When the Orlando Magic traded the top overall pick

Jan 20, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins inducts Penny Hardaway into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame during the first half against the Milwaukee Bucks at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 20, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins inducts Penny Hardaway into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame during the first half against the Milwaukee Bucks at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

In the 1993 Draft, the Orlando Magic shocked the NBA when they traded the top overall pick to select Anfernee Hardaway, building the seeds of a Finals run.

As if it were a starting gun to the weekend and the crazy draft week that is ahead, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers began to send the NBA rumor mill into an overdrive.

The position the Celtics were in is a relatively unique one for the NBA. It is rare a team that just made the Eastern Conference Finals is taking one of the top picks in the Draft. It has not happened (before the Celtics took Jaylen Brown with the third pick last year) since the Detroit Pistons took Darko Milicic in the 2003 Draft (the Andrew Wiggins trade came after the Draft). The system is not built to give these teams the best young players entering the league.

But here Boston is. The Celtics have the top pick in the Draft and a big decision to make.

It has been widely assumed the Celtics would dutifully take Markelle Fultz and either keep him to groom him to play behind or alongside Isaiah Thomas or move him to get a star like Jimmy Butler or Paul George. One way or another, he was an asset to take the team over the top.

Then the news hit the wires Friday in a stream of confirming tweets. The Draft plot was thickening.

The whole complexion of the Draft changed in that 15-minute window. The talks of the Los Angeles Lakers becoming suddenly enamored with Fultz and willing to trade up to get him. The Draft’s silly season has officially begun.

At this point, it is beginning to look likely the Celtics and 76ers will complete this deal in some form or fashion. It will not change too many mock drafts or affect the Orlando Magic significantly. In all likelihood, Fultz is locked in as the top overall pick. And in all likelihood, the Celtics are targeting Josh Jackson, or to move the third overall pick for a bigger name.

But the Magic know exactly where the Celtics are today. They sat in their shoes (almost exactly, at least).

After drafting Shaquille O’Neal in the 1992 NBA Draft, the Magic went 41-41 and lost the final spot in the Playoffs to a tiebreaker with the Indiana Pacers. The Magic had just one ping pong ball in the 1993 NBA Draft Lottery. The chances were slim, to say the least.

When Orlando’s name did not come up first, the room knew something was up. And as David Stern unveiled each envelope, the impossible had occurred. The 41-41 Magic had won the NBA Draft Lottery for the second straight year.

Bob Costas on the NBC broadcast could only exclaim, “Unbelievable.” Pat Williams repeated, “Are you kidding me?” It was unfathomable.

But then the Magic had to get to work trying to figure out what to do.

Despite what Costas says to introduce the NBA Draft Lottery, Chris Webber was the consensus top overall pick. And like the Celtics, the Magic were set at his position.

Orlando needed a power forward, but there was a real question even in the mid-1990s about pairing Shaquille O’Neal with another dominant low-post scorer. Webber was the prize and the magic knew it. They would go through the rituals, working out Shawn Bradley and Anfernee Hardaway, but Webber was always going to be the pick.

When Hardaway made his presence known during the filming of Blue Chips with O’Neal, the bug grew that maybe Hardaway was the right pick. After all, as Pat Williams and John Gabriel said in the 30 for 30 documentary This Magic Moment, every good center needs a good point guard.

It helped when Hardaway dominated the Magic’s best defenders, Donald Royal and Anthony Bowie, in a group scrimmage Hardaway had with the Magic starters themselves. The question was, how do you make the obvious move while still angling for the player they actually want?

This Magic Moment did a fantastic job detailing the moves the Magic made to get Hardaway. They knew the Golden State Warriors, who held the third overall pick, were hungry for a superstar power forward like Webber. Webber would become one of the best passing big men in the league. He would be a perfect fit in Don Nelson‘s motion, fast-break offense.

Orlando held all the cards. They sent all the signals out they were going to pick and keep Webber. The fans expected it. They cheered when the team announced they were drafting Webber.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

But when Williams came out and told the fans they were working on a trade, the crowd quickly turned. Williams promised as the team acquired Hardaway, those boos would turn into cheers.

He was right.

The deal itself proved to be a steal. The Magic traded Webber for Hardaway and three future first-round picks. As Williams detailed in This Magic Moment, when he was asked how he got three first round picks, he said he originally asked for six.

The rest is history.

Hardaway was a four-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA player who is on the Mt. Rushmore of Magic history as one of the team’s four greatest players. He averaged 19.0 points per game and 5.0 assists per game in six seasons with the Magic.

Those three draft picks? Orlando actually only used one, drafting Mike Miller in the 2000 NBA Draft. He went on to win Rookie of the Year in 2001.

The team also acquired a 1996 and 1998 first round pick, which the team traded to the Washington Bullets with Scott Skiles to clear the cap room to sign Horace Grant in 1994. Golden State got that 1998 first round pick back and used it to draft Vince Carter before trading him to the Toronto Raptors for college teammate Antawn Jamison.

The lesson in all this is the team with the top pick holds all the cards. If a team is desperate enough to get to the top pick to make sure they get their guy, it will cost a lot. There is a reason it is so rare to see the first overall pick traded.

But typically it has worked out well for the team trading the top pick. It worked out for the Cleveland Cavaliers when they traded Andrew Wiggins and for the Orlando Magic when they traded Chris Webber. But for very different reasons. Trading Wiggins netted the Cavaliers Kevin Love, forming the foundation for their championship team. The Magic acquired a promising young player and future assets.

There is no blueprint for trading the top overall pick. No one remembers Roy Hinson and what he gave the 76ers when Pat Williams traded the top overall pick to the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers drafted the solid Brad Daugherty.

It is a risky gambit trading out of the top overall pick. But it is clear if a team can recoup a ton of future assets and get the player they want for their team, the rewards can be great. It helps having a core already established. A team ready to contend does not need an inexperienced rookie in need of development.

Next: Last six sixth overall picks should give Orlando Magic hope

As for the teams giving all that up to get to the top pick? Sometimes the grass is not always greener.