Magic Will Select Sixth in 2018 NBA Draft

by John Denton

CHICAGO - An Orlando Magic franchise that repeatedly benefitted so greatly from the NBA’s Draft Lottery early in its existence, landing them cornerstone superstars Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway and Dwight Howard, suffered through the fickle, luck-based downside of the process again on Tuesday.

Armed with the fifth-best odds at winning the No. 1 pick in the June 21 NBA Draft and simply hoping to remain in the top five, the Magic instead fell to the sixth pick in the Draft Lottery. Once known for repeatedly shocking the basketball world with its lotto luck, the Magic fell back in the draft order for a fourth time in the past six lotteries.

Also, it will be the second consecutive season that the Magic will pick at No. 6. Orlando selected promising forward Jonathan Isaac at No. 6 last year and it views him as a primary building block for years to come because of his rare combination of talent, physical gifts and basketball smarts. Now, the Magic will try and find another top talent to put next to Isaac with the No. 6 pick.

``I feel very strongly that we’ll get a good player,’’ said Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, who represented the franchise on the podium for the televised portion of the lottery. ``This is the exact same thing that happened to us as last year when we went from five to six and we got Jonathan Isaac. We’re very excited about him and we’ll be very excited about the player that we pick this year.’’

Orlando, which struggled to a 25-57 record this past season and fired head coach Frank Vogel on April 12, fell to sixth after Sacramento jumped it in the lottery for a second straight year. The Magic will pick behind Phoenix (first), Sacramento (second), Atlanta (third), Memphis (fourth) and Dallas (fifth). The Grizzlies plunged from the second-best odds to the No. 4 pick, while Atlanta surged from fourth to third.

Also, it was the fourth consecutive year that the team with the best overall odds – the Suns, in this case – won the No. 1 pick.

The Magic came into the night with just an 8.8 percent chance of nabbing the first pick and 26.1 percent odds of landing in the top three. But those slim odds did them little good once again in this lottery. Orlando fell back in the 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018 lotteries.

The rest of the first round unfolded according to the odds with Denver getting the 14th pick, the Los Angeles Clippers getting No. 13 and 12 (from Detroit), while Charlotte slotted in at No. 11 and Philadelphia (from the Los Angeles Lakers) is at No. 10. The Knicks will pick ninth, while Cleveland (from Boston) picks eighth and Chicago will select seventh.

``This is the system and it’s a lot of fun for the fans and it adds some excitement to the process,’’ Weltman said of the fickle nature of a draft that revolves around the bounces of ping-pong balls. ``At the end of the day it doesn’t increase of diminish the amount of work that we have to do. Wherever you come out, you have to work to apply your process and get the best guy in a Magic uniform. That starts tomorrow.’’

Weltman, the man in charge of rebuilding the roster, admitted to feeling nerves and anticipation on the podium as the picks were systematically unveiled. He had to have breathed a sigh of relief when the Magic didn’t fall to the eighth spot – the worst possible scenario based on their statistical odds. Weltman stressed that despite the disappointment of falling to No. 6, the Magic can still snag a difference-making player just as they did last year in drafting the 6-foot-11 Isaac.

``Our scouting guys have done an excellent job and they’ve worked their tails off and now we’ll get in a room and we start to apply our processes and watch videos (of game action),’’ Weltman said. ``It’s very important that we start to bring guys in for visits and get to know them more intimately than we were able to before this juncture. We look forward to that and all of the layers that we start to peel off the onion and get to work.’’

Magic Senior Vice President and co-founder Pat Williams, the executive so often associated with Orlando lotto luck through the years, was seated in the sequestered room where the actual ping-pong ball draw was conducted 90 minutes prior to the announcement. For years, Williams made it something of a tradition to take some sort of good luck charm to the lottery and this year was no different as he had a ``Lil’ Penny’’ doll that was modeled after Hardaway during his glory days with the Magic from 1993-99. This week is the 25-year anniversary of the Magic winning the 1993 Draft Lottery.

Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery was the start of what figures to be a busy several weeks for the Magic. The NBA Scouting Combine, an event where some of the top draft prospects will take physicals and interview with teams, begins on Wednesday in Chicago.

The Magic are also still in the process of hiring a new coach. Vogel, the team’s coach the past two seasons, was sacked at the conclusion of the season. Orlando is one of four NBA teams currently without a head coach, joining Detroit, Milwaukee and Toronto.

``The process has been deliberate and thorough, and we’re pleased with the guys we have interviewed,’’ Weltman said. ``We continue to move forward and I’m excited about the candidates that we’re thinking of right now.

``I won’t comment on the process or the timetable, but I do feel like it’s moving at a good speed and we’re meeting with very qualified coaches,’’ Weltman added.

In the coming weeks the Magic will begin bringing top players into Orlando for individual workouts and visits with the franchise’s coaches and leadership group. That process will likely go all the way up to the NBA Draft, which will be held on June 21 in New York.

University of Arizona center DeAndre Ayton and European forward Luka Doncic are widely considered the top two players in the draft, but the order in which they are selected will continue to be filled with intrigue leading up to the draft. The next wave of talent includes Michigan State center Jaren Jackson Jr., Duke power forward Marvin Bagley III, Texas shot-blocker Mohamed Bamba, Oklahoma point guard Trae Young and Alabama point guard Collin Sexton – players who could potentially be plucked in any order based on the needs of certain teams.

``I think it is a deep class and it’s one that people have been looking to for a couple of years,’’ Weltman said. ``(Analysts) have been saying all along that it’s going to be a deep draft, and now that it’s upon us, everyone still feels that it is.’’

Sexton, one of the players expected to be available in the areas where the Magic will pick, attended Tuesday’s draft lottery. He said he is anxious to see where he will be headed in the future as he makes the jump from college basketball to the NBA.

``It was amazing because every year you see this and watch it on TV and it’s a really big event,’’ Sexton said. ``You look at (teams that need point guards such as himself), but I just wanted to see what teams got which picks. It’s just going to be learning experience (going to the NBA) and it will be a transition to either one of these (NBA teams).’’

Whereas the lottery was often there to reward the Magic early in the franchise’s existence, it has done nothing but frustrate Orlando in recent years. The Magic build a budding dynasty in the mid-1990s by winning the lotteries in 1992 and ’93 and landing O’Neal and Hardaway. Both played major roles in Orlando reaching the 1995 NBA Finals and ’96 Eastern Conference Finals and both are in the Magic Hall of Fame today.

Orlando won the lottery again in 2004 and used the top pick to select Howard. The big man, who still ranks as the franchise’s all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots, led the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals and the ’10 Eastern Conference Finals.

Howard’s contentious departure in 2012 led the Magic back to the lottery where they hoped to get lucky again in rebuilding their roster. Instead, they either failed to improve on their spot entering the lottery or fell and cost themselves shots at nabbing some of the game’s best players today.

Despite having the best odds in the 2013 lottery, the Magic fell to second and drafted Victor Oladipo, who has since gone on to become a standout with the Indiana Pacers. In 2014, Orlando fell from third to fourth, causing them to miss out of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid. In 2015 (Mario Hezonja at No. 5) and 2016 (Domantas Sabonis at No. 11) the Magic remained at the spot where they entered the lottery. A year ago, the Magic saw Sacramento jump into the top-five and they were forced to pick sixth. Orlando made the best of that situation by selecting Isaac.

When Sacramento jumped up to No. 2 on Tuesday night, it knocked the Magic back a spot in the draft order. While there could be a case made that Orlando hurt its draft chances with a victory in the season-finale game against Washington, the opposite side of the argument is that if the Magic had won two more games they might have jumped up in the lottery just as the 27-win Kings did for a second straight season.

``The draft is always the time when you always want to have the best available player because you just don’t get a crack at this level of player this often where you are picking this high,’’ Weltman said. ``Obviously, we’ll put all of that in because there are a lot of different things to factor in and maybe (best player available) is a tiebreaker factor. But the general rule of thumb for most NBA teams is you pick the guy you think will be the best player.’’

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