Cohen: On a Mission to Salary Cap Space

By Josh Cohen
August 10, 2012

It’s time to think about the future.

That’s not always easy to do in sports.

There is an unyielding craving to win big now. It’s in every person’s competitive nature.

Sometimes, however, a rebuild and a gradual makeover are necessary to reach the ultimate goal. Plausibly, that objective is winning it all, not just winning some of the time.

Especially in the NBA where team architecture is arguably more interesting and important than player development, it’s often imperative to strategize around future financial flexibility.

The blockbuster Dwight Howard trade on Friday wasn’t really about the tangibles – or in other words the pieces the Magic received – but rather it’s about the potential for something prized in a few years.

Sure, Arron Afflalo is a solid player and Moe Harkless has a ton of upside. But, the indiscernible slice of the deal that makes the four-team trade tolerable, perhaps, is more related to economics.

Salary cap space is an integral part of forming an eventual championship contender.

Miami is the model and Orlando has been down the road before.

Exactly a decade before the Heat crafted their Big Three, the Magic secured a dynamic duo (T-Mac, G. Hill) and nearly assembled their own terrific trio (T. Duncan).

It’s never a guarantee, naturally. Sometimes star free agents spurn a seemingly surreal opportunity or decide change isn’t the best verdict. Duncan fits this bill.

After this upcoming season, the Magic won’t have too many financial obligations. Hedo Turkoglu’s final year of his contract is only partially guaranteed as it is for Al Harrington, who was also acquired in the Howard trade.

It’s probably not necessarily advantageous to clear significant cap space for next summer when the best free agents available (besides Howard, Chris Paul and Andrew Bynum) will likely be Monta Ellis (player option), Josh Smith and David West.

Many are calling 2014 a recreation of 2010 considering LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all become free agents again. But let’s be honest for a moment, after winning a title, it seems a bit far-fetched to believe there would be any dismantling of Miami’s core in two years.

Therefore, the golden year, the year where the Magic may have the prospect to re-erect another 2000-like resurgence of talent is 2015.

I know that seems like an eternity from now. I know it’s difficult to remain patient. But, in the NBA, it generally takes a few years after rebuilding begins to again become a championship contender.

In addition to any high draft picks Orlando obtains over the next couple of years, the Magic could be the destination for the next big crop of proven talent.

Let me uncover some alluring names: LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo and Marc Gasol. They will all potentially be obtainable three summers from now when the Magic will be in position to skyrocket back into championship contention.

Perhaps by 2015, Orlando will have enough cap space to sign three of those stars like the Heat were able to do with James, Wade and Bosh.

We know from the past that when the Magic have sufficient salary cap space, they accomplish. In 1994, Orlando landed Horace Grant to form one of the best starting lineups of the past 20 years. In 2000, it negotiated sign-and-trades to acquire McGrady and Hill (injuries denied him from reaching expectations). In 2007, Rashard Lewis was added and helped lead the Magic back to the NBA Finals in 2009.

Orlando is a very desirable location. There is warm weather all year long, no state income tax and the team plays in the best arena in all of professional sports.

It sure seems reasonable to believe that after stockpiling on worthy draft picks the next couple of years to go along with some of the young players like Afflalo, Harkless and Andrew Nicholson, Orlando will have the surrounding talent to convince All-Star talent to make Central Florida their new home.

Listen, the NBA works in a cycle. No team, including the Lakers who were ordinary throughout most of the 90’s and again immediately after Shaquille O’Neal was traded in 2004 and the Celtics, who before acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007 were one of the worst teams in the league, can be championship worthy every season.

The objective is to liberate enough salary cap space and at the perfect time, strike furiously by signing a collection of All-Star talent. That’s how many teams go from ordinary to exceptional in a relatively short period of time.

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