Firing Rob Hennigan was a first, not a final step for Orlando Magic

May 23, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic chief executive officer Alex Martins talks with media after they introduce Frank Vogel as their new head coach at Amway Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
May 23, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic chief executive officer Alex Martins talks with media after they introduce Frank Vogel as their new head coach at Amway Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Firing general manager Rob Hennigan was necessary, but something is fundamentally wrong with the Orlando Magic. Now, the Magic’s brass needs to take a long look in the mirror.

Good NBA teams have a lot of obvious things in common: talented players, good coaches and systems that make it all work. The complicated part is putting all those ingredients together.

Before the acquisition of talented players, the hiring of a good coach and the implementation of a system that fits, there needs to be a plan. That plan comes from the team’s highest-level decision makers: usually ownership and the front office.

This is the group who is responsible for crafting a franchise’s identity, building its ethos and setting its benchmarks for success. That is who makes the difference between an organization that toils in mediocrity and one with a reputation for sustained dominance.

And it is not just about the “plan” itself. A well-structured organization with a good reputation is more attractive to potential general managers, free agents, coaches and other staff members.

The San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat are strong, if not trite, examples of what that does for a team. When a player becomes a Spur, for example, he knows he is expected to play championship-caliber basketball. Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra run tight ships in close consultation with front office executives.

The figures at the top – Peter Holt and Mickey Arison – have a clear plan, an effective and stable chain of command and faith in the people they hire. All those things create a well-oiled system of accountability and success.

With or without Rob Hennigan, the Orlando Magic still have severe, foundational problems with their organizational structure. Hennigan’s departure is a Band-Aid on a broken leg.

Since 2012, the first full season with Alex Martins as CEO and Dan DeVos as chairman, the Magic have the second fewest wins in the NBA. Only the Philadelphia 76ers have been worse. That is partly a product of the Magic’s rebuild. Unlike the 76ers, who have accumulated several promising assets, it seems the Magic are at the end of the road.

That led to the dismissal of Rob Hennigan. But that change is not the only one the team should explore.

As things currently stand, Martins oversees both business and basketball operations, effectively working as a middleman between ownership and the team’s day-to-day operations. Unless ownership decides to change that structure, any Magic general manager has less control and independence over the Magic’s future.

This structure is certainly under question. At his press conference announcing Hennigan’s dismissal, Martins said the team would consider different organizational structures. As things stand, the Magic have no plans to change the way they operate.

Hennigan had his fair share of blunders. Moving on from him was not the wrong decision. But he was not the root of the problem. The problem comes down to instability and a lack of direction from the very top.

Take last summer’s pivot, for example. This team was clearly not ready to win now.

Hindsight is 20/20. But even at the time of the Serge Ibaka trade, most would agree the Magic were still several steps away from hitting the gas for a playoff run.

DeVos and Martins, who oversee the organization’s long-term strategizing, made a business decision – not a basketball one – when they decided the team had to “win now.” Some of that is a response to fans growing increasingly restless for success.

The pressure to win was great.

At the other end of that decision was Hennigan, who executed a series of dubious trades and offseason moves in response to these demands. As general manager, he is responsible for those moves and deserves to be held accountable. But equal to blame are the circumstances that gave him little choice in the matter.

The team perhaps pushed him to move faster than he or the situation dictated. It is still on him to perform, of course. But undoubtedly changing expectations and a questionable organizational structure took the control out of his hands.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Ultimately, Hennigan had to do what his bosses told him to do.

The team’s rebuild had been frustrating thus far. The Magic narrowly missed out on several elite prospects and instead settled for players whose NBA futures seem comparatively murky now. A series of trades transformed what promising young talent the Magic had into virtually nothing.

Very few general managers have the ability it would have taken to turn last year’s Magic roster into an immediate contender. But, with his job on the line, the inexperienced Hennigan gave it his best shot.

He had few options but to trade away important young pieces for Serge Ibaka and throw cap space at veteran free agents instead of continuing to rebuild with smaller moves.

Now they can try again with new leadership.

This time, they must be prepared to support their general manager’s vision. They cannot hire someone they will treat like a pawn. They must give the new general manager independence and the time to get the work in — not put him on a sped-up timeline.

This does not mean he is unaccountable — he must still produce. But it means he has the freedom to build his vision and progress, in whatever form, is valued.

When an organization makes its long-term plans, its decision-makers must prepare for the accordant risks. They need to understand sometimes a rebuild takes longer than four or five years. And they need a legitimate backup plan when it does. This past Magic season proved Martins and DeVos did not have a backup plan – only a panic button.

To get the right personnel into place, Magic ownership needs to show faith in what it already has. It needs patiently to build an identity and make potential draft picks, signings and hirings want to be a part of that identity.

That process begins with streamlining the team’s corporate structure. A general manager should answer directly to ownership, not a middle man. The basketball operations and business operations need more separation for this franchise to succeed.

If no major structural changes are on the organization’s radar, then the next step is to hire a general manager with Vogel’s support and enough gravitas for ownership to give him or her the full reigns. There needs to be a long-term, clear-cut infrastructure in place.

If the team tries to speed things up again, it is far more likely that doing so would seal a Kings-like fate for the Magic: Constant turnover, repelled free agents, impatience, desperate decision-making, fan misery and abject failure.

Next: Rumors: Orlando Magic interested in Cleveland Cavaliers GM David Griffin

Now is the chance for change.