The Philadelphia 76ers tried to trade for Dwight Howard. They ended up with 7-foot Andrew Bynum - not a bad consolation prize.
Bynum, 24, averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds, both career highs, this past NBA season.
"Bynum would be seen universally as the second best center in the league," 76ers president Rod Thorn said Friday on a conference call that was posted on the team's website. "We consider him to be one of those elite players you could build around."
The 76ers acquired Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers and guard Jason Richardson from the Orlando Magic as part of a four-team trade that involved the 76ers, Lakers, Magic and Denver Nuggets. The centerpiece of the trade, which was announced Friday, was the Magic sending Howard, universally seen as the best center in the league, to the Lakers.
The primary price for Bynum was forward Andre Iguodala, whom the 76ers sent to the Nuggets. Philadelphia also traded rookie forward Maurice Harkless and center Nik Vucevic to the Magic along with a protected first-round draft pick.
Thorn said the 76ers approached the Magic a month ago to see if a trade for Howard could be worked out.
"We said if they saw anything with us that might look good to them we would have interest in (Howard)," Thorn said.
Thorn said the 76ers also had discussions this summer about Bynum's availability. All those talks merged and developed into Friday's four-team deal.
"It didn't happen overnight," Thorn said.
The 76ers finished 35-31 last regular season, which was shortened from 82 to 66 games because of the NBA lockout. Philadelphia lost in six games to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Lakers drafted Bynum after he graduated from St. Joseph-Metuchen High School in 2005. Bynum struggled with injuries early in his career. There were questions about his maturity. When he was a high school senior, St. Joseph lost to Monsignor Donovan in a first-round South Jersey playoff game.
Buy Bynum seems to have answered his critics with his performance this past season. He did not miss a regular-season game.
"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, who is in London working as a television 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."
Thorn said he believes Bynum will be even better in Philadelphia.
"He's from Jersey. His base is back here," Thorn said. "We're in position to give him an extra year on his deal and pay him more, which usually has some effect. I think they're a lot of positive things for him and for us too with him coming here."
The 6-6 Richardson averaged a career-low 11.6 points for the Magic last season. But the 31-year-old is a career 37 percent shooter from 3-point range.
"Anytime you have a low-post center (like Bynum), he's going to draw attention," Thorn said. "You need shooting. (Richardson) has played with big centers before. We think he can be a key guy for us."
In Iguodala, the 76ers say goodbye to a player who was the face of the franchise for the past few seasons.
The 76ers selected the 6-6 Iguodala with the ninth pick in the 2004 NBA draft. He averaged 15.3 points in 615 games for the 76ers.
But Iguodala was never seen as a player who could dominate a game. The 76ers made just five playoff appearances during Iguodala's tenure and advanced past the first round just once.
"Andre is a terrific player," Thorn said. "He's just not a scorer who can dominate late in the ballgame."
While Philadelphia focused on Bynum, the rest of the basketball world debated Howard's move to the Lakers.
In addition to four teams, it took 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 Howard 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 the megadeal was worked out Thursday and completed Friday after the NBA reviewed and approved the particulars.
"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 LA 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 won its semifinal game at the 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.
In addition to Harkless and Vucevic from the 76ers, Orlando got guard Arron Afflalo and forward Al Harrington from Denver and forward Josh McRoberts and guard Christian Eyenga from the Lakers. The Lakers acquired Howard, guard Chris Duhon and forward Earl Clark from Orlando.
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.
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.
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