Could have had Brook Lopez.
Might have had Andrew Bynum.
And along the way, the Orlando Magic were linked to everyone from Al Horford, Blake Griffin, Joakim Noah, Stephen Curry, Chandler Parsons and Amare Stoudemire.
And after weeks, no months, the sum total of the what-can-Dwight-Howard-fetch-on-the-open-market derby comes down to: Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless and three protected first-round picks?
Really? That's the best that not one but two different Magic management teams could come up with during this interminable wait?
And the Lakers still get to keep Pau Gasol?
Oh, those who take pleasure in the abstract that is cap relief and potential will point to the Magic clearing the slate in Orlando for something if not better, at least more stable.
And with what will essentially be a hard cap next season, there is something to be said about off-loading Jason Richardson, even if the process took so long that it also swept aside Stan Van Gundy, the coach best suited for what's next.
Generally, in a multiple-team trade, any attempt at instant analysis is foolish, with so many moving parts. That's not the case this time.
The Lakers upgraded from Andrew Bynum to Dwight Howard. Winner.
The 76ers managed to turn Andre Iguodala into Andrew Bynum. Size always wins. And they get Richardson to ease in the Iguodala transition. Winner.
The Nuggets flipped Harrington and Afflalo for Iguodala. Winner.
The Magic? Yeesh, with even the incoming draft picks protected. And those prospects the Magic were seeking, where exactly are they?
We surely are moments away from one of those "Heart! Hustle! Hope!" marketing campaigns in Orlando. And, who knows, it just might work, because the campaign to get Rick Scott elected governor of Florida somehow worked (Florida is, indeed, a strange land).
But what can't be denied is that now starting at center for the Magic is flotsam, being supported in the lineup by jetsam.
Months ago, David Stern blocked a deal, for "basketball reasons," that would have sent Chris Paul to these very same Lakers. Stern later would explain he was acting in the best interests of the New Orleans Hornets, which the NBA was operating at the time.
But Stern then at least turned around and got Eric Gordon, Al Farouq Aminu and a quality draft pick — tangible building blocks — from the Clippers for the Hornets.
Stern was panned at the time for trying to emulate a general manager. At the moment, he is coming off better at that job than Magic neophyte Rob Hennigan.
Last February, when since-deposed Otis Smith got Howard to void his 2012 offseason opt-out, the Magic regained control of the situation, in retrospect a strategic error for Howard that forced him to move off his preference to play in Brooklyn for the Russian oligarch.
The Magic had control. They would not be the same idle bystanders that the Cavaliers were in 2010 when they lost LeBron James. Or the Raptors with Chris Bosh, the Jazz with Carlos Boozer, or the Suns with Amare Stoudemire.
They would get who they wanted when they wanted and how they wanted. And for an extended period, even after the management shift, there was unexpected resolve. If the Nets wouldn't sweeten the pot, Dwight wouldn't get his Net result.
The Magic had the biggest prize on the 2012 offseason market, and they were going big-game hunting.
Instead: Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, three lottery-protected first-round picks and the cap-clogging contracts of Hedo Turkoglu, Big Baby Davis, Quentin Richardson still on their books.
Somewhere, Stan Van Gundy is grinning, while perhaps feeling a tinge of empathy for what incoming coach Jacque Vaughn is about to endure.
Had the Magic stood their ground, this would be the story of a team that got it right in the face of an impending free agent. They could have succeeded where the Cavaliers, Raptors and others failed.
Instead it is the narrative of recent NBA personnel swings, the rich getting richer, the Heat landing Bosh and James, the Nets securing Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, the Knicks adding Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
The definition of a trade heist prior to this deal had been the Lakers landing Pau Gasol in 2008 for the cost of Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, a pair of draft choices and, ironically, the rights to Marc Gasol.
The new definition of a trade heist is the Lakers landing Howard without trading Pau Gasol.
To repeat: The Lakers landed the best center in basketball at the cost of the not-best-center in basketball (Bynum) and a lottery-protected future first-round pick.
In best-ever offseasons of the new millennium, Dwight-Nash comes close enough to LeBron-Bosh to at least be in the conversation.
Of course, during these what-should-have-been dog days of the NBA offseason, there will be plenty of time for conversation about this one.
There also will be plenty of murmurs about losers in the equation, a list that includes outsiders such as the Thunder and the Mavericks.
Suddenly, Oklahoma City no longer is the definitive in-perpetuity pick out of the West. From the Olympics, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden return home with an even more imposing challenge.
As for Dallas, having lost out on Deron Williams this summer, the only chance of landing Howard now is for it all to fall apart for Dwight this coming season in Los Angeles, for an aging Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash to prove too aged to get a free-agency commitment from Howard.
As for the 76ers and Nuggets, questions remain. At some point this season it may dawn on the Nuggets about the colossus they created, while the 76ers may well come to realize that their roster remains incomplete enough for Bynum to possibly move on as a free agent next summer.
For months, Orlando had made itself the center of the universe for what it possessed. Now it's just another Mickey Mouse franchise, about to relive the post-Shaquille O'Neal years all over again, a franchise that could actually lament allowing Brook Lopez to get away.
Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.