All-NBA five consecutive seasons and won the Defensive Player of the Year Award an NBA-record three consecutive seasons.
In 2009, Howard led the Magic on a storybook playoff run, beating the defending champion Boston Celtics in the conference semifinals and LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals. The Magic lost in the NBA Finals to the Lakers in five games.
The pending four-team trade also would end more than a year of speculation about Howard’s future — a year of speculation, intrigue and drama that has come to be known as the “Dwightmare.”
Last December, Howard and his agent, Dan Fegan, told the Magic that Howard wanted to be traded.
Then-Magic general manager Otis Smith wanted to trade Howard immediately, but Martins overruled Smith and started to try and convince Howard to remain with the franchise long-term.
On March 15, after weeks of negotiations and conversations with the superstar center, Howard decided to waive the early-termination option in his contract. Had Howard kept his early-termination option in place, he would have been traded by the Magic that day, and he would have been able to agree to a free-agent deal with the Nets this summer.
Howard’s relationship with the Magic suffered serious damage in early April when then-coach Stan Van Gundy said, in response to a direct question, that Howard wanted him fired.
Howard denied the charge at the time, and he and his business team were incensed that Martins and Magic officials never defended Howard publicly.
Howard went on to play two more games for the Magic.
But after a win April 7 in Philadelphia, Howard didn’t suit up for the team again because of a back injury that caused persistent back spasms.
On April 20, Howard underwent surgery in Marina del Rey, Calif., to repair a herniated disk and to remove disk fragments in his lower back.
Howard’s primary surgeon, Robert Watkins Sr., issued a statement that said he didn’t want Howard to travel as Howard rehabilitated, and Howard did not attend any of the Magic’s playoff games. Many observers inferred then that Howard’s relationship with the team and team officials had disintegrated to irreparable levels.
Howard ranks as the Magic's all-time franchise leader in points scored (11,435), rebounds (8,072) and blocked shots (1,344).
It appears now that he'll be doing all those things for the Lakers.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times