Denton: Hennigan Making All the Right Moves

By John Denton
July 16, 2013

ORLANDO – Forced to deal star center Dwight Howard some 11 months ago, Orlando Magic GM Rob Hennigan resisted the notion of making the traditional one-for-one swap, a move that allowed him to simultaneously avoid a broken down Andrew Bynum while also accumulating dynamic young pieces Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo.

And in February, when the Magic determined that it was best to trade free-agent-to-be J.J. Redick rather than risk losing him for nothing, Hennigan and his staff made the risky move of dealing fan favorite J.J. for a player who rarely even got off the bench in Milwaukee. That player, of course, turned out to be Tobias Harris, who elbowed his way into Orlando’s dynamic young core by averaging 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds a game over the final six weeks of last season.

Hennigan and Assistant GMs Scott Perry and Matt Lloyd again used some out-of-the-box thinking when it came to the NBA Draft in late June.

Armed with the second overall pick in a draft that was considered weak on superstar talent and lacking depth, Hennigan selected college basketball’s most tireless worker – Victor Oladipo – and immediately presented him with a challenge: A position switch from college shooting guard to NBA point guard. It was a risky proposition considering that for years that college shooting guards have failed often as NBA point guards. But after a week of promising play in the Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League, Oladipo has given the Magic the belief that the transition to point guard will be a smooth one.

James Borrego, the lead assistant on head coach Jacque Vaughn’s staff and Orlando’s coach for the Summer League, marveled at the bold move that the Magic made in drafting Oladipo as a shooting guard and turning him into a NBA point guard. That kind of vision is what sets franchises on a path toward greatness, Borrego said.

``Our management does a great job evaluating talent, seeing how that talent fits into our team and how it translates to the NBA,’’ Borrego said. ``They saw it in Oklahoma City, taking a player like Russell Westbrook and converting him to the (point guard position). Having that sort of vision is how NBA teams make leaps from year to year. (Drafting Oladipo) was an important step to what we’re trying to do around here.’’

Hennigan’s ability to think outside the box and not necessarily do what has been conventionally done in NBA circles for years are a couple of the reasons why the future is so breathtakingly exciting now for the Magic.

Whereas most rebuilding rosters are loaded with bad players and bad contracts, limiting options and limiting hope for the future, the Magic are stockpiled with dazzling young talent in Oladipo, Vucevic, Harkless, Harris, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn and Doron Lamb. Because of the youth of that group – Nicholson (23 years old), O’Quinn (23), Vucevic (22), Oladipo (21), Lamb (21) and Harkless (20) – the Magic might want to consider hiring a team dermatologist, as Senior Vice President Pat Williams is fond of saying.

With so much youth there will inevitably come growing pains, so next season figures to be another year of transition. Orlando’s young players will be given time to marinate and mature while learning what it takes to thrive in the NBA. And if that just so happens to lead to another high draft pick in a 2014 NBA Draft that is expected to be as loaded with talent as the 2003 draft class was with LeBron, Wade, ‘Melo and Bosh, then so be it.

By this time next summer, when the young players have had time to develop and the high draft picks have hopefully fallen into place, the Magic will head into free agency armed with gobs of salary cap space with which it can lure one or two marquee free agents to Orlando. The roster should be teeming with promising talent, making Orlando an attractive landing place for free agents once again.

Back to Oladipo, some saw only his college flaws (a bit undersized as a shooting guard and a shaky jump shot) while Hennigan instead focused on his positives (high character, a desire to work to get better and a knack for making plays for others). He didn’t necessarily view Oladipo for what he was – an undersized college shooting guard – but instead what he could become – a bigger NBA point guard.

This, of course, is where Hennigan’s championship pedigree comes into play and benefits the Magic. Hennigan got his start in the NBA in San Antonio, a franchise that drafted French combo guard Tony Parker late in the 2001 NBA Draft, rode out the many highs and lows as he developed and saw him ultimately become one of the game’s best point guards. (San Antonio pulled off a similar feat in 2008 when it drafted shooting guard George Hill out of tiny IUPUI and made him a successful NBA point guard). After time with the Spurs, Hennigan worked in Oklahoma City and his first season with the Thunder was the one where they drafted Russell Westbrook. Westbrook not only was a reserve at UCLA, but he played almost exclusively at shooting guard. Picking Westbrook, a college sophomore at the time, with the No. 4 overall pick raised a lot of eyebrows around the NBA at the time, but the selection looks genius now that Westbrook is a perennial all-star and an elite point guard.

In Parker, Westbrook and Hill, San Antonio and Oklahoma City drafted 6-foot—2 and 6-foot-3 players who might have struggled at shooting guard, but they are physical nightmares for opposing point guards. Parker has the size to avoid getting posted up too often, and the blinding quickness to leave other point guards behind. Westbrook is a beast at the point guard position what with his off-the-charts athleticism and his go-for-the-jugular mentality.

Similarly, Oladipo is a solid 6-foot-3, he’s thick through the shoulders and he still possesses the quickness to blow by other guards. In four summer league games, he got into the paint more than Benjamin Moore, resulting in a whopping 40 free throw attempts, 20 assists and ummm, 19 turnovers. Those mistakes, the Magic figure, will slow down once Oladipo becomes more in tune with the speed of the NBA game.

Again, it’s a bold, gutsy move by Hennigan to move Oladipo to a totally new position. But on so many levels it looks like the right thing to do.

Of course, it’s easy to see that now that Oladipo has a week of Summer League success under his belt at the point guard position. It’s another thing to have the kind of incredible foresight that Hennigan does in making the kind of move that others never see coming.

It’s the same kind of foresight that he used in avoiding Bynum and instead acquiring Vucevic, Harkless and Afflalo. It’s the same kind of foresight that he used in recognizing the talent of Harris even though he rarely played in Milwaukee. And now he has another potential masterpiece in the works in the Oladipo-as-a-point-guard project.

Hennigan thinks outside of the box, he’s willing to take risks and somehow he sees things that others miss in plain sight. For those reasons, the Magic’s future is blindingly bright these days. And they have their visionary GM to thank for it.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.





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