A rise from mediocrity

062112_Hennigan_with_ball_posed_FM_M149618Rebuilding is a dreaded word.

The Magic franchise is prepared for it. The fan base is still coming to grips with this. The Magic have not gone through an out and out rebuilding for a very long time. Perhaps, the Magic have never really been through rebuilding. After all, the Heart and Hustle team was a quick fix before the Tracy McGrady/Grant Hill free agency summer.

The McGrady trade was made with thoughts of still reaching the Playoffs. Otherwise, why would you acquire Steve Francis for three more years along with Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato to build with Dwight Howard. It is certainly not to hand the team to Dwight Howard and build through the draft. It took four years for the Magic to get rid of Francis and build a team that could actually get deep in the Playoffs.

Orlando banked its rebuilding plan in 2004 on Howard, Jameer Nelson and … Steve Francis and Grant Hill? Yeah, that only sounds like a good plan in 2001. Even then, maybe not. The Tracy McGrady trade smacked of an acceptance of mediocrity and the belief that getting to the Playoffs was the ultimate goal at a bare minimum. It still felt like Orlando was in the mix-and-match era that caused the McGrady teams to fail and completely bottom out in 2004.

Alex Martins and everyone within the Magic have been promising something different. They are promising long-term sustainability. As much as the 2009 Finals opened Dwight Howard to a national audience and all the expectations and opportunities that come with it, it has opened the Magic up to the idea that a championship is very attainable in this market.

After the most sustained run of success in the franchise’s history, the organization has its sights squarely on a championship no matter what that takes.

Thus the Magic were not willing to take a risk on Andrew Bynum or even with Andre Iguodala in trading Dwight Howard. The Magic were satisfied to go to a complete rebuild. They all recognize they will take a step back this year. For how long is the question.

Especially when you consider this will be just Year Three in the largely publicly funded Amway Center — a building that may quickly become half-empty if losing becomes part of the culture or rebuilding takes too long.

Losing is not part of the Magic’s culture. Alex Martins pointed that out at the ened of the year and in his letter to Magic season ticketholders. In the last five years, only the Celtics, Spurs and Lakers have had a better regular season record than the Magic. In Orlando’s 23-year history, the team has missed the Playoffs just nine times and only five times since 1994, the franchise’s first Playoff appearance.

Again, the franchise is not used to losing and losses. This will be losing with a purpose.

A three-year Playoff drought from 2004 until 2007 is the only blip in a relatively successful run. Of course, Orlando did not get out of the first round despite those Playoff appearances between 1997 and 2008.

AP Photo/DayLifeMediocrity may be a part of the Magic’s culture. And that is something the Magic are determined to change.

That is what this is all about. The Magic want to be a championship organization. To do that, Orlando will have to build that sustainable model and find a way to make contending for a championship a more than once-in-15-years occurrence. And mediocrity cannot be the baseline either.

We are at the beginning of this process.

And most Magic fans want to know how long it will take to climb out of the hole. A lot of it will rely on luck — getting the top pick in the draft involves luck in itself and you have to get the top pick in a good draft.

This is where the flexibility that Rob Hennigan touts will come into play.

The Magic, as I showed previously, got under the tax line for this upcoming season. The question is how the trade sets the Magic up for the future and where this rebuild is going to go.

In guaranteed money, Orlando actually increased its future commitments by $5.4 million in 2014 and $11.5 million in 2015. Of course, there are several options from rookies and the potential buyouts for players like Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington that Orlando will have to make decisions on.

That does not mention the flexibility Orlando has in trading some of the players the team currently has. Many already suspect Harrington’s stay in Orlando will be relatively short. Only time will tell.

But as the roster currently stands, with its future salary commitments, it looks like Orlando is hoping to build through the draft the next two years at least. According to HoopsWorld, the Magic’s guaranteed payroll will shrink from $62.6 million this year to $35.6 million next year — a 43.1 percent decrease — and the guaranteed total in 2014 goes to $22.1 million.

The cap this year was set at $58 million. If revenues remain the same and the cap stays where it is at, Orlando would have about $23 million to spend next year and about $36 million to spend in 2014. Assume the Magic spend some money to fill out the roster, so the cap room might be a bit overstated now.

Do not expect the Magic to spend all that potential cap room in one place though. Rob Hennigan has promised a methodical approach and he seems unlikely to just throw money at an overachieving youngster or overspend on an over-the-hill veteran. The Magic, many believe, are more willing to keep some open cap space and play the draft to gain assets. This might help them acquire a big-name player through a trade.

It seems this is meant to be a secondary piece though. The real goal is to build through the draft and build around whoever the team acquires through there. That does not mean that is the plan. As mentioned earlier, this path takes some luck and good timing. Not things within Orlando’s control.

What is in their control is when they decide to use this cap flexibility. As Larry Ridley of WESH reported Friday, Alex Martins believes it will be a quick rebuild (the video is not yet available on WESH.com, but should be in the next few days):

https://twitter.com/mrlarryridley/status/236521935893307393

Twitter / mrlarryridley: Caught up with #Magic CEO Alex … via kwout

What he means by quick is anybody’s guess. But it does not seem likely that the Magic will want to have Amway Center empty and hosting a losing team for very long. Not after the arm-wringing and debate the city and county went through to build it. I tend to think the Magic have a target for when they want the rebuild to end and they want to be able to make their move.

It seems like that target to emerge from rebuilding will certainly be in the summer of 2014 or 2015. By then, the hope appears to be, Orlando has two lottery picks to build around with numerous other assets acquired over the years to fillin the gaps. These assets could be used to acquire that star to get the Magic over the top and back into the upper echelon of the league.

These things are too far down the road to predict with any certainty.

What is important now, Orlando has a clear goal in mind. It is one that is very different than what it has perhaps followed in the franchise’s history. This is a completely new approach for the Magic.

Big dreams come with big risk though. The Magic will have to be patient. That patience, it seems will take at least two years. We will see if it takes longer or, if it will take longer than two years, the Magic go ahead and move forward out of rebuilding at that time.

The summer of 2014 could be an interesting time in Orlando. Until then, the hope is the fans stick around long enough to see it.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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