Denton: Busy Weeks Ahead For Magic GM Rob Hennigan

By John Denton
January 31, 2013

BOSTON – To lend some insight into Orlando Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan’s humorous and what-me-worry? type of persona, there is this morsel of levity that he offered up before a recent game.

When asked how much of his thoughts on a daily basis revolve around what’s ahead over the next three weeks for a GM, Hennigan responded with this gem: ``What? The Daytona 500?’’

The question, of course, was referring to the Feb. 21 NBA trade deadline, a period of wheeling and dealing that could dramatically shape the way the Magic look over the next few seasons. If he’s able to clear significant salary cap room, and if he’s able to acquire more promising players and high draft picks, Hennigan could play a major role in speeding up Orlando’s retooling project.

It’s a stressful time for a NBA GM, for sure, but especially so for a rookie GM who is the youngest in the league at 30 years old. But Hennigan has the comfort of knowing that he already has one blockbuster trade under his belt, and the Magic came out of it looking great because of Hennigan’s ability to uncover under-the-radar talents in the form of Nikola Vucevic, Arron Afflalo and Maurice Harkless.

Hennigan’s job might have been further complicated Wednesday night by Magic power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis fracturing his left foot in New York. He will miss the next 8-to-12 weeks following Friday’s surgery to insert a screw into his fifth metatarsal bone.

Hennigan vowed that the weeks leading up to the trade deadline will be busy ones as he seeks various avenues with which to better the Magic.

``This time of year the phone bills are a little more expensive. But we spend a lot of time throughout the year trying to find ways to improve our team,’’ he said. ``Those first two weeks of February, there is a lot of discussion and there are a lot of ideas. Sometimes those ideas don’t turn into action, but the chatter is certainly pretty heavy.’’

A native of Tatnuck, Mass., some 50 miles west of Boston, Hennigan returns to Beantown tonight for the first time a NBA GM. He worked for four seasons with the San Antonio Spurs and four seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder to prepare for his role with the Magic, but his duties mostly involved collegiate and international scouting duties. When the Magic (14-31) face the Celtics (22-23) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, he’ll be back at the TD Garden for the first time since he attended Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002 when he was still a student and basketball star at Emerson College.

It will be quite the homecoming for Hennigan, what with parents Bob and Lynn, wife, Marissa, and sisters, Kate, Anne and Elizabeth, expected to attend the game. While Hennigan hoped to get home at some point to visit with family, the family commitments didn’t slow down his hectic schedule as he planned to travel just outside of Boston to scout a college game on Thursday night.

He has been nearly overrun with tasks since being hired by the Magic on June 20th as the youngest GM in pro sports. He’s had to conduct the NBA Draft, hire assistant GMs Scott Perry and Matt Lloyd, uncover a gem in head coach Jacque Vaughn and execute one of the biggest trades in franchise history when he moved Dwight Howard to the Lakers. In addition to accompanying the Magic on just about every road trip, he’s made it a point to spend off days scouting college games, pouring over statistical data while also keeping a pulse on the team.

``I think it’s just the nonstop pace of everything,’’ Hennigan said of any surprises he might have had with the job. ``That’s been the biggest adjustment. But everybody works so hard to try to do their job at the highest level and I feel obligated to make sure I’m helping to lead that charge and creating a sense of togetherness and purpose.’’

Hennigan’s style is to think, then think again before speaking. He has always vowed that the decisions that he makes will be ``emotion-neutral’’ and ``process-driven.’’ But in a moment of candor, even he admits that those first six weeks on the job were downright chaotic. Now, he can reflect on it and chuckle.

``I think back to that time now and then, but I really don’t remember much because it was such a blur,’’ Hennigan said. ``It was a challenge, but a rewarding one for me.’’

Vaughn had a prior relationship with Hennigan from their time together in San Antonio – Vaughn as a player and a future coach, and Hennigan working his way up from intern to director of basketball operations. When Vaughn emerged as a finalist to become the coach of the Magic, he said he knew early in the process that Hennigan would be someone he would mesh well with. And in the months since the two have worked together to improve the Magic, Vaughn couldn’t be happier about the relationship.

``He’s great to work with. That’s the kind of relationship that you want – to have communication and be going in the right direction,’’ Vaughn said. ``We bounce ideas off one another and we respect one another. Rob is extremely approachable and I’m fortunate to have a GM like that.

``I was extremely comfortable with Rob from the start. I was myself and I was able to talk to him and explain the things that were important to me. A lot of those things were important to him as well,’’ Vaughn continued. ``Things like having the right people in the organization, what the organization will stand for and how we’re going to go about getting (to a high standard) and being able to sustain it for years to come are things that are important to both of us. He’s been all that I expected.’’

This season has been much more than most analysts expected from the Magic, but largely because of the pieces that Hennigan and Perry were able to add to the roster in the wake of the Howard trade. Orlando was one of the NBA’s feel-good stories early in the season as the team beat the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors (twice). Injuries have since depleted the roster, but it hasn’t slowed the steady development of promising players who Hennigan acquired last summer.

Vucevic is the only second-year player in the NBA averaging a double-double and he was named to the BBVA Rising Stars All-Star Game on Wednesday. Before straining a calf muscle, Afflalo was averaging a career-best in points (16.7 ppg.) and he’s been a steadying force in the locker room. And Harkless, who scored a career-best 16 points on Monday in Brooklyn, looks like a cornerstone building block for the Magic for years to come.

That ability to have an impact on the team through talent acquisition has been ``exhilarating’’ for Hennigan. Now, he wants to use the weeks leading up to the trade deadline and the upcoming draft and free-agency periods to keep building the Magic franchise into one that can win big and sustain it for several years to come.

``It’s a great experience, a great challenge and a great endeavor to be a part of something where you can be a part of building a team that the organization and the city can be proud of,’’ Hennigan said. ``The improvement of our players speaks to their willingness to buy into the culture that we’re trying to establish and the directives the coaches give them. Their progress is a mark of their own consistency in a lot of ways. … Consistency is one of the most important things that we try to preach. The more consistent that we can be with how we approach our jobs, it leads to good decisions, good energy and a lot of positive outcomes.’’

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