Even without the superstar center on its roster, the Magic has the sixth highest payroll in the league and won’t see any relief until it no longer has to account for the contract of Gilbert Arenas, an amnestied point guard due over $42 million the net two years.
With Howard anchoring the paint, Orlando built its team by surrounding the six-time All-Star with 3-point shooters.
Since landing Howard with the first overall pick of the 2004 NBA Draft, Orlando hasn’t made a top-10 selection while winning at least 55 percent of its games each of the past five years and qualifying for the post season six straight times.
Along with consecutive appearances in the Eastern Conference finals, including an unexpected run to the 2009 NBA Finals, the Magic envisioned Howard leading the franchise to a championship that has eluded the franchise since its inception in 1989.
Any hopes of lining the rafters of the Amway Center, the newest arena in the NBA until the Nets unveil the Barclays Center, with championship banners have been dashed.
In a four team trade involving three All-Stars from last season, none returned to Orlando in exchange for Howard.
The package sent to Orlando was Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, rookie Moe Harkless, Josh McRoberts, Nikola Vucevic, Christian Eyenga, a first-round pick from either the New York or Denver in 2014, a protected first-round pick from Philadelphia, a protected first-round pick from the Lakers in 2017, a second-round pick from the Nuggets in 2013 and a conditional second-rounder from the Lakers in 2015.
Howard bid Orlando a final farewell, taking out a full page ad in the Orlando Sentinel on Sunday.
The rebuilding process for the Magic is just beginning.
No player on Orlando’s roster averaged one steal per game last season and by default, Ayon becomes the most intimidating shot blocker on the team, after swatting away 0.8 attempts per game as a rookie with the Hornets.
Jameer Nelson has yet to play one game since agreeing to a three-year $19.7 million contract to remain in Orlando but is among the players the team is willing to move as it undergoes a massive retooling of its roster.
Orlando’s plan is to try and rebuild through the draft, a tactic that has worked twice as Howard led the Magic to the Finals five years after being the first overall selection and in 1995, after winning the draft lottery in consecutive years, the team fell to Houston in the Finals.
The Magic won the draft lottery on three occasions and each time, there was a clear choice at the top of the draft, a potential franchise player.
Orlando will likely compete with Charlotte, not only for last place in the Eastern Conference, but for the best odds in the 2013 NBA Draft lottery.
Between O’Neal’s departure and Howard’s arrival, the Magic remained competitive by aggressively pursuing free agents.
Instead, the Magic acquired Tracy McGrady from Toronto and he led the league in scoring for consecutive seasons.
Any hope of landing a premier free agent is years away because of the massive amount of money already committed, but that hasn’t slowed down the speculation.
Reports in Orlando are circulating about the Magic pursuing Kevin Durant when he becomes a free agent in 2016 or making a splash in 2014 when plenty of All-Star talent is eligible to sign a new contract.
The only problem is right now the Magic are more than $15 million over the salary cap and have next to nothing to show for it.