Cohen: Would You Rather This or That?

By Josh Cohen
September 12, 2012

ORLANDO -- Let’s play a game. It’s called Would You Rather THIS Or Would You Rather THAT?

Would you rather the Orlando Magic advance to the playoffs as a No. 8 seed this season or would you rather the Magic land a top three pick in the 2013 NBA Draft?

It’s a pervasive debate spread across the league. Each year, there are very few teams who have a legitimate chance to win an NBA championship. If the Heat, Lakers or Thunder don’t capture the crown this season, it would be rather shocking.

As a result, every other NBA franchise must stare into the mirror and make justifiable evaluations. What’s the mission and how do you reach the ultimate goal?

It’s convoluted. On one hand, even if it’s a quick exit from the postseason, experiencing the playoffs is very rewarding.

Especially for a team like the Magic who just traded their superstar and are loaded with unproven talent, reaching the playoffs would unbolt outermost optimism from even the most boisterous critics. A playoff berth this season would insinuate that young players such as Andrew Nicholson and Maurice Harkless flourished and blossoming veterans like Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo took another giant step forward.

On the other hand, there is a sour, almost dead-end reality to being a one-and-done postseason club. It’s extremely difficult to escape the middle of the pack in the NBA because of a deficiency of high and potentially transfiguring draft picks. If you look carefully, teams ranked between 10-20 tend to get stuck in that position for a few straight seasons.

The Rockets and Suns, for instance, both were the last two teams to not make the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. As a result, they selected 13th and 14th, respectively, in both the 2011 and 2012 NBA Drafts. It’s a hard position to flee from.

Landing a top three draft pick has its pros and cons, as well.

For one, unless a team defied significant odds in the lottery, selecting in the top three most likely suggests the current roster didn’t excel as hoped. The Hornets, Bobcats and Wizards (three teams that picked in the top three in the 2012 NBA Draft) all were despondent last season.

Conversely, high draft picks offer the most hope for teams with aspirations of eventually competing for a championship. Cleveland went from pretender to contender after drafting LeBron James in 2003. Orlando did the same in 2004 when it chose Dwight Howard. Oklahoma City’s preferences, including Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, have transformed the Thunder into one of the league’s elite.

Fortunately for the Magic, if they did exceed expectations and advanced to the playoffs this season, they could utilize salary cap space rather than high draft picks to progress to the next level.

Of course, though, a disappointing season doesn’t automatically guarantee the superlative lottery pick. Charlotte, for example, clearly paved the way to be in the best possible position to get Anthony Davis. But instead of drawing No. 1, it got stuck with No. 2 in a one-star draft last June.



Would you rather the Magic’s veterans exceed expectations or would you rather the team’s rookies shine?

Of course if you are a fan of the Magic, you want to see everyone play well. But for the sake of entertainment, if only one could come to fruition, which would you prefer happen?

For the most part, we know or at minimum have caught a glimpse of what veterans such as Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis, J.J. Redick, Hedo Turkoglu, Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo are capable of. Nelson is probably in his prime, Davis, Redick and Afflalo are about to hit the pinnacle of their careers, while Turk and Al are on their last legs.

In the short term, it would be most advantageous for the Magic if the more experienced players collectively enjoy an outstanding season. If most, if not all, of these players thrive; Orlando has an opportunity to compete for a playoff spot.

On the other hand, if the rookies, including Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn succeed moreso than their mentors, it would create some optimism for the future.

Since the Magic are in a rebuilding stage, it’s imperative for these three to prove they can be valuable pieces and eventual difference makers. The same can be said for those entering their second years in the league like Justin Harper, Gustavo Ayon and Nikola Vucevic.

Much will depend on how Jacque Vaughn spreads the minutes. It remains to be seen if the veterans get priority playing time or if the coaching staff decides it’s too much of a hindrance to ignore the youngsters.

After all the drama that encircled the Magic over the past year and amid all the criticism following the Howard trade, everyone on this team has a chip on their shoulder.

The returnees such as Nelson, Davis and Redick want to prove they can succeed without Dwight. The newcomers like Afflalo want to show they were worthy to be traded for a superstar. And the rooks want to establish a healthy career right off the bat.

Would you rather the Miami Heat win a second straight title in 2012-13 or would you rather the L.A. Lakers steal back the trophy?

Listen, we all know we don’t want either of these teams celebrating next June. But let’s face reality for a moment; the Heat and Lakers are two of the top three teams in the league. The Thunder can certainly still be the best of the West and it’s feasible to believe the Celtics can stun the Heat like they almost did last season in the conference finals.

Miami and L.A., however, are the favorites to meet in the NBA Finals in 2013. If that turns out to be the case, whom will you rooting for or more precisely, who will you be booing more?

Considering they are Orlando’s geographical rivals, the Heat will forever be despised by Magic fans. It intensified in the summer of 2010 when LeBron took his talents to South Beach.

The Lakers, meanwhile, became a detested adversary of the Magic when the two teams clashed in the 2009 NBA Finals. And now with L.A. acquiring Howard – 16 years after Shaq bolted for Hollywood -- this enmity just ballooned to new heights.

You could argue that the Magic have had just as many as rivals as any other team in the NBA recently. Over the last few years, Detroit (playoff series in 2003, ’07, ’08), Boston (series in ’09, 10), Cleveland (series in ‘09), Miami and L.A. have all been main foes of Orlando.


ORLANDOMAGIC.COM FEATURES: Would You Rather This or That? | Magic Mailbag | Magic Add Backcourt Depth, Sign Moore | Assessing Orlando's Playoff Chances | Vaughn Talks Coaching Style | Magic Complete Coaching Staff | NBA Trade Proposals | Win-Win Situation | Chasing Free Agents, Who & When? | Starting Lineup Decisions | Action & Reaction | History of Success Bodes Well for Magic

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