The Magic waited and waited, ignoring pleas for a trade from Dwight Howard and his agent, turning a deaf ear to a fan base desperate for an interminably long Dwightmare to be over.
They waited ... for this?
It will be years before Friday's four-team, 12-player, five-draft-pick deal can be properly evaluated. But it's not unreasonable to assume during that time that the Lakers will win a championship, Andrew Bynum will power Philadelphia deep into the playoffs and the Nuggets, with their young roster and cap flexibility, will be scouring the market for the missing piece to their championship puzzle.
The Magic? Who knows where they will be.
They waited and they got this: a raw but promising prospect in Moe Harkless, the 15th pick in this year's draft; a backup center with some potential in Nikola Vucevic; a decent, 26-year-old starter in shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who is owed $31.2 million over the next four seasons; and a 14-year veteran in forward Al Harrington, who will make $6.7 million next season followed by two partially guaranteed seasons. They also picked up three first-round picks, none of which will likely be in the lottery when they get them.
They didn't get Bynum, the only franchise player on the market. They didn't get Andre Iguodala, a 28-year-old swingman currently playing for USA Basketball who ranks among the best perimeter defenders in the NBA.
So you have to ask: What in the name of Brook Lopez were the Magic thinking?
About cap space, of course. "We will be in a position to maximize our salary-cap flexibility in the near future," Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said in a statement, and in some ways he's right. Orlando unloaded guards Jason Richardson (three years, $18.6 million left) and Chris Duhon (two years, $4.75 million guaranteed), and with some creative bookkeeping the team could be more than $20 million under the cap in 2014. Throw in a $17.8 million trade exception, and the Magic are painting a picture of a future where they can absorb a big contract in-season and splurge on one in the offseason.
But they still have power forward Glen Davis, who will be paid $19.4 million over the next three seasons. They still have small forward Hedo Turkoglu, who is guaranteed at least $17.8 million over the next two seasons. The likelihood of a couple of cellar-dwelling seasons makes it likely that Orlando will pick high in the draft, which will gobble up even more of its payroll.
Then you have to look at the road not taken. Brooklyn offered Lopez, power forward Kris Humphries, shooting guard MarShon Brooks and four first-round picks, a proposal that would consume much of the cap space but return young, proven commodities. Houston was known to be willing to absorb a couple of big contracts and send the Magic its three first-round picks from the June draft -- Jeremy Lamb (No. 12), Royce White (No. 16) and Terrence Jones (No. 18) -- plus future picks.
Stack up the offers: Which looks more enticing?
"I think they ran out of options," an Eastern Conference executive said of the Magic. "They didn't want to start the season with Dwight on the roster. But they probably could have waited until midseason to get some better offers."
Midseason, when every player who signed deals this summer is eligible to be traded. Midseason, when the Magic could have had three months to evaluate Lopez coming off a foot injury. Midseason, when the market could have expanded to include teams that might not be in play right now.
Was avoiding the PR mess of bringing Howard to training camp and shipping him out of the Eastern Conference now more important?
Maybe Hennigan is smarter than all of us. Maybe he has the foresight to see in Harkless what his last boss, Sam Presti, saw in Serge Ibaka or what his boss before that, Gregg Popovich, saw in Manu Ginobili. Maybe he will be able to pluck a franchise player from a rebuilding team desperate to create more cap space.
Maybe he will accomplish all of that. A column on the Magic's website said "Miami is the model" for Orlando. But the Heat had Dwyane Wade and the lure of South Beach to go with their cap space. For now, the Magic don't have much.