Cohen: The Preferred Path for Long Term Magic Success?

By Josh Cohen
October 10, 2012

ORLANDO -- Just like in other facets of life, in sports we generally marvel at and revere – sometimes with appreciation and other instances with jealousy and disapproval – teams at the pinnacle of success.

For the last several years – a period in which Orlando earned a trip to the NBA Finals, back-to-back conference final appearances and six consecutive playoff berths (longest active streak in Eastern Conference) – the Magic were one of those franchises many other teams admired from a distance.

As a result of the Dwight Howard departure, however, it’s now important during this rebuilding phase for the Magic to also respect other elite teams presently in championship contention.

Teams cycle in the NBA. It’s a part of the arduous process of trying to build and sustain championship-caliber rosters.

The Chicago Bulls, for instance, enjoyed paramount success in the 1990’s – capturing six NBA titles in eight years before enduring a grueling rebuilding method throughout the early portion of this century.

Before Derrick Rose came on the scene, the Bulls were constantly in instability – contending with pitiable draft choices (ex. Jay Williams, Marcus Fizer, Eddy Curry and Tyrus Thomas) and disappointing free agent signings and trades (ex. Ben Wallace and Jalen Rose).

Everyone now recognizes the Miami Heat for being unconquerable. After winning the title in 2006, the Heat rapidly declined and in just two years had become the worst team in the league. They made dubious trades (Shaq for Marion, for example) and draft selections (Michael Beasley with second pick in 2008 NBA Draft).

It’s all a cycle, I repeat. Even the Lakers – while relatively short-lived and forgettable – dealt with a plunge that knocked them out of contention for a few years. Once the Patrick Ewing days were over in New York, the Knicks were abysmal before finally generating enough allowable funds to reload the roster in the last couple of years.

Every team – regardless of market size – is challenged by it.

The Magic will inevitably emulate teams that are currently in position to win the grand prize. It can be a tiresome process, but it’s something worth sweating the details for.

Most NBA spectators have narrowed the field of championship contenders to three teams this season – the Heat, Lakers and Thunder.

What’s so fascinating about this short inventory is that each of these organizations chose a diverse path to evolve into a title candidate.

I examine how Miami, L.A. and OKC transformed into championship frontrunners and open up an opportunity for you to vote on how you think the Magic should choose to eventually do the same.


Clearing salary cap space, utilizing their lone star player to recruit other star players and jackpotting on the best free agency class in NBA history: That was Miami's method.

The Heat cleared up enormous cap space between 2008 and 2010 by not forcing free agent signings and only acquiring players that had contracts expiring by 2010 (ex. Jermaine O’Neal).

With Dwyane Wade serving as a recruiter in many ways to try and lure his fellow free agent buddies, including LeBron James and Chris Bosh, to South Beach, Pat Riley was able to convince all three that beautiful weather all year long, no state income tax and the opportunity for all three superstars to unite was too appealing to rebuff.

Miami never really utilized a single draft choice (aside from Wade in 2003) to evolve into a powerhouse. In 2006, the Heat rose to the top as a result of a temporary resolution to acquire Shaq and team him up with Wade.

Now, with James, Wade and Bosh, the Heat could probably surround those three with D-Leaguers and they still could be considered the favorites to win it all. Though, because of how attractive it is for aging veterans to compete for a title, Miami has become a destination for guys like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to land.


Believe it or not, the Lakers have never really been free agency capitalists despite residing in the second biggest market in the country. It’s always been about strategizing ways to complete blockbuster deals.

Outside of signing Shaq in 1996, L.A. has accumulated all of their talent via trades. Dating back to Wilt Chamberlain (dealt to Lakers in 1968 from Sixers), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (traded to Lakers in 1975 from Bucks) and even Magic Johnson, who L.A. was able to draft with the first overall pick in 1979 as a result of a Gail Goodrich signing with the Jazz a few years prior, the Lakers have almost always landed superstars from trades.

Just look at L.A.’s present roster.

The Lakers landed Kobe Bryant when they acquired his draft rights from the Hornets in 1996.

The Lakers secured Pau Gasol in a midseason blockbuster deal that was somewhat controversial from the Grizzlies in 2008.

This past summer, the Lakers stole the spotlight by attaining both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.

And remember, the Lakers nearly sequestered Chris Paul away from the Hornets last year before David Stern stepped in and rebuffed the deal.


Since they are in a small market with very little location appeal, it’s imperative for the Thunder to utilize the draft as a way to rise.

Between dismal seasons from 2006 to 2009, the Thunder were able to land Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka.

While OKC deserves utmost respect for these terrific decisions, let’s also be honest and understand that Durant fell into its lap in 2007. While still in Seattle, the franchise lucked out and got the second choice, which regardless of who was picking at that spot would have secured Durant because Greg Oden was undoubtedly getting chosen first.

Similar to the Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs also utilized the draft to transform into a perennial championship team. While Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were masterful choices, Tim Duncan found his way to southern Texas because of a freak David Robinson injury in 1996.

As a result of all the financial flexibility and accumulation of many future draft picks, the Magic will have the option to choose which path they want to follow. Perhaps, it will be a mixture of what the Heat, Lakers and Thunder have done. Only time will tell.


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