Cohen: Magic Choose the Right Path

By Josh Cohen
August 13, 2012

ORLANDO -- Let me present two scenarios and you select the circumstance you prefer and covet:

1) The Magic in complete rebuild mode with a plethora of financial flexibility, potentially high and rewarding draft picks the next two years and the opportunity to attract All-Star caliber free agents in that same time frame. As a result of being inexperienced and unproven, the Magic would deal with unavoidable growing pains. However, they would sense forthcoming success because of gradual improvement.

2) The Magic being a borderline playoff team every year for the next 3-5 seasons; being a No. 6-8 seed in the postseason and eliminated in the First Round every opportunity they do advance. Since they would be spending money on “B” talent to assure playoff opportunities in the short term, the Magic would not have financial flexibility or imminent gratifying draft picks to further evolve.

If I had to guess your choice, I would suppose option No. 1 (rebuild mode with forthcoming flexibility) would be favored.

For irrational reasons, however, the majority of the national media has concluded that option No. 2 (be good enough to contend for a playoff spot every year but not great to be championship worthy) would be the better alternative.

Let me be direct and sensible: this popular, yet groundless judgment is both wrong and uninspiring.

The Magic traded Dwight Howard on Friday for young players, draft picks and financial flexibility. But forget the tangibles – or in other words the pieces Orlando received. The Magic instantly generated illimitable potential to eventually be great.

At first glance when you examine the four-team deal, it would appear to the naked eye that the Magic didn’t get enough value in return for the All-Star center.

However, while somewhat invisible right now, Orlando may actually have won the trade over at least two of the other teams involved (can’t criticize Lakers for getting Howard). No disrespect to Philadelphia and Denver, but mediocrity is at their doorstep.

Many critics thought the Magic should have essentially negotiated a deal that rivaled what the Nuggets and Jazz did when they each traded their superstars last year.

But what all of these naysayers are failing to recognize or accept is that Denver and Utah are just ordinary, and quite frankly, mediocre teams with very little room to evolve.

The Nuggets and Jazz are borderline playoff teams who have a limited chance to be anything more than a one-and-done postseason squad for the foreseeable future.

That is not what you want as a fan. You want to feel that eventually you will have a championship caliber team to cheer on, not a team trapped down a dead end street.

Too many teams get themselves confined in a very ominous and unfulfilling place. They stockpile on “B” talent who have already reached their ceiling and exceed the salary cap, which denies further growth.

It’s not an attempt to be disrespectful, let me add. Every team has its own philosophy and that attitude should be respected regardless.

But again, I can assure you that starting from scratch and remaining flexible on a multitude of levels is more advantageous than tolerating mediocrity.

There are very little expectations for the Magic this upcoming season. The goal is to get better every day and give the young talent like Andrew Nicholson, Moe Harkless and Kyle O’Quinn an opportunity to develop and, hopefully by the time this team warrants a championship praiseworthy label, be given a chance to be major contributors.

The Howard trade as it was constructed didn’t force the Magic to receive a player with a disparaging contract.

If Orlando had accepted the offer from Brooklyn, it would have had to say yes to Brook Lopez’ four-year $60 million contract. With all due respect to Lopez, that’s too much financial obligation for a player of his caliber.

Similarly, if the Magic had decided to swap Howard for Andrew Bynum straight up, Orlando would likely have committed to try and sign Bynum to a maximum deal. And with a history of severe knee problems and personality issues, that would have been too much of a risk.

In the agreed to deal, not only did the Magic avoid a reproachful contract, they also managed to move some clutter from the roster. Let’s be very honest with each other, Jason Richardson, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark were not exactly lighting it up at Amway Center.

Envision this:

By 2015, the Magic may add two or three high lottery draft picks (their own picks, not the protected ones they acquired in the Howard deal), sign multiple All-Star caliber free agents (read this for more details) and have players like Arron Afflalo, Nicholson, Harkless and O’Quinn serve as vital role players next to those substantial accompaniments.

There is a popular adage in the NBA. And while for whatever reasons many teams don’t apply it all the time; the motto is: Sometimes you have to hit the ground before you can skyrocket to the top. If you don’t choose to touch the floor you in all likelihood will never celebrate true success.

The Magic are in a constructive rebuilding plan and before you know it, this groundwork will lead to a big prize. Just be patient.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by Josh Cohen are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.


Follow Josh Cohen on Twitter here