For a small-market franchise rebuilding from the loss of a Hall of Fame player, the worst possible outcome is a team capable of contending for a No. 8 seed. The only way to replace a talent like Howard is at the top of the NBA draft, which is why Orlando should focus on bottoming out after Howard’s departure.
Sending Howard to Brooklyn would be a best-case scenario for the enigmatic center and the NBA as a whole, as it would create a legitimate rival for LeBron’s Miami Heat in the biggest media center in the US. However, none of that should concern Orlando, who would be paying Lopez, Nelson and Turkoglu a lot of money for an outside shot at the playoffs.
The best possible deal for Orlando is with the Houston Rockets, a franchise that has been acquiring assets for years precisely for the chance to grab a superstar like Howard. Houston, if they are willing to gamble on picking up Howard without an extension, would give the Magic their best chance to accelerate the rebuilding process. The Rockets have a first-round pick from the Toronto Raptors, who are probably still at least one year away from playoff contention, the cap space to eat some of Orlando’s bad contracts as well as some extremely intriguing high-upside young players locked into rookie scale deals.