Orlando and Minnesota could not be in two different places right now. They may have entered the league the same year but their trajectories and histories have been filled both with great success and questionable decisions.
I have always viewed the two franchises as inextricably linked. You may occasionally hear me refer to the Timberwolves as the Magic’s sister team since the two franchises entered the league in the same season.
But right now they could not be in more different places.
It was not too long after the Magic bowed out in the 2009 Finals that the Timberwolves’ latest makeover began. Kevin McHale was out as general manager and head coach and David Kahn and Kurt Rambis were in. Kahn moved quickly to remake his roster — really only keeping Corey Brewer, Kevin Love and Al Jefferson. He was universally panned for taking Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with back-to-back picks early in the first round.
That decision may still pay off. But probably not until the Fran Vazquez pick pays off for Orlando.
What has made things worse are Flynn’s struggles this year — 4.5 points and 2.5 assists per game in 15 games this year and a lot of time in the D-League. There are still some nice, young players to try and develop. Kevin Love should be playing in Los Angeles for the All-Star Game and Michael Beasley is looking like the number two pick Miami made him a few years ago.
Orlando is in sort of a precarious situation too. The Magic have seen the window to win a championship open and may be watching it close. It seems with every hiccup and loss everything about this team is being questioned. It feels like Orlando has been passed by and the opportunity has been closed when in all possibility it has not.
With a big summer looming just one and a half seasons away from now, you can definitely feel the pressure on the Magic to perform and get the job done now. Thursday’s game against Oklahoma City has brought on another round of criticisms on Jameer Nelson and even more questions about the Gilbert Arenas trade. It seems like everything — and every game — gets over analyzed.
And honestly, between these two teams, I cannot tell which is worse. OK, yes, it is better to be thinking title then hoping for some lottery luck.
But these two franchises are facing some very difficult questions at different ends of the spectrum. While the teams have had widely different histories — the Magic have lucked into three lottery wins and have made two NBA Finals appearances, while the Timberwolves have struggled at the bottom of the NBA until drafting Kevin Garnett and then could never get out of the first round except for one trip to the Western Conference Finals.
And it has been a long time since this franchise has had the carefree attitude of low expectations. That is a good thing because winning packs the stadium and you want to compete for the title. But it is also bad because of the constant scrutiny and ultimate disappointment in falling short of the final goal — an NBA championship.
There is no big reward without that risk. And Minnesota has proven that you need a lot of things to break your way to get to the top.
The course of NBA history has never been changed by any meeting between these two teams. In fact, there really is no game between these two teams of note (besides the embarrassing effort in 2003 when Garnett’s Timberwolves shut down Tracy McGrady and the Magic that left McGrady saying he was thinking of retiring after the pitiful performance).
Still the Magic are 27-16 all time against their sister team, showing how much better and consistent Orlando has been in its 21 full seasons. As another one of the season series between these two teams sets to end it seems the Magic and the Timberwolves are further apart than ever.