I have a very important question for you.
What sports franchise could fall off the face of the earth overnight that would take you the longest to notice?
I came across this question on Reddit about three months ago and it has stuck with me ever since for several reasons. First, unlike questions like “Is a hot dog a sandwich?” (it’s not) or “Which movie in the Oceans franchise is the best?” (Oceans 12), everyone can have their own answer. Second, it’s a great reminder that even though sports league generate and spend billions of dollars annually you can still completely forget a team exists. And lastly I’m fascinated because no matter how many times I ponder the question my answer stays the same.
The Orlando Magic.
Ten years ago the Orlando Magic defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers led by 24 year old MVP LeBron James to advance to the NBA Finals. The Magic would lose in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers and immediately start their precipitous fall out of relevancy.
The next two sections of Magic history are perfectly summed up by the team’s Wikipedia page: 2010-2012: “Dwightmare” saga & 2012-present: Rebuilding. The team’s centerpiece Dwight Howard would go on to demand a trade and begin the roadshow portion of his career and the Magic haven’t had a sniff of the playoffs since.
The Magic’s lack of…well magic isn’t a phenomenon as much as it is a sign of gross incompetence. Since Howard’s exit here are the first round picks the team has made:
- 2013 – Victor Oladipo
- 2014 – Dario Saric & Aaron Gordon
- 2015 – Mario Hezonja
- 2016 – Domantas Sabonis
- 2017 – Jonathan Isaac
- 2018 – Mo Bamba
Anything interesting stand out to you? How about the fact that the Magic are the only NBA team to have four first round picks from 2013-2016 that are now all playing for other NBA teams. (Aaron Gordon is the only holdout for those of you playing along at home) It’s one thing to not draft well but it’s another to draft well and then not retain ANY of that talent. That’s not to say the Magic didn’t get anything in return for these assets. They did, but it left them right back where they started. Nowhere.
Beyond the players themselves the Magic’s roster construction strategy over the years mirrors a determined toddler trying to force a square peg into a round hole. From the early days of Oladipo to the Elfrid Payton experiment, Markelle Fultz now joins a long history of Magic guards that can’t shoot. The team however hasn’t compensated and instead has packed the roster with a revolving door of athletic starters and role players with nowhere to go because no shooting exists to space the floor.
Sports comparisons are hard because frequently they require acknowledging prerequisites that murky the comparison itself. However in this case their is a direct comparison that does the best job of highlighting the Magic’s ineptitude.
*Deep breath here come some statistics*
From 2012-2017 the Orlando Magic won 32% of their games while fellow bottom dweller at the time Philadelphia 76ers won 27%. The basketball gods favored the 76ers over this stretch and Philadelphia’s average draft position was 3.8 compared to the Magic’s 5.6. What has that two draft pick selection difference led to?
The 76ers currently have one of the best starting fives in the NBA with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, JJ Reddick, and Jimmy Butler and are poised to make a run at the NBA Finals this season. They completed the process and have set themselves up for years to come with young talent. The Magic?
The Magic currently sit one game out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference but have no allusions of grandeur when it comes to a playoff run. This is an incredible average if not below average NBA team still with no clear direction or future. The Markelle Fultz addition at the trade deadline was a good low risk high reward move for the franchise but overall the fan base has yet to see the light at the end of a miserable tunnel of losing like their Philadelphia counterparts have.
So in conclusion: What the hell are the Orlando Magic doing?