Cohen: Dissecting Future Possibilities

By Josh Cohen
November 12, 2012

ORLANDO -- It’s been conveyed a trillion times, but here comes the memorandum once again. The blockbuster Dwight Howard trade from this past summer delivered a medley of flexibility and opportunity for the Orlando Magic.

From salary cap space to try and convince All-Star caliber free agents to reposition to Central Florida to amassing eye-catching trade chips to explore potential deals to a substantial trade exception that could help net a proven talent or draft picks, the Magic have a plethora of options in their back pocket.

And let’s not forget the simple methods: The Draft and Player Development.

Only time will tell how exactly the Magic will utilize these various options to augment the roster and reconstruct into a championship contender.

When completely healthy, the Magic – as presently structured – can be a playoff team. It’s hard to forecast anything until they are at full strength, however.

But for the sake of discussion and debate, let’s look past this season and foretell future plans and direction.

It would seem rational to believe that if the Magic were bordering playoff contention by February’s trade deadline, they wouldn’t unload any of the veterans for draft picks or unproven youngsters. That’s not a guarantee, just an assumption.

If the infantile stage of this renovation causes common bumps and bruises and the Magic are out of the playoff picture by the deadline, it would then seem possible that the Magic would explore deals to proceed with the next step of the overhaul.

TRADE DEADLINE ASSESSMENTS 

1) There have been rumors since the summer that J.J. Redick could be dealt largely because he is in the final year of his contract. However, even if this were a consideration, logic would imply that this is far more convoluted.

If the Magic were attempting to acquire a respectable draft pick in exchange for Redick, it’s probably not too realistic for the following reason.

A team likely to be in the draft lottery in 2013 would almost certainly not want a player with just a few months left on his deal unless that team feels strongly they can convince Redick to stay with them. And, on the other hand, a team with championship aspirations won’t have an eye-catching draft pick to offer since they would be in the playoffs.

One possible exception could be Oklahoma City, which in the James Harden trade received the semi-protected lottery pick from Houston via Toronto. If the Raptors land between four and 14 in the lottery, that pick goes to the Thunder.

Redick is a fan favorite and if he is performing at a level that warrants big dollars next summer, the Magic will have to evaluate whether J.J. is too valuable to surrender.

There have also been rumblings that the Magic may entertain offers by the deadline for Al Harrington, whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next year. Harrington is still recovering from knee surgery and the timetable for his return is somewhat of a mystery.

2) While it may seem somewhat far-fetched now, is it impractical for the Magic to speed up the process by restocking via trades at the deadline?

Here are some names and you decide whether any of them are worth chasing in a potential trade: LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, Tyreke Evans and Monta Ellis.

That list includes a crop of borderline All-Star players in their prime or entering their prime who could be on the trading block by February. Jefferson, Smith, Evans and Ellis will all be free agents next summer and if their current teams are not confident they will re-sign or simply not accept a deal that fits within their spending control, it’s possible they each could be dealt. Aldridge, on the other hand, may just decide he wants out of Portland if it chooses to be in complete rebuild mode.

There is another commonality amongst all these players. They are each A- talent. The A+ faction includes likely future Hall of Famers such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose (when healthy), Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and Chris Paul.

The A- coalition is a cluster of players that are very good but alone can’t transform a team into a championship contender. Aldridge, Jefferson, Smith, Evans and Ellis are all in this federation.

So what does that suggest? They each are only valuable if combined with each other. So in other words, if it was possible to acquire, for instance, two or three of these players, they are probably worth chasing. If you are pursuing just one, it’s a dead end trap and won’t result in much success.

A team, for example, with Aldridge, Smith and Ellis together is championship worthy. A team with just Aldridge and a collection of role players beside him isn’t. The major difference between A+ talent and A- talent is that A+ talent can win you a championship without a second superstar with him. A- talent, on the other hand, needs two or three other A- talent with him to be at that same level.

If you examine NBA history, you will notice this to be consistent.

Let’s assume – again for the sake of discussion and debate – that the Magic don’t voyage down that road and stay flexible and continue to focus on player development.

Then, the main spotlight becomes the draft and free agency.

NEXT SUMMER & BEYOND ASSESSMENT

1) If the Magic do not reach the playoffs, they obviously will attain a lottery pick. It’s too early to start assessing prospects considering the college basketball season has just begun. If, on the other hand, Orlando does advance to the postseason this year, it would imply that the roster as presently constructed exceeded expectations and are far more valuable to build with or use as trade chips.

2) As a result of next summer’s free agent class not being exceedingly appealing, it doesn’t seem rational for the Magic to be big spenders in July. If Orlando decides to eventually be players in free agency, it would be more likely for it to do so in either 2014 or 2015.

3) This may seem spiteful, but if you are a Magic supporter, here are some fan tips. Root against Minnesota, Portland and Oklahoma City for the next couple of seasons. Why?

Well, in 2015 Kevin Love and Adridge will be unrestricted free agents and in 2016, it’s Durant’s turn in the cycle.

It’s extremely early to start forecasting whether any of these three will remain loyal to their current teams or not, but in this competitive business, as teams like Miami and Los Angeles realized, you have to hope to be in position to attract players of this caliber.

The popular and most fundamental route to make improvements is through the draft. However, always keep in mind the intricacies of the draft and how much luck plays a role.

Not to discredit San Antonio’s remarkable success over the past dozen years or so, but let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for a freak David Robinson injury in 1996, there is practically no chance the Spurs would have even one ring let alone four.

Remember, the Spurs won the 1997 NBA Draft Lottery after Robinson’s injury caused San Antonio to have a miserable season that prior year and fortunately for them, Tim Duncan was the unanimous No. 1 choice in that draft class.

Fast-forward 11 years and the Bulls managed to surmount incredible odds to restore championship potential. With just a 1.7 percent chance, the Bulls won the 2008 NBA Draft Lottery and landed hometown hero Derrick Rose.

Here is an amusing and somewhat amazing fact: The two teams that had the highest percent chance of winning the 2008 draft lottery were Miami and Oklahoma City (then Seattle), the two teams that just played each other in the NBA Finals last season (Go Figure).

Only three times since the NBA adopted a weighted lottery scale in 1990 has the team with the worst overall record won the lottery (Nets 1990, Cavs 2003, Magic 2004). Therefore, it’s absolutely preposterous to think it’s somehow beneficial to do what Charlotte clearly tried last season and that was be as bad as possible to try and get that No. 1 pick.

While the draft is a huge resource for teams to make improvements, it’s not an exact science.

Whether in the lottery or not, the Magic feel with the kind of success Rob Hennigan and his staff have had in scouting players, they will land quality players regardless in the draft. Andrew Nicholson, for instance, seems like he could prove to be a steal at No. 19.

As we continue to watch the Magic this season and hope they can reach the playoffs, it’s always important to be mindful of the potential direction of the team as they travel down this exciting journey. There are a plethora of options and the Magic are confident they will be able to utilize all of them.

 

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