|Dwight Howard poses with his new jersey along with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. (AP)|
"Making some wishes," Howard said.
One of his wishes has finally come true. At long last, he's out of Orlando.
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It took four teams, 11 other players, five draft picks and countless rounds of talks over many months, but the Orlando Magic decided the time was right to start over without the NBA's best center and end a saga that has dogged the franchise for what seems like an eternity.
Howard is off to play alongside Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, after a megadeal involving the Lakers, Magic, Philadelphia and Denver was worked out Thursday and completed Friday after the NBA reviewed and approved the particulars.
"It was just a very tough situation for everybody to let go," Howard said. "I'm finally glad that it's over with. Myself and the Magic organization, we can all start over and begin a new career. Today is a fresh new start for all of us."
"Are we taking a step back? Absolutely, we are," Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. "But we're taking a step back with a vision."
Even while otherwise busy at the London Olympics, Bryant quickly proclaimed that the Lakers are "locked and loaded to bring back the title." He spoke with Howard on Friday morning, and interrupted his pursuit of a gold medal -- the Americans will play for another of those Sunday -- to talk about how the Lakers look very much like a major contender for another NBA title.
"I'll probably play two or three more years. Then the team is his," Bryant said. "I'm excited for the franchise because now they have a player that can carry the franchise well after I'm gone. This should be his and he should want to accept that challenge."
Time will tell.
Howard, who may not be ready for the start of the season while continuing to recover from back surgery that he had performed in Los Angeles four months ago, plans to become a free agent next July. He could stay with the Lakers. He could end up in Dallas, which should have oodles of cap space. Maybe the Brooklyn Nets -- one of Howard's preferred destinations throughout this saga -- find a way into the mix again.
"I told him this is a great place for him," Bryant said. "You talk about all the great centers this team has had. Now he's the next in line."
Bryant said the Lakers should be poised to win now. The Magic, they might not be saying that for years.
After an offseason when the Magic fired coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith, they're now truly beginning anew. In 1996, the Magic watched Shaquille O'Neal sign as a free agent with the Lakers. At least this time, when they lost someone with the "Superman" nickname, they got something back.
"Next season, and really subsequent seasons, are going to be about getting better every day," Hennigan said.
Orlando got guard Arron Afflalo and forward Al Harrington from Denver, forward Moe Harkless and center Nikola Vucevic from Philadelphia, and forward Josh McRoberts and guard Christian Eyenga from the Lakers. The Lakers acquired Howard, guard Chris Duhon and forward Earl Clark from Orlando. The Magic also traded guard Jason Richardson to Philadelphia.
Orlando also gets five draft picks over five years.
"There will be no panic," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "There will be no chaos."
The Lakers pulled off the deal and somehow kept Pau Gasol in the process -- something many didn't expect when the Los Angeles first started getting mentioned in the Howard trade mix.
"It makes the NBA that much more exciting," Knicks forward and U.S. Olympian Carmelo Anthony said.
Not everyone shared that sentiment. "I really don't care," Thunder star Kevin Durant said.
The trade was announced during the Spain-Russia semifinal matchup at the Olympics. Gasol scored 16 points, helping the Spanish team reach the gold medal game with a 67-59 win.
Afterward, that seemed secondary. He was still with the Lakers, and now has the game's most dominant big man alongside him. For a moment, gold-medal talk was pushed aside for NBA title chatter.
"I think it's something that puts us in a position of being an extremely powerful team and a team with all the chances of going for the ring again," Gasol said.
The 76ers got involved in trade talks about a month ago, first reaching out to the Magic to inquire about landing Howard themselves. Not long after realizing that wouldn't happen, the talks grew.
And when Denver got involved, the pieces fell into place, although Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said he wasn't sure a deal would happen 48 hours before things actually got done.
"One of the things we needed to do was we needed to get a post presence, a guy who can score on the low block, give us size, rebounding, defense," said 76ers coach Doug Collins, in London working with NBC as an analyst for Olympic basketball. "We think that Andrew is one of the top two NBA centers in the league, so we're thrilled about doing that. And we're sad to lose Andre. He helped us win a lot of games and in the two years that I've been with him."
Collins won't wait long to see Iguodala in another uniform: The Nuggets open the season in Philadelphia on Oct. 31.
Philadelphia believes it would have a chance to keep Bynum long-term, noting that he's a native of neighboring New Jersey.
"We've gotten bigger, we've gotten stronger and we've gotten more athletic than we were at this time last year," 76ers President Rod Thorn said. "Andrew is the best center in the East. Anytime you have the best center, it's a real plus. This is still a game that big men are very, very important in."
For the Lakers to get Howard, they needed to give up the All-Star center - Bynum - they've nurtured since he was a 17-year-old draft pick.
After two straight second-round exits from the playoffs, the Lakers tore apart a very good team this summer in an attempt to build a great one - a team that can give Bryant, a five-time NBA champion who turns 34 next week, the chance to match Michael Jordan's six rings next year.
"Andrew is a bright, hard-working man who's going to have a very successful and productive NBA career. And we wish him well in Philadelphia," Kupchak said.
The Lakers already made one splash in this offseason, getting Steve Nash from Phoenix. So they got better at point guard, and did the same at center. Now the Lakers may have a roster that would rival the NBA champion Miami Heat, Western Conference champ Oklahoma City and the rest of the NBA's best.
"It's crazy. It hasn't really hit me yet," Howard said. "I'm just happy to be here and I'm going to make the best out of it."
The Lakers' starting lineup now includes five former All-Stars with three MVP awards and four defensive player-of-the-year awards.
"Unreal!" Bryant said.
Denver was thrilled to add Iguodala, who said in turn said he was excited for what's next.
"It's not often you get the opportunity to improve your team by adding an All-Star player like Andre Iguodala," Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said. "He's an Olympian, a great defender and a great all-around player."
The Magic get a second-round draft pick from Denver next year, a first-round pick from either Denver or New York in 2014, a conditional first-round pick from Philadelphia and a conditional second-round pick from the Lakers in 2015, and a conditional first-round pick from the Lakers in 2017. Orlando also will have a $17.8 million trade exception to use over the next year.
Howard averaged 20.6 points and 14.5 rebounds in 54 regular-season games for Orlando last season. In eight seasons with the Magic, he averaged 18.4 points and 13.0 rebounds.
He entered last year as the subject of trade rumors, especially since he could have opted out of his deal at season's end and become a free agent. He decided that he would not exercise that option, then found himself in another mess in April when Van Gundy said team officials told him that Howard wanted him fired.
Howard denied it. Ultimately, it didn't matter.
Van Gundy's gone, Smith is gone, and now so is Howard.
"Sometimes, things don't work out the way everyone hopes, and I think that was the case here," Hennigan said. "We tried to establish a relationship with Dwight that was built on interpersonal exchanges. We always felt like that may evolve in one direction or another."
Turns out, that direction was west.
Howard said part of his rehab after back surgery was walking around Beverly Hills, and he'd routinely meet the same woman along the route.
"She would say, 'Come to the Lakers, come to the Lakers,'" Howard said. "If she's watching, I'm here. Your wish came true."