This may be the first time in the history of sports journalism that anybody has ever written this about a 16-28 team that has the third-worst record in its own conference:
It’s actually working.
The reason we say “this version” of the Magic rebuild is to properly acknowledge the dreary decade that has ensued since the inaugural rebuild began, followed by all of its failed iterations. Actually, it’s been more than a decade – 11 years to be exact – since Dwight Howard forced his way out of town, Stan Van Gundy was fired and former Magic GM Rob Hennigan blew up the roster and started the original reboot.
The results were disastrous. Over the next decade, the Magic compiled the worst record in the league with no real end in sight. Hennigan was fired after five seasons and the Magic hired the current Magic management team of president Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond to replace him.
Weltman and Hammond inherited Hennigan’s mediocre roster with the organizational edict of getting back to the playoffs as soon as possible. Weltman and Hammond followed orders, hired sage coach Steve Clifford a year later and the Magic were a back-end playoff team in Clifford’s first two seasons. Then, of course, it all came crumbling down two seasons ago after season-ending knee injuries to Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz.
That’s when Weltman made the controversial decision to trade All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and other core veterans such as Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier for a haul of young players, draft picks and cap space. Clifford was not on board with the plan and negotiated an exit strategy.
And, so, Weltman and Hammond pressed Control – Alt – Delete, hired a new young coach in Jamahl Mosley and embarked on their first total rebuild of the Magic roster. That was 1 1/2 seasons ago and I’m here to tell you today it’s looking good.
Bianchi, you idiot, how can you say that?!!! This Magic team is worse than the Vooch-led playoffs team of three seasons ago!
This may be true right now, but those two Vooch-led, one-and-done playoff teams finished a combined five games below .500 and had a ceiling that was lower than Danny DeVito’s igloo. Those Vooch teams were never going to be any better than mediocre.
The Magic, with 11 players 24-years-old or younger, now have a developing young core led by Rookie of the Year favorite Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner (All Rookie First Team last season). You don’t have to be an NBA personnel and analytics expert to see Banchero has superstar potential and Wagner has All-Star potential.
Wagner himself is enough for me to declare that the Magic won the Vooch trade with the Chicago Bulls in a landslide. There’s no denying the Bulls have been disappointing since they made the blockbuster trade for Vooch, whose production has declined dramatically in Chicago.
Meanwhile, the Magic turned one of the two first-round picks it acquired in the Vooch trade into Wagner, who right now is averaging more points (20.3 to 17.2) than Vooch although Vooch is still a double-double machine.
When you consider the Magic also acquired young, defensive-minded center Wendell Carter Jr. and Chicago’s first-round draft pick this season in the Vooch trade, this will go down as the best deal the Magic have made since they shipped Steve Francis and his bloated contract to the Knicks for Penny Hardaway’s expiring contract and the cap space that allowed them to sign Rashard Lewis.
With Banchero and Wagner, the Magic, for the first time since the original rebuild began, know who they need to build around. In the past, after drafting Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja, Victor Oladipo, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba, management had no clue if those players would develop into future stars.
The Magic also have an intriguing blend of other young players, including Carter, Bol Bol, point guards Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony and — fingers crossed — Issac (pending his return from injury).
Moreover, Banchero has the skill set, the charisma and the street cred around the NBA to attract future free agents who hopefully will want to come play with him someday soon.
And make no mistake about it, the Magic, when they’re ready, will have the wherewithal to be able to make a run at free agent stars. They will have maximum cap flexibility and plenty of draft capital to make a future free agent splash. If you’re scoring at home, the Magic have have nine first-round draft picks over the next seven seasons, which ranks them among the league leaders.
Weltman has contended all along he won’t make a blockbuster deal just for a “sugar high” or to “rush back to mediocrity.” He will wait until he believes the Magic are ready to contend before going big-game hunting.
Who knows when that day will come, but at least we now have some evidence that this version of the Orlando Magic rebuild is working.
Hallelujah, it’s actually working.
Email me at [email protected]. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2