Cohen Courtside: Friday vs. Pacers

By Josh Cohen
October 19, 2012

In Cohen Courtside, Josh Cohen examines the state of the Orlando Magic after games this season. He will tackle sidebar storylines and focus on topics that stretch far beyond the box score. There will also be some analysis on league-wide subjects.

ORLANDO -- To one side of the scorer’s table on Friday night at Amway Center, you had a team in complete rebuild mode, in the preliminary stages of redevelopment and resurrection and a franchise deciding how to transition away from last season’s frenetic drama.

To the opposite side, you had a team in its somewhat decisive juncture, sweating their climb up the ladder and hoping the finished product is enough to fulfill ambitious goals and expectations.

It was the Orlando Magic, who enjoyed their first preseason victory and looked impressive in the process, on one end in the midst of a remodel and reconstruction and the Indiana Pacers at the other side in its premier phase of growth.

The Pacers, who eliminated the Magic in the First Round of the playoffs last season, are considered by some to be “championship contenders” and if you ask people around the organization, they will confirm this sky-scraping aspiration is spot on.

It’s likely the Magic stared long and hard at the other bench throughout Friday’s preseason contest, dissected the architecture of their opponent and assessed whether they want to travel in a similar direction and follow similar methods.

If it was up to me, I pass and say “good effort guys, I respect your progression but your form of rebuilding is not the best path for Orlando.” Let me explain why but first start with some facts.

For the last several years following Reggie Miller’s retirement and the infamous brawl in Auburn Hills, the Pacers were in an elongated redevelopment stage.

In the NBA Draft Lottery every year from 2006-2010, Indiana scratched and clawed its way back to relevancy. Here were some of its key architectural decisions:

2005: Select Danny Granger with the 17th overall pick

2008: Acquire Roy Hibbert in a multi-player trade involving Jermaine O’Neal

2009: Select Tyler Hansbrough with the 13th overall pick

2010: Select Paul George with the 10th overall pick

2011: Sign free agent David West

2011: Acquire George Hill

2012: Match Portland’s four-year $58 million contract to retain Hibbert

Assuming they try to re-sign West next summer (he will be unrestricted free agent) and offer Hansbrough an extension or match any offer another team makes to him in July, the Pacers’ plate is full without much of an opportunity for alterations.

From a financial standpoint, Indiana will be strapped (Granger, Hibbert and West) all collecting mighty paychecks, Hill ($8 million a year) is perhaps earning more than his overall value and Hansbrough and George will soon be getting decent-sized contracts.

Before “arriving” on scene as a quality Eastern Conference team starting last season, the Pacers were always in the middle of the pack of the league and as a result never had the prospect of picking high in the draft lottery.

It’s what I label as the “NBA Trap,” which refers to being in the undesirable and unfavorable position of not being good enough to advance to the playoffs but not in enough of a full rebuild mode to grab elite players from the draft (always picking between 10-14).

To Indiana’s credit, it did a masterful job designing a team despite never having a really high draft pick and in spite of residing in a relatively smaller market.

However, they were never able to add on a legitimate No. 1 option and instead resorted to a plethora of B-level talent. The results are TBD, but in all likelihood, it will be extremely difficult for Indiana to reach the NBA Finals.

So to my original point of why I would say, “thanks for the model, but I will look elsewhere for a more suitable method to restore championship potential in Orlando,” the Magic have too many assets, chips and leverage to emulate Indiana’s approach.

Orlando is a market that has always attracted All-Star caliber players (ex. Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and Rashard Lewis) and in contrast to the Pacers, the Magic will have sufficient salary cap space, potential trade chips and a superfluity of draft picks from the Dwight Howard trade to avoid the disadvantageous “NBA Trap” for several years.

Listen, I am not trying to ridicule or scrutinize the Pacers. They are a very good team and will challenge for the Central Division crown this season. But unfortunately, the decisions they made the last few years will probably disallow them from realistically contending for a championship.

As the Magic continue to try and improve throughout this season with their compilation of savvy veterans and young talent, they also must look to the other side of the scorer’s table each game just to get a glance of how other teams have crafted their rosters.

And while Friday’s opponent is very good, they aren’t the appropriate models for the Magic to emulate.

What If There Was a Rematch This Season?

For something else to think about and debate, do you think the current Magic team could win a seven-game series against the Pacers, who are essentially the same as last season when they eliminated Orlando in five games?

Friday’s preseason game shouldn’t provide us with any inclination considering Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and Maurice Harkless were all absent for the Magic and Danny Granger didn’t suit up for the Pacers.

And naturally, because it’s just an exhibition game, you can’t judge anyone’s effort in October when the stage lights are not nearly as bright and the pressure is significantly reduced.

For what it is worth, though, the Magic looked awesome in their lopsided win on Friday.

However, if there were a rematch in the postseason, what would be your predictions? Vote here:


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