LONDON — At long last, Dwight Howard got what he wanted.
So did the Orlando Magic. A new beginning for both awaits.
It took four teams, 11 other players, five draft picks and countless rounds of talks over many months, but finally, the 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 was worked out Thursday and completed Friday after the NBA reviewed and approved the particulars. As far as the other headliners involved, Andrew Bynum leaves the Lakers for Philadelphia and Andre Iguodala is heading to Denver.
"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."
The Lakers were set to introduce Howard later Friday in Los Angeles.
"I know L.A. is excited about the deal and rightfully so," Bryant wrote on his Facebook page Friday, before the deal was formally announced and before he and the U.S. men's basketball team played a semifinal game at the London Olympics. "The Lakers landed a piece that will hopefully carry the franchise long after I'm gone. I have spoken to Dwight Howard already and we are locked and loaded to bring back the title."
The Magic, they might not be saying that for years.
And they know it, too.
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.
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.
"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 NBA as an analyst for Olympic baskeball.
"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."
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.
The Lakers already made one splash in this offseason, getting Steve Nash in a trade with Phoenix. So they figured to get better at point guard, and now figure to get better again at center. Owner Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak may have put together a roster that would rival the NBA champion Miami Heat, Western Conference champ Oklahoma City and the rest of the NBA's best.
How good? The Lakers' starting lineup now includes five former All-Stars with three MVP awards and four defensive player-of-the-year awards.
"Unreal!" Bryant wrote.
Denver was thrilled to add an Olympian in Iguodala, who said in turn said he was excited for what's coming 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 said they were also getting 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. The Magic 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.
"We want to thank Dwight," Hennigan said. "I heard a story the other day that he was booed on draft night. He turned himself into a pretty good basketball player."
Howard entered last season 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.
He went to Los Angeles for back surgery in April, which might have been fitting. It's been Howard's home base ever since, and now it's where he'll work.
"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.
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