As another NBA chapter nears, it’s time for our season previews. Oh hey, let’s see what the Orlando Magic have going on…
Expected Conference Ranking: 12th
Best Move of the Offseason: Remember Rob Hennigan’s whiteboard?
Look at all of the bad players on that board. If you Voltron’d up that board you might not win the Sun Belt Conference. The Lakers would trade Luol Deng for cholera right now and Hennigan still put him on the board.
Welp, none of these players are currently members of the Orlando Magic. No Chandler Parsons. No Evan Turner. And no big-money hybrids whatsoever. It says quite a bit about the state of affairs in Orlando that this needs to be noted and celebrated despite the fact that Hennigan is no longer the GM. It’s like giving a dog a treat for not stealing your identity. The bar is so damn low.
Worst Move of the Offseason: We get one of these every year, and more often than not, it’s Orlando that does it. One team always looks at the best prospect on the board, says, “we don’t need X, we have Y!” Except Y is usually an Elfrid Payton, and X is usually a Dennis Smith. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and enjoy some decisions like this!
2004-05 Atlanta Hawks: “We don’t need Chris Paul, we have Tyronn Lue!”
2005-06 Atlanta Hawks: “We don’t need Brandon Roy, we have Josh Childress!”
2007-08 Charlotte Bobcats: “We don’t need Brook Lopez, we have Emeka Okafor!”
2009-10 Minnesota Timberwolves: “We don’t need DeMarcus Cousins, we have Al Jefferson!”
These are all gems. They aren’t bad draft picks in hindsight. No. They are bad draft picks at the moment they are made. They contradict everyone’s board and are made on the logic of having a player at that position that the team is invested in even if he isn’t good.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but do what the Lakers did. Lonzo Ball was the best player on the board, so they traded D’Angelo Russell to clear the way for him. Take the best player. It’s not that hard. Everyone knows Dennis Smith was the best player available. Everyone knows Elfrid Payton is terrible. Just nut up and take him. Someone will give you a second-round pick for Payton. It’s a sunk cost.
Jonathan Isaac is fine. He’s Anthony Randolph nine times out of 10 and Paul George the 10th time. Dennis Smith is Steve Francis nine times out of 10 and Russell Westbrook the 10th time. Which sounds more appealing?
Me: The Indiana Pacers have the worst shooting in the NBA.
Frank Vogel: Hold my beer.
The Orlando Magic have prepared a delightful tasting menu of bad shooters for your pleasure. They’ll start you off with a few appetizers of perimeter shooters who are bad, but everyone knew were bad coming out of college and wisely chose to allow Orlando to invest in them so they wouldn’t have to. These are meant to be shared throughout the table.
So there’s a pan-roasted Elfrid Payton, a springy Aaron Gordon and, a new addition to the menu—a delicious baked Jonathan Isaac that comes with a skillfully ignorant “we don’t have a competent ball-handler” sauce.
The main course will be shooters that the Magic expected to be good, but their culture ruined. The house specialty is their take on a Croatian J.R. Smith called Mario Hezonja, which is prepared by taking a talented European guard, yanking his minutes around and refusing to put good teammates around him. If you’re looking for something with a bit more of a dry-aged taste, might I suggest the Terrance Ross Milanese, which is a solid Canadian wing who is so pounded into submission by this flat tire of an organization that his three-point percentage falls from 37.5 percent in Toronto to a robust 34.1 percent here.
And of course, for dessert, they offer a variety of big men who can’t shoot that they never should have paid for in the first place. The house recommends either the Bismack Biyombo, listed as “market price” on the menu because they’re too ashamed to admit they spent $64 million on him, or the more mild Nikola Vučević, a gluten-free tease of a shooting big man who extends his shot just a few inches further back into the mid-range each season that you talk yourself into believing this is the year that he starts making three-pointers.
The final bill for this culinary nirvana? $98.2 million, generously leaving you enough cap space to sign Brandon Jennings to lighten up your team Twitter feed.
Their Defense: The dumbest current NBA trend is the league’s malignant obsession with length. James Harden has longer arms than Avery Bradley. That doesn’t make him a better defender. Teams are obsessed with the potential long arms have on defense because they are convinced that they are the magical team that can unlock the actual production that should logically come with it. This is a sound strategy if you play your home games in San Antonio or Miami. Most other teams should not be thinking this way.
Aaron Gordon has extremely long arms. Jonathan Isaac has extremely long arms. Neither has shown any capacity to use them. Bismack Biyombo has long arms too, long arms that help make him a good defender. He’s so bad on offense that he’s practically unplayable on this team.
Long arms are a good thing. They are a trait that teams should look for. They should not be the entire basis on which a team is built. The Warriors thrive with length because the long players they have also do other things. If Draymond Green’s sole positive was his wingspan, he wouldn’t be Draymond Green. He’d be Kyle O’Quinn.
Their Bench: Have you heard of Khem Birch? I haven’t and I was paid to write this. Here’s the funny thing, though. According to Real GM’s Magic depth chart as of this writing, he’s not on their bench. He’s their starting power forward. I know Isaac (or Gordon with Isaac at small forward) will eventually get that role in real life, but Khem Birch is not the name of a starting NBA power forward. It’s the name of a Herbology professor at Hogwarts.
Best Case Scenario: This regime turns out to have a plan beyond “get the long dudes.”
Worst Case Scenario: Isaac turns out to be a star. Because then, he’ll leave in seven years. At least now Magic fans are used to being terrible.