Magic Use Deadline Deal to Continue Slow Climb

Orlando Magic GM Rob Hennigan faced a very difficult task this offseason when he took over the helm from Otis Smith, who left the franchise saddled with several poor contracts after his attempts to construct a title team around Dwight Howard fell short and found Howard asking to be traded. Hennigan started his tenure with the unenviable task of receiving decent value for a guy who, when healthy, is easily among the top five players in the league.

Critics seemed to have plenty of ammo when Hennigan sought out additional teams to add to the trade to avoid taking back All-Star center Andrew Bynum, leaving the Magic with a random assortment of mediocre veterans and seemingly low-ceiling young players. It’s not easy to claim victory in a trade if none of the pieces acquired are sure things to be on the roster a couple of years down the line. On top of the suspect haul for Howard, Orlando was unable to route Hedo Turkoglu to another destination, leaving them stuck with the high-paid, low-production forward.

As the season has worn on though, Hennigan’s decision has looked better and better. Howard has not returned in top form from back surgery and has clashed with Kobe Bryant. His disdain for the idea of running a pick and roll with modern master Steve Nash is also beyond baffling. Bynum has somehow managed to be even more disappointing, having yet to return from his knee injury and utilizing the free time by trying to make the internet explode with successively ludicrous hairstyles.

The Magic, on the other hand, have begun rebuilding. In the Howard trade they pulled back a future first rounder from each team (they start coming over in the upcoming draft with the lower of Denver and New York’s pick) as well as Arron Afflalo, who is averaging nearly 17 points per game this season, young forward Mo Harkless, and the surprise steal of the trade, Nikola Vucevic, who has emerged as a double-double machine with solid efficiency.

This deal helped reset the team along with a new coach and their own guaranteed high draft pick this season. The move to ship J.J. Redick to Milwaukee furthers this plan. Using Redick’s expiring deal to fetch Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb gives the Magic a couple more young players who aren’t going to move the needle this season, but could progress with the benefit of additional playing time.

Lamb has struggled in limited minutes with the Bucks, but he has the potential to be a shooting specialist if he can start finding the bottom of the net. Getting a little more run on a team that isn’t trying to make the playoffs could be a big help for him in rediscovering his shot. The real piece of interest in the deal is Harris, a potential two-way forward who has played decently in limited minutes and now may get a chance to share time with Harkless as the Magic look for someone to step up and become a solid starter moving forward.

The key for Orlando is to keep gathering resources, and Hennigan knows it. There may never come a time when any of the players he has acquired in these trades is capable of making an All-Star team, but from the hoards of young players on the roster at least some will be solid role players or starters, and most are currently on rookie deals, so there is no harm in finding out what they have. Low risk, medium reward isn’t the worst mantra for a rebuilding team in the NBA.

As players develop, Hennigan will have the option of using them in trades to consolidate a few decent players into one good one. People forget that the much-hyped Thunder model of team building (which I think boils down to randomly drafting three All-NBA players in consecutive drafts) was accompanied by savvy moves with the rest of the roster.

Need a defense-first shooting guard on the cheap? Pick up Thabo Sefolosha. Want to preserve depth up front? Extend Nick Collison for several years on the cheap before everyone notices his value. Need an athletic frontcourt complement to your perimeter stars? Take a flyer on a young power forward late in the first round.

Some moves may not pan out, but the key is to avoid painting your roster into a corner. Time will tell if Hennigan can maintain his current restraint, but slowly piling up assets while waiting for high draft picks will keep costs down and the team’s ceiling high.