Orlando Magic have a long way to go to restore their reputation

Jan 22, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) moves to the basket as Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) defends during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 22, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) moves to the basket as Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) defends during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant threw the Orlando Magic under the bus recently. The Magic have a lot of work to do to restore their reputation.

To most of the NBA, Kevin Durant’s comments about parity in the NBA from Friday were a nice joke. A defiant statement to those that have heaped hate upon him for chasing a championship and tipping the scales, seemingly unfairly in the NBA.

In the weeklong run-up to the NBA Finals, there is a narrative the league lacks parity. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are a combined 12-1 entering the Finals. Both teams are seemingly fighting against this narrative.

It came to a nadir when Durant, who left the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Warriors in free agency last summer, reacted a bit emotionally about the league’s lack of parity. He said (rightfully) it is not his fault other teams have not been able to keep up. Just like it is not his fault the league had a sudden and unique cap spike allowing him to leave from one championship contender to another.

The collection of talent the league is seeing at Golden State is not something the current cap rules are supposed to allow. But conditions aligned perfectly for this seismic shift.

In making his point, Durant rather bluntly singled out the Orlando Magic, telling Sam Amick of USA TODAY:

"“Like I’m the reason why (expletive) Orlando couldn’t make the playoffs for five, six years in a row?” he said. “Am I the reason that Brooklyn gave all their picks to Boston? Like, am I the reason that they’re not that good (laughs)? I can’t play for every team, so the truth of the matter is I left one team. It’s one more team that you probably would’ve thought would’ve been a contender. One more team. I couldn’t have made the (entire) East better. I couldn’t have made everybody (else) in the West better.”"

The line definitely deserves a few laughs. And the comment is somewhat deserved for the Orlando Magic. Orlando has struggled the last five years, going 132-278. It is the second-worst win percentage in that time period.

For a proud franchise, the last five years represent the worst stretch in the team’s history.

Orlando can certainly point to several things out of its control. Like Rob Hennigan’s Oklahoma City teams (that included Durant), Orlando received top-five picks for three straight years. The Magic were unable to unearth a star in any of those picks.

And Durant is right, that is not his fault. His decision to move from the Thunder to the Warriors would not make the Magic’s luck better or their decision making for free agents and trades any better.

If the league wants parity — which it is arguable that it does considering TV ratings for this postseason are up from last year’s incredibly competitive postseason — the league needs more competent management. Even then, teams need some luck to reach that rarified championship air. And it is hard to spread luck around.

The fact Durant singled the Magic out, though, does say something. The Magic deserve it after their horrid five-year run. They are one of the worst teams in the league right now and have a long way to go to make the Playoffs. It will not be a one-year fix.

The Magic’s reputation is damaged right now. It is going to take supreme belief to come out of this hole.

While president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said the reason he joined the Magic, leaving a comfortable job with the Toronto Raptors, was because of its solid ownership, whether players believe that is another matter.

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel described the implications of this pretty succinctly in response to Durant’s comments:

"The Magic and their fans can debate the accuracy of Durant’s comment if they wish, but no one associated with the Magic should dismiss Durant’s words. The statement could reflect overarching doubts among NBA players about the Magic after the franchise has endured a five-year postseason drought. That skepticism, in turn, may make it difficult in the near future for new president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and new general manager John Hammond to lure quality players through free agency."

Robbins, citing many sources familiar with the Magic like former players, agents and scouts, all seem to universally agree on the Magic needing to add some veterans to command respect in the locker room. This has indeed been something the Magic have sought the last few summers.

But with the team struggling to get wins, it has been tough to attract the key veterans to bolster a young roster.

Orlando has had to overpay for Channing Frye (four years, $32 million), D.J. Augustin (four years, $29 million), Bismack Biyombo (four years, $70 million) and Jeff Green (one year, $15 million) to bring that veteran presence in. Orlando also traded promising young player Victor Olaidpo for Serge Ibaka. The team has not gotten the results it wanted.

The Magic have really been searching for that “veteran presence” ever since the team cut Jameer Nelson and trade Arron Afflalo before the 2014 Draft. Both those players, while dominating the ball at times, brought a level of professionalism to the locker room the young team desperately needed during those difficult years.

Hiring Weltman and general manager John Hammond should provide a jolt of confidence. These are respected leaders in the league and add a bit of gravitas and heft to the Magic’s front office.

But that veteran presence has been hard to get back. The perception remains, and Durant’s comments confirm, the Magic are a rebuilding team.

Veteran free agents looking to contribute to a winner are not quite willing to take the risk on signing with this kind of a team yet. If the Magic are considered one of the worst teams in the league, they are less likely to consider the Magic without a bigger contract.

Then again, the Magic deserve all this doubt at this point. The team has drifted listlessly the last two years after that 19-13 start to the 2016 season. The Magic have not been able to take that next step from Lottery-bound team to Playoff contender.

As Scott Skiles said after the 2016 season, going from 35 to 45 wins is much tougher than 25 to 35 wins as his team did.

Orlando will face a difficult road to make immediate improvements. The team has limited funds to spend in free agency. The Magic will likely still have many of those high-priced veterans from last year.

The Magic’s best way to get better is still to have internal improvement. Orlando needs players on its current roster to improve and show promise — with the team’s record especially — to attract these free agents.

Next: Orlando Magic Daily Podcast: Who is Jeff Weltman?

That is the only way to change this perception on the Magic.