When David Stern killed the proposed CP3-to-the-Lakers deal before last season, I felt that time would eventually reveal the one true victim of the NBA's reversal.
Yes, yes, I know. The Lakers got (insert adjective here). But the Lakers were always going to be absolutely fine, even if it required a rudderless season. Eventually, the laws of physics would win out, and the Lakers would attract another marquee star.
But midmarket and small-market teams like the Rockets? Well, they get only so many chances to land top-20 players. And most of those chances revolve around the aftermath of a 20-win season.
Don't listen when people try to tell you what the lockout accomplished. The work stoppage didn't alter the NBA's operative truism one inch; the rich will find a way to get richer.
But you have to give Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak all the credit in the world. Just like with the Steve Nash deal, the Lakers figured out a way. They drafted Andrew Bynum after nine other teams passed him up. And eventually, Kupchak was able to parlay Bynum's value and the Lakers' mystique into Dwight Howard, the top big man in basketball fantasy or real NBA.
The irony here? In fantasy land, Howard's change from blue and black to purple and gold is probably the least interesting aspect of this four-team swap meet.
Take a beat to drink in that lineup. You want to know why Lakers fans tend to sound so petulant, one-sided and borderline delusional when discussing possible trades? Because for the Lakers, those trades actually happen.
But the Lakers' biggest impact move in fantasy terms already happened last month when they dealt for Nash. That move fundamentally reset the flow and function of their offense by taking the ball out of Bryant's hands.
It doesn't matter if we're talking Bynum or Howard; the presence of one man over the other doesn't really change the dynamic of the Lakers' attack.
Howard is a better finisher on the pick-and-roll (perhaps the best in the NBA). And, yes, Nash makes everyone better. But Howard's fantasy numbers (unless Nash can shoot his free throws for him) are going to suffer as a result of this deal. Why? Because as of this writing, NBA rules still permit the use of only one basketball.
After the Nash trade, I broke down how Nash's presence would affect the Lakers' usage rate. I projected that of all the Lakers, Bynum's numbers stood the smallest chance of getting dented because he hadn't hit his offensive ceiling. He still had room to grow.
But short of Howard's free throw percentage climbing above 70 percent (a move that would leave him only two miracles from sainthood), I think it's safe to say that he has hit his numerical ceiling.
Howard is a devastating finisher who could develop other offensive moves with age. (He's talented enough to do just about anything he wants.) But as long as Bryant remains semi-ambulatory, it's hard to see Howard surpassing 20.6 points per game (his average in 2011-12) within the Lakers' offense.
Howard was fighting a back injury last season, but he was the unquestioned No. 1 option in Orlando. Now, he'll be playing alongside an elite rebounder in Pau Gasol, and he won't need to be the all-world defensive presence he was in Orlando; Mike Brown's system was working pretty well with the less formidable Bynum.
I think the safe assumption for Howard would land around 20 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. This, of course, goes along with his reliably uplifting 60 percent shooting from the floor and his soul-swallowing 60 percent from the line.
Howard arguably remains the top center in fantasy; the argument is whether he's worth punting free throw percentage. I don't believe in punting, which means I'd rather spend my high first-round draft pick elsewhere.
Let's now move on to where the real action lies for us fantasy enthusiasts, the expansion-esque Orlando Magic!
Bad teams beget fantasy opportunity. And Orlando is going to be very, very bad (or, to be polite, "intensively rebuilding") for the foreseeable future.
But somebody has to produce for the Magic. Given the lack of talent up and down its roster, Orlando should be fertile territory for savvy fantasy owners on the hunt for sleepers.
With Chris Duhon serving as flotsam in the Howard deal, Jameer Nelson reassumes a stranglehold on Orlando's point guard duties. Although he had a down season in 2011-12, a closer look at Nelson's numbers will reveal an important detail: He sort of went nuts when Howard went on the shelf. And by "nuts," I mean he became a solid second point guard for fantasy teams.
His ceiling is probably around 15 points, 6 assists and 2 3-pointers per game (and just under a steal), which would peg him somewhere around the 18th-to-22nd best point guard going into this fall's drafts. He should provide nice value starting in the eighth round.
And Arron Afflalo finally gets to be the man. If you have him in a keeper league, please accept my stunned congratulations, because I think the theory of natural selection dictates that Afflalo woke up Friday morning as the No. 1 option in an actual NBA offense.
I think Afflalo could be in line for 18 points, 2 3-pointers and 3.5 per game, an underrated number for a shooting guard. Afflalo could scrape the top 10 in preseason shooting guard rankings and should be a solid low-end starter at the 2 in medium-to-deep leagues.
NBA head coaches (congrats, Jacque Vaughn!) have 96 minutes a night to divide among their power forwards and centers. The Magic have three and a half serviceable big men (Al Harrington is only part power forward) to give those minutes to. That means that Gustavo Ayon, Nikola Vucevic and Glen Davis all should be on your fantasy radar.
Like Nelson, Davis posted nice numbers in Howard's absence (19.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 1.2 bpg in five playoff games). The key to those playoff numbers was a heady 38 minutes per game (mpg). Davis won't pull down those kind of minutes, but 33-34 mpg should be within reach, which would land him around 16 points, 8 rebounds and 1.5 steals a night. (Yes, Davis and Andray Blatche have the same ceiling.)
I had a soft spot for Ayon last season, but I'm worried he could be headed for a mild time-share with fellow sleeper Vucevic. Logic assumes that Ayon gets the starting nod and around 28 mpg, but this is a battle to watch during the preseason. Vucevic has the greater upside, and it's possible, if not probable, that he ends up the starter come opening night.
OK, only two more teams to go! Let's move on to the team drooling with fresh fantasy variables, the Philadelphia 76ers.
Andrew Bynum owners, sit down for dinner, because you are in for a treat. The 76ers haven't had a No. 1 scoring option in years. Years. And the guy who worked the hardest to impersonate a top option? He just got on a plane for Denver (or will when the Olympics end, at least).
If Dr. Naismith offered me 82 health-issue-free games of Andrew Bynum or 82 health-issue-free games of Dwight Howard for the upcoming season, I would take Bynum in a heartbeat. But again, that's a philosophical choice; Bynum's 69 percent clip from the line is nearly palatable.
I think Bynum will scrape 20 ppg as a Sixer to go with 12 boards and 2 blocks. Basically -- if healthy -- Bynum will become Dwight Howard but without the pain from the line and probably 1-2 fewer points and rebounds per contest. He's probably the second-best center (on paper) in fantasy.
Will he stay healthy? With Bynum, that's an unanswerable question, but I will tell you this: Like Howard, he's in a contract year. There are going to be millions and millions of reasons for Bynum to stay on the court.
The bummer in Philly is the addition of Jason Richardson. I love Richardson's history as an underrated fantasy player, but his inclusion probably means a time-share at small forward, where I had been previously looking forward to 32-34 mpg for Dorell Wright.
My least favorite fantasy news from the trade? Kenneth Faried just lost his (actual) sleeper status in Denver.
Without Harrington lurking to siphon off his minutes, Faried should cement the starting gig at power forward. We saw his Millsap-ian potential on display last season, and a line of 12 ppg, 10 rpg, a steal and a block should be reasonably attainable. But I'm going to predict that the attendant fantasy hype with Faried will artificially inflate his value come draft night.
As for Iguodala, he goes to another offense in dire need of a true No. 1 option. History has showed that Iguodala is poorly suited for alpha dog duties. At best, he should be Option 1B behind Danilo Gallinari.
Still, Denver's high-paced attack will help just about anybody in terms of fantasy value, which could mean a return to 15.0 ppg territory for Iguodala. A slight uptick in scoring and rebounding would firmly boost Iguodala back into the top 10 among small forwards, a position at which he is also eligible.