Over the next few weeks Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando ended its season with its first Lottery season in six years.
The future for Orlando is bright. There are young players who have developed much quicker than expected and could form the backbone of the Magic's franchise. Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson are all players that have a future in this league. And considering they are all entering no later than their third year, they likely have the better part of a decade of good basketball left in them.
Orlando hopes to be able to take advantage of that and have these players be a major part of the team when it returns to contention. The Oklahoma City model Rob Hennigan is bringing with him includes having young players grow together as the center of the team.
That is where the rub is. Oklahoma City caught lightning in a bottle. Portland had to select Greg Oden ahead of Kevin Durant. The Celtics had to be willing to forego the draft mode and look for a star like Ray Allen to help the Thunder lay that foundation through the Draft. There had to be sufficient questions about Russell Westbrook and James Harden for other teams to pass them.
And there had to be losing. Lots of losing for at least three years.
It is hard to tell if this is Year One of that process or Year Zero. How many Draft will it take for the Magic to build back up? Can any organization really bank on the Draft Lottery for their franchise's future?
Yes, good scouting and preparations will limit those mistakes in drafting and make sure each pick counts. But the bottom line is that except in very rare instances (the 2004 Pistons, for instance), championship teams need superstar players. No matter how bad his supporting cast, a healthy Dwight Howard made the Magic title threats and kept them in the conversation.
In basketball more than any other sport, one player makes a huge difference and can change the game. The Magic's Tracy McGrady teams were not going anywhere near the postseason without McGrady's brilliance.
So the question everyone has to ask: Are Vucevic, Nicholson, Harkless or Harris one of those players that can change the game? Maybe it is too early to tell that. Vucevic and Harris specifically have a lot of promise and a lot of areas they can improve upon to (possibly) take on that role.
The future is a great unknown though. Even if the Magic get the top overall pick in Tuesday's Draft Lottery, that player is not likely to fit this necessary role to winning a championship. Even if the Magic finish with one of the worst records in the NBA (a likely proposition), there is no guarantee the Magic can strike it rich in the lottery again (again). The odds are astronomical.
No matter the approach or the culture the Magic want to instill — and by all accounts this has been very successful and has taken root — the organization is still at the whims of the randomness of a ping pong ball bouncing in a drum. That is banking on a lot of luck — particularly for next year's Draft when the talent pool at the top is much higher — for your future. A lot of it seems out of the organization's control.
The same could be said for many decision any franchise makes. All a team can do is research the best it can and make informed decisions. That is an approach Rob Hennigan champions.
This was the first year without Dwight Howard or some other superstar. The Magic opted not to bring in an All Star to replace Howard, starting from scratch. The process of building the team back up is going to be a long one.
Right now the future is extremely difficult to see. That is both the promise of what comes ahead and the risk. Some bad luck in next year's Draft could derail the Magic's slow rebuilding plan. A bad draft pick throws the plan off another year and prevents the team from collecting a valuable asset.
Even for a team with the worst record in the league this year, there was a lot of good vibes and feelings coming off of this season with how young players seemed to exceed expectations. This next step will be the most difficult though. And a lot of it seems out of the franchise's immediate control.
The future is bright, but it is also incredibly uncertain. And it is easy for the organization to get knocked off its plan and fall back to square one.