Denton: Plenty of Confidence & Trust for Hennigan With No. 2 Pick

By John Denton
May 22, 2013

NEW YORK – As they head into the final evaluations for the June 27th NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic promise to be ``process-driven’’ and ``systematic’’ with the player they decide to select with the No. 2 pick. And all player determinations will filter through a multi-layered staff determined to evaluate talent and character, fit and need and conventional wisdom and out-of-the-box thinking.

But in the rawest, most simplistic way of evaluating players, the Magic’s process basically boils down to this: ``In General Manager Rob Hennigan we trust.’’ Hennigan would undoubtedly scoff at such a notion, but there’s a lot of undeniable truth in it because of the talents he’s already displayed in less than a year on the job.

Why shouldn’t the Magic fully trust Hennigan, who just pulled off a rookie year for the ages as far as NBA General Managers are concerned? It will be Hennigan who will have the final say on which player Orlando takes with the No. 2 pick in next month’s draft, and Magic fans have to be confident that the franchise will snag a top talent considering the 30-year-old GM’s talent-evaluating track record so far.

Whether it has been the trading for Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless or Arron Afflalo, the drafting of Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn, the hiring of head coach Jacque Vaughn or striking more luck at Tuesday’s lottery, Hennigan has scored highly for the Magic in every facet.

``I think Rob gets A-plusses all the way through,’’ raved Magic Senior Vice President Pat Williams, a former GM himself who has marveled from afar at the work that Hennigan has done. ``From the Nicholson-O’Quinn draft to the big trade in the summer, which he absolutely aced, and then the Harris-and-(J.J.) Redick trade, which also turned out very well for us. So every key move, Rob has been absolutely dead on.

``I don’t think there’s a doubt that Rob and his staff will examine this draft and come away with a player of note,’’ Williams continued. ``I don’t think there’s any question in a draft where there are six or eight solid NBA guys that we won’t get one of them.’’

Hennigan looked on calmly Tuesday as the Magic secured the No. 2 pick in the NBA’s Draft Lottery at the Times Square Studios in Manhattan. Knowing that he had no control over the fickle bounces of ping pong balls, Hennigan said he was at ease during the made-for-TV show. Instead he was just curious to see where the Magic would be drafting next month. Sure, there was some disappointment that Orlando – which was armed with the best odds to get the No. 1 pick – didn’t win the lottery, but Hennigan was extremely pleased that the franchise came in at second in the lottery. And in a somewhat underwhelming draft where there is no definitive and consensus No. 1 pick, Hennigan’s abilities as a talent evaluator could very well prove extremely beneficial for the Magic in the coming month.

``I think we can improve our team, which is always the goal when you go into the offseason,’’ Hennigan said. ``So that’s the mantra that we want to take and we’re excited for the draft to get here.’’

And the Magic are plenty excited that Hennigan will be directing the franchise’s thought process as it relates to drafting players. When he was hired last June, he was thrown into arguably the most difficult situation possible for a first-year GM – forced to conduct a draft without a staff; hiring a coach patient and strong enough to tackle the rebuilding task ahead; and being forced to trade three of the franchise’s most popular and productive players (Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson and Redick). And in the eyes of many, Hennigan – who received several votes for the NBA’s Executive of the Year award – passed those potentially overwhelming tests with flying colors. ``I couldn’t be happier with the moves that we’ve made in Rob’s first year,’’ said Magic CEO Alex Martins, who also attended Tuesday’s Draft Lottery in New York City. ``He’s done a tremendous job of really maximizing everything we’ve gotten from every transaction so far. He’s been so good about finding players who want to be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves and players who want to work really hard to be good as a team. The transactions have proven that he is absolutely a good evaluator of talent.’’

Vucevic, a mostly overlooked player in Philadelphia, was scouted in college by Hennigan, blossomed in Orlando and became the NBA’s second-best rebounder. Harris rarely played in Milwaukee, but averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in 27 games with the Magic following the late-February trade. Afflalo emerged as a team leader and the Magic’s leading scorer. Nicholson played well enough to make the Rising Stars roster at the NBA All-Star Game, while Harkless missed making the NBA’s all-rookie squad by one vote.

Vucevic, Afflalo and Harkless were acquired in the four-team, 12-player blockbuster that centered mostly around Howard and Andrew Bynum, while Harris (and guard Doron Lamb) ended up in Orlando after Hennigan wisely flipped Redick’s expiring contract for them. Quite possibly Hennigan’s best move was one he never made when he refused to trade for Bynum, who missed all season with the Philadelphia 76ers because of knee troubles.

Still, Hennigan is well aware that the Magic need plenty more progress and pieces to improve on last season’s 20-62 record. What provides tremendous hope is that the foundation has been set with the acquisitions of so many promising pieces. And soon as a player is chosen second overall in the upcoming draft, Orlando will add further to the young talent base already in place.

``The transactions that Rob have made so far have proven that we have great process, we have very good strategy and research and obviously that he has a very good eye for talent,’’ Martins said. ``It gives us all of the confidence in the world – whether we’re picking second or 10th – that we’ll find the right player who will be able to help our team and help us get back to a point where we’re in contention for a title again.’’

Hennigan, of course, is always quick to point out that he hasn’t been alone in making any of the transactions that have helped shape the core of Orlando’s team. In Vice President/Assistant GM Scott Perry, Hennigan has a confidant with a wealth of basketball knowledge and NBA contacts. In Assistant GM Matt Lloyd, Hennigan has an ace evaluator of talent as an international and collegiate scout. And in Operations Manager George Rodman, Hennigan has a cutting-edge analytics analyst at his disposal that allows him to consider the true value of players.

The common denominator between those front office staffers and Vaughn, Martins pointed out, is that they’ve all been a part of championship-winning franchises. Hennigan and Vaughn won a title in San Antonio, while Perry did so in Detroit, Lloyd in Chicago and Rodman also with the Spurs.

``All the pieces of our basketball operations staff are incredibly complementary now. All of them come from different backgrounds in the league and most of them have been a part of teams that have won championships,’’ Martins said. ``That’s what we were looking for in this process and it started with Rob and Jacque. The number one criteria we were looking for was individuals who had been a part of championship organizations. We want them to help us get to that level as an organization.’’

Vaughn has known Hennigan for nine years when they were together in San Antonio – Hennigan as an intern and Vaughn as an aging point guard. The two have an open and candid relationship now, allowing them to speak frankly about the talent on the Magic roster. Vaughn said he is extremely confident that Hennigan will be extremely thorough in picking a player with the No. 2 pick in next month’s NBA Draft.

``The one thing that Rob’s talked about is our staff will do their due diligence and be systematic in their approach,’’ Vaughn said. ``We feel that’s the best way for us to continue to be good for years to come. I have no qualms at all that they’ve done their job as far as research is concerned and that we’ll pick the best fit for us at No. 2.’’

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.




Follow John Denton on Twitter here