Despite the amount of eye-rolling that was an automatic response to every bit of the never ending story that was Dwight Howard's trade rumors, Indiana Pacers fans always had a reason to keep a close eye on the development of the story. Indiana's own All-Star center Roy Hibbert certainly has justifiable standing within the Eastern Conference, but as has been fairly common in Hibbert's time in the league, Dwight Howard seemed extra motivated to put it on the big fella, making Dwight's landing point a key part of interest for Pacers fans.
Tonight, the saga has come to an end, with sources at ESPN reporting that Dwight Howard will be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team deal that involved the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets. Per the deal, the Lakers acquire Howard, trading Andrew Bynum to the Sixers who sent Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets. The Magic see a return of Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, as well as 2012 first rounder Moe Harkless to go along three protected first rounders from the participating teams.
Out West, the trade will immediately make Los Angeles the favorites in the NBA according to anyone who has a national opinion while Denver gets a superb upgrade at the two spot in acquiring Iguodala. Here in the East, however, the effects of the trade will be felt instantly as well, as the 76ers will dart up preseason playoff rankings, playing potential favorites against Indiana as Andrew Bynum will be perceived as a game changing center who will be the face of the Sixers.
As for the Magic, it's not hard to imagine them being out of the picture for a while, trading Howard for Afflalo, a starting quality guard who flourished on a team designed to help players shine in a team environment, Harrington, one of the league's favorite deal sweeteners, Vucevic, the Swiss rookie who fell out of Doug Collin's favor as the year drew to a close, and Moe Harkless, a first round pick that made very little, if any, summer league waves. They trade the best player in the deal, and can't even come away with one of the three best players in the deal, making this one a curious deal for Orlando to decide to sign off.
That makes the focus for Pacers fans almost entirely on Philadelphia and their acquisition of Andrew Bynum. Bynum still gives the Eastern Conference a truly talented center, but somehow, it doesn't necessarily feel like it makes Philadelphia an assured threat to the Pacers. Perhaps I'm understating the value of Bynum, a player with oodles of potential but with oodles of injuries to go along with that potential. Last season was his first year without considerable time missed since 2006, and if you should err on the side of caution, well, a trend certainly can't be made in a single year.
Bynum, if healthy, could create a number of problems for the blue and gold, but one of the major questions should be, "In a seven game series, can Hibbert be relied upon to nullify Bynum often enough that it's not going to be the cause for a shortened postseason run?" The answer was without a doubt "no" in regards to Howard, but Hibbert did win the battle against Bynum in Indiana's matchup with the Lakers last season.
Of course, with lengthy discussion regarding Bynum's wavering interest level, one has to wonder if a face-of-the-franchise Bynum is a more intentive Bynum than the one who gets bowled over by Hibbert while fighting for leftovers on a team with Kobe Bryant dominating possession. Moreover, how does a Philadelphia team starring Bynum with Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Nick Young, and Spencer Hawes fare in the East?
Feel free to share your thoughts about the trade, Andrew Bynum in the Eastern Conference, and how you think the trade affects the landscape of the East and the Pacers, if at all.