LONDON (AP) — Talk about an L.A. Story.
It goes like this: Dwight Howard travels to Los Angeles for back surgery four months ago, walks around Beverly Hills each day as part of his rehabilitation program, and routinely meets the same woman along the route.
"She would say, 'Come to the Lakers, come to the Lakers,'" Howard said. "If she's watching, I'm here. Your wish came true."
Sure did. So did his — he's out of Orlando.
It took four teams, 11 other players, five draft picks and countless rounds of talks over many months, but the Orlando Magic decided that Friday was the right time to start over without the NBA's best center 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 a megadeal involving the Lakers, Magic, Philadelphia and Denver was worked out Thursday and completed Friday after the NBA reviewed and approved the particulars.
"It was just a very tough situation for everybody to let go," Howard said. "I'm finally glad that it's over with. Myself and the Magic organization, we can all start over and begin a new career. Today is a fresh new start for all of us."
As far as the other headliners involved, Andrew Bynum leaves the Lakers for Philadelphia and Andre Iguodala is heading to Denver.
"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."
Even while otherwise busy at the London Olympics, Bryant quickly proclaimed that the Lakers are "locked and loaded to bring back the title."
He spoke with Howard on Friday morning, and interrupted his pursuit of a gold medal — the Americans will play for another of those Sunday — to talk about how the Lakers look very much like a major contender for another NBA title.
"I'll probably play two or three more years. Then the team is his," Bryant said. "I'm excited for the franchise because now they have a player that can carry the franchise well after I'm gone. This should be his and he should want to accept that challenge."
Time will tell.
Howard, who may not be ready for the start of the season while continuing to recover from back surgery that he had performed in Los Angeles four months ago, plans to become a free agent next July.
He could stay with the Lakers. He could end up in Dallas, which should have oodles of cap space. Maybe the Brooklyn Nets — one of Howard's preferred destinations throughout this saga — find a way into the mix again.
"I told him this is a great place for him," Bryant said. "You talk about all the great centers this team has had. Now he's the next in line."
Bryant said the Lakers should be poised to win now. The Magic, they might not be saying that for years.
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.
Orlando got guard Arron Afflalo and forward Al Harrington from Denver, forward Moe Harkless and center Nikola Vucevic from Philadelphia, and forward Josh McRoberts and guard Christian Eyenga from the Lakers.
The Lakers acquired Howard, guard Chris Duhon and forward Earl Clark from Orlando. The Magic also traded guard Jason Richardson to Philadelphia.
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 Los Angeles first started getting mentioned in the Howard trade mix.
"It makes the NBA that much more exciting," Knicks forward and U.S. Olympian Carmelo Anthony said.
Not everyone shared that sentiment. "I really don't care," Thunder star Kevin Durant said.
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.