After nearly a year of drama surrounding Dwight Howard and his uncertain future, sources confirmed that the Magic, Lakers, Sixers and Nuggets are expected to finalize a deal that sends the Orlando center to the Lakers.
The deal is as follows: the Lakers get Howard, Orlando point guard Chris Duhon (two years, $6.5 million remaining) and Magic forward Earl Clark; Orlando gets Denver guard Arron Afflalo, Denver forward Al Harrington, Philadelphia small forward Moe Harkless, Philadelphia center Nikola Vucevic, Lakers forward Josh McRoberts, Lakers small forward Christian Eyenga, three future first-round picks (a lottery-protected from the Sixers in 2015, the lower of Denver's two first-rounders in 2014 and the Lakers' 2017 first-rounder) and two second-round picks (from Denver in 2013 and a conditional second-rounder from the Lakers in 2015); Philadelphia gets Lakers center Andrew Bynum and Orlando guard Jason Richardson; and Denver gets Sixers forward Andre Iguodala.
While Lakers forward Pau Gasol was reported to be in the deal earlier Thursday, sources with knowledge of the deal said he is not part of the transaction. As such, it's an incredible move for a Lakers team that had already re-inserted itself into the championship discussion by acquiring two-time MVP and eight-time All-Star point guard Steve Nash in mid-July. With a starting five of Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Howard, the Lakers would appear to be every bit as potent as the defending-champion Heat.
With the Magic looking to clear salary-cap space and rebuild through the draft, they have unloaded Richardson's deal (three years, $18.6 million remaining) while acquiring young players in Harkless, Afflalo and Vucevic whom they see as part of the new core. Harkless and Vucevic are on their rookie deals, while Afflalo is owed $30.4 million over the next four years.
The picks are the Magic's most prized assets, though, as new general manager Rob Hennigan is looking to follow the path of his mentor, Oklahoma City's Sam Presti, and build intelligently and efficiently through the draft. Hennigan, who at 30 years old is the youngest general manager in the league after coming up through the San Antonio system as an intern with the Spurs, won the job in late June based largely on that platform.
"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," Hennigan said in a Magic press release. "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."
"Dwight Howard accomplished tremendous success on and off the court during his eight years in Orlando. We wish him, Chris [Duhon], Earl [Clark] and Jason [Richardson] all the best in the future."
Harrington (three years, $21.4 million remaining) isn't nearly as expensive as he would appear for the Magic, who prioritized financial flexibility in all of their Howard talks. Only 50 percent of the final two years of his deal are guaranteed, meaning the Magic are only on the hook for $7.3 million after next season if they waive him.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, saw a chance to add Iguodala's star power while shedding $51.8 million in future salary (including Afflalo's player option in the 2015-16 season). The 28-year-old is an elite defender and 2012 All-Star who has averaged 15.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game in eight seasons. As for the Sixers, they shed Iguodala's $30.6 million for the next two seasons (including a player option in 2013-14) while getting a chance to secure a long-term relationship with one of the premier big men in the game in Bynum.
While Bynum has shown a strong interest in testing free agency next summer, the fact that Philadelphia has his Bird Rights is a huge factor. The Sixers are now allowed to offer him a five-year deal with 7.5 percent annual raises as opposed to a maximum of four years and 4.5 percent annual raises for any other team.
The same goes for Howard, who had said he would only sign long-term with Brooklyn but will be hard-pressed to leave Los Angeles. The Lakers also own Howard's Bird Rights, meaning he'll have financial incentive to stay along. The Lakers just got a whole lot better -- again.