Magic Face Multiple Scenarios in Draft Tonight

By John Denton

June 26, 2014

ORLANDO -- With so much uncertainty at the top of tonight’s NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic could face a multitude of off-the-wall scenarios when their No. 4 pick rolls around some time just before 8 p.m.

Having aced his first two drafts with the Magic, GM Rob Hennigan figures to be ready for whatever curveballs are thrown his way in the always unpredictable, sometimes zany NBA Draft.

Because the lies wafting through the air are about as thick as the Florida humidity now, Hennigan said he has little idea how the top three picks will unfold when Cleveland, Milwaukee and Philadelphia draft ahead of the Magic. But Hennigan said that because of the investigative work that the organization has put in and the tight bond among the scouting team that the Magic will be ready to execute the right move in a very critical NBA Draft.

``More inside jokes now,’’ Hennigan said of a tight-knit staff that includes Assistant GMs Scott Perry and Matt Lloyd. ``Everybody is more comfortable with each other and the chemistry is better, as you would expect having been together for a longer period of time. The group works very well together and we’re proud of that.’’

That chemistry and ability to execute in tense moments was never more evident than last June when the Cleveland Cavaliers surprised the basketball world by taking undersized power forward Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick. While that pick caught many off guard, the Magic remained calm and chose guard Victor Oladipo, who had a solid rookie season and finished second in the NBA’s Rookie of the Year voting.

That experience could come in handy tonight what with Cleveland once again trying to decide which direction to go with the top pick. Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins, Duke forward Jabari Parker and Kansas 7-footer Joel Embiid are in play for the top spot, although Embiid’s plight is a bit tricky after he broke a bone in his right foot last week. If teams shy away from Embiid – and all indications are that Cleveland and Milwaukee will pick between Parker and Wiggins – then the Sixers and Magic could be left to play the risk/reward game with Embiid, an exquisite shot blocker and athlete, but one who also has already suffered through back and foot injuries.

As if that wasn’t a tricky enough proposition, Orlando could be faced with making a similarly difficult decision on 6-foot-6 point guard Dante Exum, an Australian native who has American roots. Exum, 19, is somewhat of an International Man of Mystery what with him not playing competitively in almost a year. He was standout in Under-19 play last summer, but he’s mostly been reduced to individual workouts for the past year after deciding not to play college basketball in the U.S.

Asked on Wednesday if the Magic have seen enough of Exum in live games and individual workouts, Hennigan offered up a simple, one-word answer: ``Yes.’’

Or Hennigan could pull off the shocker of the draft if he can craft a plan to vault the Magic into the top three of the draft. Orlando also owns the No. 12 pick, and some combination of the Nos. 4 and 12 selections and appealing veterans Arron Afflalo or Jameer Nelson could allow the Magic to jump all the way to the top of the heap.

Hennigan warned on Wednesday that the odds are against such a scenario because trades – especially ones on draft night involving highly coveted picks – are difficult to execute because of a multitude of factors.

``It is difficult and challenging. But it depends on where you are trying to move,’’ Hennigan said. ``Are you trying to move up a lot or a little? What are the pieces that you may be able to utilize? Again, it’s a little case by case in what teams are looking for, what they might need and what they want.

``I think every trade is hard to make because there are so many factors involved and voices and opinions and objectives,’’ Hennigan added. ``So any time you try and make a trade it’s going to be difficult.’’

Hennigan and his staff have been preparing for this moment for most of the past two years after taking the Magic job in the spring of 2012. He and his staff and scouts have charted players for two years so that they have a point of reference for a player’s improvement arc. When he wasn’t at Magic games this past season, Hennigan was either attending college games or practices in an attempt to familiarize himself with the top talent available. He said it’s somewhat dizzying when he thinks about the man hours put in researching the top players in the draft.

``A lot of hours,’’ Hennigan said with a sigh. ``I don’t know how to quantify that, but our scouts have full-time jobs, not part-time jobs.’’

Hennigan knows full well the importance of the Magic acing a draft following rebuilding seasons of 20 and 23 victories. That’s why no stone has been unturned and no avenue to improve the team will be bypassed. If the Magic can’t move up in the draft order – something that is quite difficult to do – Hennigan said the Magic will be content to use their Nos. 4 and 12 picks to select players who best fit in their culture of hard work and selflessness.

``I think the big thing for us is to stay the course and add to the team and do it in a fashion that allows us to show improvement and play more meaningful games next season,’’ he said. ``But at the same time, we don’t want to skip steps and don’t want to compromise our vision of building a competitive team for a long time. If there’s an opportunity out there that will allow us to speed that up, great! If not, the onus is on us to chip away and stay disciplined.’’

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