Will Year 6 Be Magic?

Excluding the magical early 90’s with Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, and the Dwight Howard NBA Finals year, Orlando has been anything but the happiest place on earth.  Players incapable of carrying a franchise like their predecessors were drafted. Orlando is such a small market, nailing the draft is an essential part of their rebuild. But they have not been able to accomplish much since Dwight Howard was traded from Orlando to LA. in 2012. The Magic are going on year 6 of their rocky rebuild.

The man tasked with bringing excitement back to the Amway Center was Rob Hennigan. To start the rebuild, he drafted Victor Oladipo second. The draft of 2013 ended up being a two-player draft with C.J.McCollum and Giannis Antetokounmpo the only stars to come from it. Nevertheless, Oladipo was a solid prospect with a proven NBA body and elite athleticism. Although not living up to the hype, the Indiana product projected as a third option on a championship team until he was traded away to OKC for Serge Ibaka.

Ibaka was the highest profile player that Hennigan could get his hands on since Dwight Howard. His playoff experience with OKC would have been a pillar for the franchise to build upon if it had not been for Aaron Gordon playing the same position. Drafted in 2014, Gordon was the best player they could have taken as he projected as a Shawn Marion type do it all power forward.

Gordon showed flashes of being the guy in Orlando with his physical defense and knack for running the lanes on the fast break, but it took until after Ibaka was traded this past February for Gordon to give a glimpse of what he could offer as the cornerstone of the franchise. The Arizona alum averaged 16 points and six rebounds on 50% shooting after taking the reigns of the power forward position.

As long as Gordon checks the box for power forward of the future, the rest of their team, especially the man taken six picks after Gordon, Elfrid Payton, is in need of an identity for the team to compete in the Eastern Conference.

Five years ago, a Rondo comparison was like a badge of honor for young point guards, but now it’s more of a slight. Payton is a gifted passer, but his outside shot holds him back like gravity. Career 29% three-point shooter, Payton is limited to the point where D.J. Augustin nabbed starts from him last season. With both him and Gordon up for extensions this summer, this year for Payton will make or break his career as his prospects as a starting point guard in the NBA will diminish if he’s replaced by Augustin again.

After two lottery selections, the Magic were still in the same spot, still fighting for the 12th seed in the East. But the Magic had hopes in a wild card of a prospect they acquired from the Bucks when they parted ways with J.J Redick in 2013. Tobias Harris was going to be a game changer.

With the Magic, Harris was a scrappy two-way player that flirted with an outside shot but was mainly a slasher and rebounder. Sliding between both the 3 and 4, Harris was a go-to scorer averaging 15 points and eight rebounds during his brief stint with the Magic. But in a move that can only be described as an expedited tanking initiative, he was traded for the expiring contracts of Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova in February of 2016.

Harris was not a world beater of a ballplayer, but he was a flexible piece the Magic could have used to acquire more than just two one way veteran players. Even worse is the fact that the money they would have given Harris in free agency that summer went to another one way player in Evan Fournier. It also didn’t help that they used the fifth overall pick in 2015 on Mario Hezonja when they could have taken Devin Booker or Justise Winslow.

Magic Draft Picks 2013-15 Games Minutes FG% Points
Victor Oladipo (2nd) 224 7,439 43.1% 15.9
Aaron Gordon (4th) 206 4,992 45.9% 9.7
Elfrid Payton (10th)

draft day trade from Philadelphia for Dario Saric

239 7,092 44.6% 10.8
Mario Hezonja (5th) 146 2,414 40.0% 5.5

The recurring problem for Hennigan was he thought the team had more assets than they did. He made transactions, not out of fit, but out of expendability. He couldn’t even handle his expendable players correctly. He turned Victor Oladipo into Serge Ibaka and then Serge Ibaka into Terrence Ross, which is a downgrade. He overpaid Fournier to the point that no team would think of trading for him for a 1st round draft pick. Then, even when the Magic got draft picks, they treated them as if they were on a 50 win playoff team with no time for rookies and just buried them on the bench. Even this past draft, despite it being under new GM John Hammond, they chose Jonathan Isaac over Dennis Smith when they already have Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic on the roster.

Orlando is a team that behaves like a winning team without any of the winning intangibles. Hennigan was the youngest GM in the NBA at the time of his hiring which made sense since he was so impatient with the team. They have had four head coaches in the past five years. Even the fans have lost patience as the Magic have ranked in the bottom three in attendance the past two seasons. We all can’t be Philadelphia and perform the perfect five-year rebuild, but patience is a virtue especially when trying to build through the draft.

Hopefully, John Hammond has enough patience to get the Magic into the playoffs sometime soon. Like season 6 of the rebuild.


photo via llananba