Denton: Much Trust in Hennigan to Make Right Decisions on Draft Night
By John Denton
June 26, 2013
ORLANDO – Forced to trade Dwight Howard some 10 months ago, Orlando Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan made the best of a difficult situation by flipping the all-star center for one of NBA’s top rebounders (Nikola Vucevic), the Magic’s leading scorer (Arron Afflalo) and a promising young cornerstone piece (Maurice Harkless).
Then, back in February, Hennigan faced another similarly sticky situation when he needed to move fan favorite J.J. Redick prior to the NBA trade deadline. All Hennigan did then was unload Redick for Tobias Harris, a 20-year-old hidden gem who went on to average 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in the final 27 games of the season.
Now, with the Magic near the top of a NBA Draft with no definitive top pick and loads of murky talent, Hennigan is faced with the proposition of deciding whether to select a player at No. 2 in Thursday’s draft or deal it to another team. Hennigan admitted on Wednesday that the Magic have fielded calls from a half-dozen teams with trade proposals, but he said that little has been decided to this point.
Like with the trades of Howard and Redick that netted the Magic scores of promising young players, Hennigan is at peace knowing that whatever decision the franchise makes will be one that is well-researched and thoroughly thought out on all fronts.
Hennigan, along with assistant GMs Scott Perry and Matt Lloyd and an army of scouts, trust in a strategy that is process-driven, and it’s one that has proven successful so far for the rebuilding Magic.
``There’s a litany of things that can be offered and have been offered. It’s our job to sort out, preference and prioritize how we can reap the most value for that pick should we elect to trade that pick,’’ Hennigan said on Wednesday. ``There have been some tempting deals, so it’s our job over the next day-and-a-half to figure out what to do.’’
What the Magic could do is draft from a group that includes Kentucky center Nelens Noel, Indiana guard Victor Oladipo, Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, Michigan point guard Trey Burke or Georgetown forward Otto Porter Jr. The Magic interviewed most of the top prospects during the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago and then brought several of them to Orlando for more extensive meetings.
Cleveland has the top selection by virtue of winning the NBA Draft Lottery last month, while the Magic will pick second overall. Washington, Charlotte and Phoenix will round out the top five picks.
Noel, a shot-swatting center, might be the consensus No. 1 pick had he not shredded his ACL in February while playing for Kentucky. If Cleveland is unsure about Noel’s long-term health, it could opt for Maryland center Alex Lin and leave Noel for the Magic to ponder.
Again, the Magic have done their homework on Noel, studying his medical history and having their doctors evaluate his knee injury. Hennigan wouldn’t reveal his plans if Noel is available to the Magic, but he did stress that the franchise knows just about all there is to know about the 206-pound center.
``I don’t have a crystal ball, so I’m not sure about (Noel’s long-term health). What I am sure about is that we’ve done exhaustive research on all of the prospects in the draft,’’ he said. ``We’ve done a lot of research on Nerlens. Based on the information that we have, we feel equipped to make an educated decision if the opportunity presents itself.’’
McLemore was thought to be the second-best prospect early in the draft process because of his sound shooting stroke and his comparisons to future Hall of Famer Ray Allen. But his stock has seemed to fall during interviews and workouts, while that of Oladipo has risen dramatically of late.
Because several teams are clamoring for the maturity and defensive skills of Oladipo – the Minnesota Timberwolves reportedly being one of them – the Magic could look to trade the No. 2 pick. In such a deal, they could acquire multiple first-round picks, get other young players or attain salary cap relief from teams willing to take on some of their long-term contracts. If the Magic do trade the No. 2 pick and move down to the middle of the first round, point guards such as Burke or C.J. McCollum or Indiana power forward Cody Zeller could be options.
Hennigan has been confronted with several offers for the No. 2 pick over the last week, and he said internal discussions as to what to do with any potential trades will continue right up to the 7 p.m. draft. Because there are a variety of options available, Hennigan said the Magic still have a lot of factors to consider.
``I’d say at least a half-dozen or so (teams) have called us with legitimate ideas to consider,’’ Hennigan said. ``I’d say of that half-dozen or so, there are still at least three or four that we’re considering sincerely.’’
One rumored trade that isn’t expected to transpire on Thursday night is the one that has Orlando’s Afflalo going to the Los Angeles Clippers for highly coveted point guard Eric Bledsoe. Hennigan admitted that such a deal was explored recently, but that it was shelved over the last three weeks. In that time, the Clippers have been busy firing head coach Vinny Del Negro and working out the compensation for new coach Doc Rivers. Hennigan said an Afflalo-for-Bledsoe trade isn’t imminent.
``We have had talks with several teams over the past few weeks, which is customary this time of year. I would categorize all of our talks as exploratory at this point,’’ he said. ``And to be honest with (the media), we haven’t had a drop or an ounce of communication with the Clippers for almost three weeks. So if we’re about to make a trade with them, I guess I missed that memo. … We talked to (the Clippers) a little after the combine, a little exploratory. So I don’t know where that stuff is coming from. I would be stunned (if there is a trade).’’
Hennigan took over the Magic last June just days before the 2012 NBA Draft and he still managed to pluck a couple of keepers (Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn) out of the draft. He knows there is considerably more on the line now with the Magic owning the No. 2 pick and having so many potential trade options. Any of those moves could have a huge impact on the course of the franchise for several years to come.
Said Hennigan: ``It’s always a challenge to make trades as it is. And when you’re talking about trading picks this high in the draft, a lot of thought and creativity have to go into it. … We’ve done 99 percent of the work and there are a few discussion points that we have to work through. Whoever Cleveland takes, we’ll not be able to select that player, but we’ll have our order. It’s down to a handful of guys.’’
Critics have panned this draft class as being short on superstar talent and a lack of depth throughout the first round. But history suggests that there will at least one all-star player somewhere in the draft that will become an all-star. Not counting last year’s draft, each of the past nine NBA drafts have featured at least one player that became an all-star player.
Because the Magic will likely still be in building mode next season, Hennigan stressed that isn’t afraid of drafting a player who still needs time to develop. He said he wants a team with balance – not too young and not too old – and could opt for a project. That could mean selecting the 19-year-old McLemore or the rail-thin Noel, who likely won’t be available until January because of the recovery from knee surgery. Or Oladipo could be the pick because of his basketball smarts and readiness to contribute right away. Lots of choices, indeed, for a Magic team that is looking to reap as much talent as it can with its No. 2 selection. And regardless of the whether the Magic decide to keep their pick or trade it away, Hennigan vowed that the decision will be one analyzed from every angle possible.
``We’re going to take the player who makes the most sense for us,’’ he said. ``That may not mean he makes the most sense for training camp (in October). It will come down to what’s in the best interest of our team, but (immediate contribution) is not a factor that would sway us against anything.’’
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