Magic's Draft Night Filled With Intrigue

By John Denton
June 25, 2014

ORLANDO -- With the top three picks out of their control and a variety of questions surrounding a couple of the top available players, Thursday’s NBA Draft figures to be a night filled with intrigue for the Orlando Magic.

With pick No. 4, the Magic could be in position to select Kansas University center Joel Embiid, who has seen his stock tumble in the days since he suffered a broken bone in his foot that should sideline him for four-to-six months. Or the Magic could be in line to take Australian point guard Dante Exum, a relative unknown to basketball fans in the U.S., but one with enticing physical gifts for NBA General Managers? Or might they prefer tough-minded Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart?

Or could the Magic make a bold move at trading into the draft’s top three picks to acquire Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or Exum? Doing so will not be easy, and the odds are almost certainly stacked against it considering the difference-making talent available at the top. But the Magic have some attractive pieces on their roster, namely veteran shooting guard Arron Afflalo, and they could package their two lottery picks (Nos. 4 and 12) to make a bold climb to Thursday’s top spot.

With so much in play and so much uncertainty surrounding the top picks, Magic GM Rob Hennigan is well aware that he needs to be flexible and ready when it is time for Orlando to act on Thursday night.

``Everything is really fluid at the moment,’’ Hennigan said. ``I think there’s a possibility we could select at four and 12, but there’s also a possibility that some or all of those picks could be in play. So our job over the next how many hours (before the draft) is to prioritize what we feel is the best opportunity for us and then capitalize on it.’’

Known to keep things close to the vest and to treat all information as proprietary, Hennigan did say on Wednesday that he and many of the GMs at the top of the draft have held extensive talks about potential movement. Because there is no consensus order for the top picks, teams have explored options of moving down, moving up and possibly trading veteran players for draft picks. Include the Magic in that mix, Hennigan said.

``I can’t speak for the other teams, but I know we’ve had a lot of discussions with other teams,’’ he said. ``Most teams have had a lot of discussions with other teams. I would categorize the chatter as appropriate for this time of year.’’

Cleveland, the surprise winner of the NBA Draft Lottery in New York last month, will pick first overall for a third time in the past four seasons. The Cavs shocked the basketball world last June by picking Anthony Bennett first overall, a move that left Victor Oladipo available for the Magic at No. 2. This time around a Cleveland team desperate to make the playoffs for the first time in four years could deal the top spot in order to get immediate help.

Milwaukee will pick second, while Philadelphia is third and the Magic are fourth. The Sixers (No. 3 and 10) and Magic (No. 4 and 12) are the only teams with two lottery picks.

The Magic have the No. 12 pick thanks to the Dwight Howard trade from the August of 2012. With their second selection in the lottery, the Magic could be in perfect position to snag the player who invariably falls out of the top 10 picks or one they could gamble on because of some risks involved. Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Rodney Hood, Dario Saric, Gary Harris, Zach LaVine, Nik Staukas and Doug McDermott could be available when the No. 12 pick rolls around.

This draft figures to be one of ultimate importance for a Magic team that hopes to continue to stockpile assets and talented young players as it builds back toward being a playoff contender. Orlando has won 20 and 23 games over the past two seasons, but more importantly it has put a strong foundation in place in the form of Nikola Vucevic, Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Maurice Harkless.

Now, the Magic could be poised to add two more lottery selections from a draft class that has been touted for months as a potential all-timer. The 1984 (Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton) and 2003 (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony) draft classes are almost universally considered to be the most talent-rich hauls ever. Some of the luster has come off the 2014 grouping of late with injuries to Embiid and Randle and various reports that Saric has signed a professional contract in Europe.

While he is confident that the Magic are in position to snag a talented young player who can make an impact next season, Hennigan said he still wants to reserve judgment on the quality and depth of the 2014 draft class. In time, Hennigan said, the 2014 class will either prove itself as worthy or unworthy of all the hype praised upon it over the past 12 months.

``To be determined. Ask me that in three to four years and I’ll have a much better answer for you,’’ he said with a chuckle. ``Every draft is relative. We don’t know what this draft will behold. The question is, `When will we know?’ And I don’t have an answer for that. I think that’s to be determined.’’

Hennigan, who has drafted Andrew Nicholson, O’Quinn, Oladipo and Romero Osby in his two drafts with the Magic, admitted that Embiid’s foot injury so late in the game threw a major bit of uncertainty into the Draft process. Embiid missed time late last season with Kansas because of a stress fracture in his back, and now teams have had to scramble to try and find out information about the surgery to repair the broken navicular bone in Embiid’s foot. That, Hennigan said, is an ongoing process and likely will be up until the first pick on Thursday night.

The Magic organization is quite familiar with foot and ankle injuries after having suffered through seven years of agony with Grant Hill from 2000-07. Other NBA players such as Yao Ming, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Brook Lopez have seen their careers either cut short or severely hampered by troublesome foot fractures. Hennigan said each injury has to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

``It makes an unpredictable night even more unpredictable, that’s how I would categorize it,’’ he said of Embiid’s injury. ``I’m not going to comment on what information we have, but I will say that we have information and we’ll continue to analyze it. And we’ll look to gain more information leading up to (Thursday) night.’’

Hennigan said that there is tremendous importance on the Magic nailing their pick and adding another dynamic piece to their young and talented core of players already in place. But he said he doesn’t feel pressure to pick a player who can contribute right away. He stressed that the organization wants to remain on the path of picking players who best believe in the culture of hard work and selflessness that the Magic already have in place.

``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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