Pretty Much Screwed: The Orlando Magic

  • Dylan Murphy

Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: the Orlando Magic, home to the rancid aftermath of Dwight Howard.

This one would appear rather easy – Orlando traded Dwight Howard. This was an inevitable turn of events, one largely centered around Dwight’s immaturity, so we won’t give Orlando too much grief over it. Instead, let’s focus on what they actually acquired.

Here was the trade in full, after all the moving parts found their new homes:

Philadelphia 76ers acquire: Jason Richardson, Andrew Bynum
Denver Nuggets acquire: Andre Iguodala
Los Angeles Lakers acquire: Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, Chris Duhon
Orlando Magic acquire: Nuggets 2014 1st round pick, 76ers 2015 1st round pick, Lakers 2017 1st round pick, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga

We can presume that the Nuggets ’14 pick will not be in the lottery, and the 76ers’ long-term prospects make that ’15 pick less enticing. And, if Dwight Howard stays in Los Angeles, that ’17 pick will be rather useless as well. Unless Nikola Vucevic or Moe Harkless develop beyond current projections, the Magic acquired nothing more than some cap space in return. Though it could turn out like the Lakers’ not-so-massacre of the Memphis Grizzlies, when Pau Gasol was traded for his brother, Marc (who went from lardish blob to prized free agent). IT ALL RIDES ON YOU, NIKOLA.

R.C. Buford and Sam Presti aren’t gods.

GM Rob Hennigan’s reverence of Sam Presti and R.C. Buford could prove costly. While he always demanded first round picks, young players and cap space in return for Dwight Howard, the final tally only sports one of the three (Nikola!). But this youthful roster re-imagining couples draft picks with luck. Which, in the case of San Antonio and Oklahoma City, materialized thanks to Portland passing on Kevin Durant and San Antonio having the first pick fall in their lap after David Robinson’s injury. And while it’s difficult not to endorse their overall drafting abilities (Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, etc.), their centerpieces were equal parts tanking and ping pong ball benevolence.

At the very least, Hennigan is rebranding the Magic within this overt yet somehow underground NBA movement – build through youth. It’s been rather interesting to watch these competing branches of thought, or really, branches of financial muscle, as a handful of teams seek a smaller handful of players and the large majority hopes to hit it big in the draft. And this is where any youth movement becomes boom or bust. Take the Washington Wizards, who have completely invested in John Wall and his below-average jump shot. As long as he continues to play above-average basketball, the Washington Wizards will cycle through his era of Wizard leadership with nothing to show for it. And then it’ll be 2015 and they’ll find themselves stuck, again, as the Memphis Grizzlies were, hoping a vet can make things happen (Zach Randolph). But that last ditch effort will ultimately prove fruitless and they’ll be stuck in mediocrity, a terrifying NBA limbo.

This is all pretty much just a roundabout way of explaining why Rob Hennigan is rolling a dangerously implosive pair of dice, though his options are mostly limited because you need at least one superstar to lure some more. Orlando fans can really just thank Otis Smith for all of this, the guy who squandered a superstar by surrounding him with shoddy and rotting parts and then grumbled when he became disgruntled. I mean, watch the gif above. Then know that this man was traded for Brandon Bass and scratch your cornea with Jameer Nelson’s three-year, $25 million contract.

One reason you might not be screwed: Okay fine, you’re screwed. But not forever! In 2014-2015, the Magic only have $20 million in committed salary, which means they can pursue two premier free agents. (Note: Rashard Lewis does not fit into this category.) So at the very least, Hennigan has set this team up for future maneuverability, and now it’s just a question of what he does with that space.

Read the rest of our NBA Previews here.

Actual prediction: Last in the East. Behind the Bobcats. Yeah, I said it. MKG will give the Bobcats some youthful pizazz, whereas the Magic will be a giant heap of sorrow and Glen Davis.