There are two camps of Magic fans growing. I can see them in the comments attached to various articles involving the Magic and by simply reading tweets with the hashtag #Magic. Nobody so far has been incredibly satisfied with the rumored deals with reactions ranging from how does this deal help the Magic to that is all the Magic are getting for Dwight Howard?
Orlando is entering a new phase of its franchise’s history. Dwight Howard is getting traded and the Magic have to decide how they are going to move forward.
One camp believes the Magic should remain as competitive as possible. The best deal to them is the deal that nets the biggest star. The other camp believes the Magic need to acquire assets and “bottom out.” This camp would have you believe the best way to get to a championship is through building in the draft, getting lucky with the ping pong balls and making smart free agent decisions.
Both of these paths are frought with risk. One bad contract or one bad draft decision could cause the whole plan to unravel. And that would keep the Magic in the dark for a much longer time. In any event it will be a long climb back to the top.
The immediate move though will have Magic fans talking for a very very long time.
Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel is firmly in the camp of reloading. He has long been on the Andrew Bynum train. There is no doubt everyone has an opinion, but few are as prominent in their opinions as the long-time Magic beat writer. Schmitz is quick to point out that it is difficult to justify a losing team in the third year of the new building. He wonders whether the city of Orlando can justify having a $500 million half full stadium. It could end up being Orlando’s white elephant.
Magic fans deserve the best team the Magic can put on the floor now — Andrew Bynum, Jameer Nelson, J-Rich, Big Baby and Hedo Turkoglu (or a yet unsigned free agent).
About 18,000 of those fans are paying good money to sit in a relatively new arena, and they shouldn’t have to watch a rebuilding project. Not if they don’t have to.
And if the Magic land Bynum and add a few pieces, they could be seeing a 50-win team.
There is a point to this. While fan support and interest is at its highest since the mid-90s run — officially Orlando has sold out every game the last four years or so — that could wane quickly. Long-time fans remember a period in Magic history where the stadium sat half empty on a nightly basis and the team threatened to move because of it. Those were very very dark days.
Those days are not likely to return. After all, the Magic have a 20-year lease on Amway Center. The threat of a sale or a move that came from Rich DeVos at that time will not occur should the Magic bottom out and attendance to suffer. But, as a small market that just invested a huge amount of public money into a controversial arena project, there is a bit of bad press that might come with a half-empty Amway Center.
These are considerations the Magic have to assess (or have already assessed) in their calculation of what to go after in a Dwight Howard trade.
The fact is though, if reported deals are to be believed, the Magic are looking for young players on cheap contracts, draft picks and cap flexibility. Inevitably, if Orlando was thinking of building a team to compete next year, the franchise would have to take on some unsavory contracts for that privilege.
That is not what Rob Hennigan appears to want. He appears to want players that want to be in Orlando for the long term. And he wants the kind of sound investments that make up the Oklahoma City/San Antonio model.
This mode of building is also fraught with peril though. One bad draft pick or some bad luck in the Draft Lottery can make the rebuilding process that much longer. Orlando fans may be willing to wait a year or two at the bottom of the standings to rebuild, but there will be clamoring for something more if there is not a feeling of improvement.
Hennigan wants to change Orlando’s culture. This franchise has long been one that goes for the quick fix. If Bynum is ready to sign long term in Orlando, then it certainly would be worth it for Orlando to acquire him (questions about his knee aside). However, if he is not, being a one-year player to get the Magic the eighth seed (and a mid-first round draft pick) is not the way to go. Especially if Orlando does not get a high draft pick (like Toronto’s pick from Houston or Sacramento’s pick from Cleveland).
For the long-term future, a high draft pick has the better chance of turning into something the Magic can use long term and get the team to that ultimate goal — a championship.
It is about garnering assets for Dwight Howard so you can begin moving forward. The real question in how you approach this is whether the goal is short-term success and a smaller chance for a title or long-term success for sustained excellence. Those are teh questions Orlando is weighing.
In either case, a championship is extremely difficult to come by. The road though starts with this decision from Rob Hennigan. A decision that should not be made without care.