ESPN’s Chad Ford and John Hollinger rolled out their annual “future rankings” the other day and placed the Magic seventh. The rankings are based on players and their potential over the next three years, management and their willingness to do what it takes to put out a winning team, money and the team’s projected salary cap situation, the appeal and size of the market, and future draft picks and draft positioning.
The two are definitely not saying Orlando is not a top team in the NBA. In fact far from it: “We liked Orlando’s roster the best in March, but now the Magic don’t even have the best roster in Florida. Plus, we’re focused down the line, past this coming season, and that hurts the outlook for four of the five Magic starters. Nonetheless, this team looks stacked for the long term with Dwight Howard at center and a constellation of minor stars surrounding him. Additionally, keep an eye on young forward Ryan Anderson, who could become a better version of Troy Murphy.”
Miami’s moves have definitely affected where Orlando ranks. The Magic were third last year on the strength of their Finals appearance and the potential the roster showed. Obviously that has changed after Orlando failed to return to the Finals and Miami made its move. Surprise, surprise: the Heat are number one in the rankings.
But the seventh ranking is not a total indictment of Orlando and everything the team is trying to do. The Magic still have a lot of things working for them. Orlando is a very desirable location for free agents because of the city — and the lack of state income tax — and the lifestyle you can live in Orlando and because of one man: Dwight Howard.
As long as Howard is in a Magic uniform, free agents will want to come play at the Amway Center. And that is another thing Orlando has going for it. The Amway Center is going to be the nicest, newest stadium in the NBA for a while. Everything is going to be in that building and as long as it was built right which you have to assume it is. The Magic will still matter for a while is my counter to being ranked seventh, in other words.
The big problem Ford and Hollinger see is the financial aspect. “The only major concern is the serious money the team is taking on. Orlando is a small market, but the team is well into the luxury tax and probably will remain that way for a while unless ownership demands a budget slashing. For now, it hasn’t, and with that, solid personnel moves under GM Otis Smith and the exacting coaching of Stan Van Gundy, the Magic get good marks for management.”
As I wrote in July, I do not feel Orlando is in such a horrible position for players. Even when Dwight Howard is a free agent, Orlando should be in a position to stay in contention for at least a few more years.
So why did the Magic rank so much lower than the six teams ahead of them?
The money had a lot to do with it. Orlando is a small market team spending like it is a big market team (second in the league, in fact). Even with the new arena, that will not be able to last. The Magic have to be figuring out how to replace some of the big money guys. That could mean Daniel Orton is the eventual replacement for Marcin Gortat or JJ Redick is ultimately going to replace Vince Carter.
Orlando is going to have to shed some cap eventually. But it honestly may not come until Rashard Lewis’ contract expires in three years when Orlando opts not to take on another maximum contract. And, of course, who knows what the new collective bargaining agreement will look like.
Miami, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City, Chicago and Houston make up the top five with Portland coming in sixth. I am having a hard time believing most of those teams will be ahead of the Magic the next three years. The Heat and the Lakers, and maybe the Thunder, might be better than the Magic for the next three years. These rankings ultimately mean very little.
You want to rank highly because it means you have a shot at winning the title. Orlando is definitely still in that club. Things can obviously change though.