When the Magic hired Rob Hennigan, they made no hiding the fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs are their models. With the Thunder in town last week, there was glowing praise for Hennigan as a talent evaluator and for what he is beginning to build in Orlando.
The top two seeds in the Western Conference are solid models for the organization. They are both located in small markets nad have established themselves as two of the best franchises in the league. The Spurs have been constant contenders since winning the championship in 1999 and have virtually been in the Playoffs and title hunt since Duncan was drafted in 1997. That is 15 years of excellence.
The Magic have hired numerous people from that lineage to help reshape their franchise. Rob Hennigan was an intern with the Spurs before joining the Sonics/Thunder organization as a scout with Sam Presti (a former Spurs executive himself).
These two organizations are clearly the models Orlando wants to follow for sustained championship-level success in a small market.
Last Friday, with the Thunder in town, the Magic got a close up look of the organization they are openly trying to emulate. They saw a team that went through growing pains by losing in a difficult fashion for two or three seasons, stockpiling draft picks and making smart decisions in the Draft.
Oklahoma City drafted Kevin Durant after Portland selected Greg Oden and then took Russell Westbrook with the the fourth pick in the Draft.
Orlando is only at the beginning of this process. The Magic's future is much murkier. There is some nice young talent but no cornerstones to build the franchise around. Orlando is still waiting for its Kevin Durant to begin building that championship team.
Therein lies the rub with the Oklahoma City/San Antonio model and where Orlando is trying to create some flexibility.
It is all well and good to put yourself in position to get the number one pick in the Draft, like the Magic have this season. It is another thing to actually get the number one pick and make the right selection. This is largely left to luck.
Luck is a difficult thing to rely on, especially when you are potentially staring at (and perhaps planning) two seasons at the bottom of the league to build the cornerstones for the franchise. This is certainly something Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld pointed out last week:
[Jacque] Vaughn understands the comparisons, but he’s quick to point out that duplicating the Thunder’s success won’t be easy. First of all, it takes some luck. Not only do the lottery balls have to bounce your way, you have to hope that there’s a franchise-changing player available in the draft. There aren’t many individuals like Kevin Durant in this world. After that, the supporting cast has to come together and everyone has to click. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
That would suggest that one bad decision at the top of the Draft or one even mediocre decision, missing out on that "superstar in waiting," could have long-lasting repercussions.
The Magic have to hold the Thunder's basic tenants — which Kennedy describes as stockpiling "promising, high-character players and put them in a supportive, structured environment that allows them to reach their full potential" — but also have to be able to break out on their own.
That appears to be part of the reason the team has cleared so much cap room for 2014 and 2015. If the Draft route does not work, Orlando will use this cap space to accelerate the process a bit and bring in a player that could make the team a contender again.
The Draft route the franchise is on now is just the first method the Magic will explore.
The Magic may be trying to emulate that model built in Oklahoma City and in San Antonio, but they will have to find their own way too. They certainly have the right model and are well on their way to building that consistency and program in the future.
Just about everyone can see it in these early stages.
"I see a lot of similarities to good organizations like San Antonio and Oklahoma, especially on the defensive end," Beno Udrih said following the Magic's win over the Sixers on March 10. "I’m just trying to help the team win, but especially on defense. That’s basically the right mentality we have to have."
We will see where Rob Hennigan takes this thing.