Dwight Howard is joining the Los Angeles Lakers from Orlando, adding to the franchise’s history of getting dominant big men and the Magic’s history of losing them.
Howard, 26, a three-time National Basketball Association defensive player of the year, is the centerpiece of the four-team trade, which also includes the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers.
The Nuggets will receive Andre Iguodala from the Sixers, who get Andrew Bynum from the Lakers and Jason Richardson from the Magic. Orlando gets Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and multiple first-round draft picks.
“I’m excited for the Laker franchise because they have a player that can carry the franchise way after I’ve gone,” Kobe Bryant, who has helped the team to five NBA championships, told reporters in London, where he is playing in the Olympics.
The trade ends an almost two-year, will-he-or-won’t-he saga that became known as “Dwightmare” for the Magic and Howard, who told Orlando that he wanted a trade and that he wouldn’t remain with the team past the 2012-13 season. It was a familiar refrain from Howard, who could have been a free agent this year and chose last season to sign a one-year extension after demanding a trade to the Brooklyn Nets.
Howard’s contract expires after the season, meaning the Lakers are taking a chance that they can convince him to stay. The Dallas Mavericks are known to have interest in Howard and likely will have enough salary flexibility to pursue him after the season. Bynum’s contract also has one year left.
The Magic fired coach Stan Van Gundy and General Manager Otis Smith in an unsuccessful attempt to convince Howard to remain with the team that selected him out of high school with the first pick in the 2004 draft.
Losing arguably the most dominant big man in the game to the Lakers is familiar to the Magic and their fans. Shaquille O’Neal spent his first four seasons in Orlando before opting to sign with the Lakers as a free agent prior to the 1996-97 season. O’Neal and Bryant teamed to win three consecutive championships from 2000 through 2002.
It’s the second big-name acquisition of the offseason for the Lakers, who earlier acquired two-time Most Valuable Player Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns.
“We have a very powerful team now,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said in a televised interview after helping Spain beat Russia 67-59 to reach the gold-medal game at the Olympics in London.
Howard, who had back surgery in April to repair a herniated disc, joins a rich history of Lakers centers that includes George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and O’Neal.
“I told him Los Angeles is a perfect place for him,” Bryant said. “You look at history and all the great centers have gone to L.A.; now he’s the next in line.”
The Lakers were eliminated in the second round of last season’s playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Should the Lakers retain Howard, it would give the franchise a star and personality that it could market after Bryant, who turns 34 in two weeks. Howard also makes the Lakers contenders to dethrone the Miami Heat, who boast an all-star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Online sports book Bovada.lv has the Heat as the 5-2 favorite to win the 2013 championship, meaning a successful $2 bet would bring $5 plus the original stake. The Lakers are second at 3-1, down from 10-1.
“This puts the Lakers right in the championship hunt,” former Lakers All-Star Magic Johnson said in an e-mail distributed by ESPN, where the Hall of Fame player works as a basketball analyst.
Bynum, 24, a native of Plainsboro, New Jersey, about 45 miles from Philadelphia, is coming off his best statistical season last year, when he averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds. Afflalo, 26, averaged 15.2 points last season with the Nuggets.
Iguodala, 28, who has been on the road since July 5 with the U.S. Olympic team, said he learned about the trade to the Nuggets at the same time everyone else did.
“It’s going to be great experience just doing the same as I’m doing with this but on a bigger scale -- bringing my game anywhere I feel like I can fit in,” he told reporters.