NBA PM: The Orlando Magic’s Master Plan
The photographs and paintings that adorn the hallways of the Amway Center will have to be replaced. Star center Dwight Howard has been traded, head coach Stan Van Gundy has been replaced and an era has ended. After five straight winning seasons, which culminated in a trip to the NBA Finals in 2009, the Magic are rebuilding.
The Magic’s extreme makeover began earlier this offseason, when Rob Hennigan was hired as the new general manager and Jacque Vaughn was selected as the new head coach. Hennigan, 30, was respected around the league, but had never run his own team. Vaughn, 37, was supposed to become a top candidate several years down the road, but few expected him to land a head coaching job just three years after his playing career concluded. The Magic went with the young and promising duo over older and more experienced candidates, foreshadowing the move that would come two months later.
After months of rumors and speculation, the Magic traded Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team deal that brought back Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Christian Eyenga, Josh McRoberts, three first-round picks and two second-round picks. Contrary to reports, Hennigan was in the driver’s seat and felt that this deal put Orlando in the best position to rebuild.
The initial reaction to the trade, from fans and media, was negative. How could the Magic trade away the best center in the league without receiving a single household name in return? Why didn’t Orlando find a way to land Andrew Bynum or Andre Iguodala, who were also included in the four-team deal?
The Magic didn’t want them.
Yes, Orlando is a much worse team today. They’re going to lose many games and the on-court product will be ugly. It’s going be very difficult for the team to sell out their new arena and keep fans happy for the time being. However, Hennigan and his staff hope to have the last laugh in several years.
The Magic wanted to completely rebuild rather than retool. Sure, the Magic could’ve traded Howard for a couple of veterans and finished as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference each year. However, Hennigan felt that it would be better to bring in prospects, acquire draft picks and create cap space. Rather than settling and becoming a middle-of-the-pack team, this gives Orlando the chance to become an elite team in several years by drafting multiple lottery picks and adding pieces through free agency. Hennigan is determined to build a contender, even if it means losing for awhile to reach that point.
Before becoming an elite team, the Oklahoma City Thunder had to endure a dreadful three-year stretch when they went 74-172. They were one of the youngest teams in the league and they struggled to compete on a nightly basis. However, the losing seasons yielded Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, who recently led them to the NBA Finals. It takes excellent drafting and some luck to go from bottom feeder to contender, but Hennigan was the assistant general manager in Oklahoma City and has seen firsthand that it’s possible.
Not only will Orlando have their own lottery picks to use over the next several years, they’ll have the five picks they acquired in the Howard deal to either use or trade. With multiple picks in both rounds, Hennigan will be able to wheel and deal on draft night. The Magic will rebuild through the draft, just as model franchises like the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, where Hennigan was the director of basketball operations prior to leaving for Oklahoma City, have done. Magic fans should start familiarizing themselves with top-ranked prospects Nerlens Noel, Shabazz Muhammad, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins.
In addition to the draft picks, the Magic will have plenty of cap room to pursue free agents for the next several offseasons. While Orlando’s goal is to draft their star players, they will have the cap space to pair their prospects with proven talent. The Magic will likely have enough cap room to offer a max contract next summer, when Josh Smith, James Harden, Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Tyreke Evans and Serge Ibaka will become free agents.
If Orlando doesn’t sign anyone next offseason, they’ll likely have the cap space to offer two maximum contracts during the summer of 2014, when LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Danny Granger, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Andrew Bogut could become free agents. The Magic also received a $17.8 million traded-player exception in the trade, which they can also use to absorb a large contract down the road.
Hennigan and his staff did their due diligence before dealing Howard to Los Angeles. Not only did they have lengthy negotiations with other teams, such as the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets, they tried on several occasions to persuade Howard to drop his trade request and stay in Orlando. The Magic considered a number of trade proposals before zeroing in on this four-team deal. In fact, once the trade was completed, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said that negotiating with Hennigan was frustrating because he wanted to explore every possible option before pulling the trigger on a deal.
“To credit Rob Hennigan, the GM of Orlando Magic, it got to the point for me where it was quite frankly frustrating,” Kupchak said of the negotiations for Howard. “But what he was doing was his job, which was to sort out and seek out the best possible deal for the organization.”
Brooklyn fell through because Orlando had no interest in acquiring, and subsequently overpaying, big men Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries.
Houston’s offer wasn’t as attractive as reports have indicated. The Rockets weren’t willing to give up all of their picks and prospects in addition to taking back Orlando’s bad contracts. It was one or the other. If Houston was giving away their prospects, they weren’t taking back bad contracts. If they were taking back bad contracts, they weren’t giving away their prospects. Without a long-term commitment from Howard, the Rockets weren’t willing to potentially ruin their future by giving away all of their prospects and taking back ugly deals. Houston wasn’t going to put themselves in a position where if Howard left after the season, they’d be stuck with bad contracts and have zero young players to build around. Throughout this process, Houston’s offer was described as the perfect deal for Orlando, but the Rockets were never going to give up everything and take back all of Orlando’s luggage.
A two-way deal with Los Angeles wasn’t an option because Henningan and his staff didn’t want Andrew Bynum due to his history of injuries and upcoming free agency drama of his own, and because they couldn’t acquire the first-round picks they wanted without involving other teams.
Orlando decided on the four-team deal because it offered the most picks, prospects and cap relief.
With the right draft decisions and free agent signings, Orlando’s rebuilding process could be rather short. Hennigan received criticism for the Howard trade, but it’s his next moves that will determine whether the Magic made the right decision and what their future holds. He has given himself the picks and money to rebuild the team into a contender. Now, Hennigan must turn his vision into reality.
Mason Excited for Change of Scenery: Last season, after serving as a member of the National Basketball Player Association’s executive committee during the lockout, Roger Mason Jr. emerged as a veteran leader for the young Washington Wizards.
Mason was an excellent presence in the locker room and helped Washington’s young core on a daily basis, offering advice and teaching professionalism. Mason was also effective on the court, averaging 5.5 points in 52 games as a reserve for the Wizards.
While the Wizards expressed interest in re-signing Mason, the 31-year-old decided it was time to move on. Several weeks ago, the veteran shooting guard signed a one-year deal with the New Orleans Hornets, where he’ll play a similar role while contributing off of the bench.
“I’m very excited,” Mason told HOOPSWORLD. “I’m leaving one former number one overall pick in John Wall for another one in Anthony Davis, along with Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, Ryan Anderson and the whole young nucleus on their team. I’m looking forward to contributing on the court and being a leader for those guys.”
Mason has been training at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, where HOOPSWORLD’s Yannis Koutroupis recently caught up with him. In this exclusive interview, Mason talks about the Hornets’ core, the excitement level in New Orleans and the expectations for the upcoming season:
The Remaining Free Agents: All of the big-name free agents have signed new deals, but there are still plenty of notable players available. As teams look to fill out their rosters, here’s a position-by-position look at the best players that are still on the market as of today:
POINT GUARDS: Derek Fisher, Jonny Flynn, Gilbert Arenas, Jannero Pargo, Baron Davis, Sundiata Gaines, Mike Bibby, Earl Boykins, Mike James, Ben Uzoh, Ish Smith, Anthony Carter, Blake Ahearn, Manny Harris, Patrick Beverley
SHOOTING GUARDS: Leandro Barbosa, Martell Webster, Marquis Daniels, Michael Redd, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Maurice Evans, Sam Young, Terrel Harris, DeAndre Liggins, Jermaine Taylor, Xavier Silas, Bill Walker, Josh Akognon, Darington Hobson, Rashad McCants
SMALL FORWARDS: Carlos Delfino, Josh Howard, Matt Barnes, Alonzo Gee, Mickael Pietrus, Tracy McGrady, Josh Childress, Terrence Williams, Donte Green, Shawne Williams, Damion James, Bobby Simmons, Jason Kapono, Derrick Brown, Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, Damian Wilkins, Rasual Butler, Al Thornton, Adam Morrison, DaJuan Summers, James Singleton
POWER FORWARDS: Andray Blatche, Kenyon Martin, Anthony Tolliver, Ivan Johnson, Chris Andersen, Lou Amundson, Shelden Williams, Troy Murphy, Dominic McGuire, D.J. White, Yi Jianlian, Brian Cardinal, Brian Scalabrine, Leon Powe, Juwan Howard, Chris Wright, Malcolm Thomas, Hilton Armstrong, Eduardo Najera, Brian Cook, Chris Johnson, Francisco Elson, Lance Thomas
CENTERS: Darko Milicic, Ben Wallace, Greg Oden, Mehmet Okur, Kyrylo Fesenko, Tony Battie, Eddy Curry, Jamaal Magloire, Mickell Gladness, Mikki Moore, Dan Gadzuric, Erick Dampier, Solomon Alabi, Keith Benson
NBA Chats: There are two NBA chats scheduled for today, starting with HOOPSWORLD’s Bill Ingram at 11 a.m EST. Bill’s chats do fill up fast so getting in early is always wise. HOOPSWORLD’s Stephen Brotherston returns to hold down his weekly chat at 3 p.m. EST. You can always find the next NBA chat here. If you are looking for previous chats, click here.