With the playoffs out of reach, the logical conclusion for the Orlando Magic might be to tank to secure a better draft spot. But, for better or worse, it is not a likely path.
Take a look at the NBA standings — or Tankathon — at the All-Star Break. It is quite a sight to see.
The NBA has a potentially chilling race to the bottom developing. Seven teams are within a game of the worst record in the league. and the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks could easily start slipping.
If there was ever the motivation to lose and separate yourself from this pack, it woudl be this year. Things are so bunched up, every win can drastically change a team’s odds.
Tanking in this situation is advantageous for sure. But that might be the one thing the Magic are likely to avoid doing.
President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond have publicly stated their dislike of the term and the notion. Coach Frank Vogel talked all last year about “karma” and how winning will set things right in the universe for the team.
Orlando likely still got its guy drafting Jonathan Isaac sixth.
The reality is as the Magic become more whole and play some young veterans they need to play for trade purpsoes, tanking is not going to happen.
This article in no way reflects my opinions on tanking. That is a different discussion that I believe has been discussed plenty.
This article reflects the idea that I do not believe the Orlando Magic have the capacity to tank with their circumstances.
As you are all aware the Magic started off this season on a tear. The Magic went 8-4 to start the year and wer the talk of the entire league, even without Elfrid Payton for most of that stretch. Since that 8-4 start, a plethora of injuries have plagued the Magic. They currently stand at a 18-39, which would give them the fourth best lottery odds in the draft.
But recently, the Magic have played a little bit better. They are 4-6 in their last 10 games and many of their core players are finding a groove.
Mario Hezonja has exploded onto the scene, averaging 16.1 points per game on 50 percent shooting during his last 10 games. Additionally, third string center Khem Birch has made a huge impact on defense and on the glass.
These improvements are not likely to disappear and there is a lot of help on the way.
The Magic have plenty of reinforcements on the way. Nikola Vucevic, Jonathan Isaac, Terrence Ross and Aaron Gordon are getting close to being healthy. It seems like Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon will be back right after the All-Star Break. And rookie Jonathan Isaac will play a few games for the Lakeland Magic before rejoining the Orlando Magic.
In addition to guys coming back from injuries, the Magic still have a roster spot to fill.
It seems clear the Magic were playing very well when both Shelvin Mack and D.J. Augustin were on the floor together. Before the Payton trade, these two helped Orlando win six out of 10 games.
President of Basketball operations Jeff Weltman said the Magic will likely add a third point guard after the All-Star break. If the Magic add a third point guard, it is possible they would be able to play D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack together more often by letting the third point guard get some minutes while giving Mack some more shooting guard minutes.
Fairly soon, the Magic will have ditched their current rotation that consists of guys who were intended to be end of the bench mentors. Soon, Orlando will have depth.
In fact, so much depth it probably will not allow them to lose games. The team is injecting talent into the roster and rotation. There will be an adjustment, but the Magic figure to be a better. Everyone seems excited finally to have their full roster back.
And the Magic will have tons of motivation to play these young veterans not merely to win games this year, but to set up their offseason plans.
It seems highly unlikely the Magic will bench either Vucevic or Gordon.
Vucevic provides scoring and spacing the team needs. Perhaps, even more importantly Vucevic has one year left on his current deal and it makes a lot of sense for Orlando to move on from him this offseason. The remainder of this season will be important for the Magic in regards to Vucevic as he will need to build as much value as possible.
The same goes for Bismack Biyombo. It does not seem likely the Magic will bench him due to his enormous contract. Any positive play the Magic get from Bismack Biyombo only eases the burden of his contract. Benching Biyombo will crater his value and that is impressive because there is not much value there to begin with.
Evan Fournier will likely continue to see a lot of playing time. While the Magic do not have to move on from Evan Fournier this offseason, they may seek to free up some financial flexibility.
Finally, and maybe most important of all is Orlando’s remaining schedule.
The Magic have the 10th easiest remaining schedule left in the league by opponent win percentage. With 25 games remaining, the Magic play eight games against teams that will likely be tanking harder than them. They also play two additional games against the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers who likely will not tank because they do not own their pick but instead are just flat bad.
Additionally, Orlando plays 14 of 25 of their remaining games at home which will benefit them greatly if their current home-road trend continues.
And those standings at the bottom of the league are extremely tight. Teams are winning more than ever at the bottom of the standings — the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks are both 18-41 at the break and are just two wins shy of tying the Brooklyn Nets who had the worst record last year.
While, fans may beg the team to tank it might just not be within their capability.
Perhaps, if the Magic can somehow manage to end up more injured than at other points in this season they can pull it off. But the Magic ending up with a full-blown tank seems unlikely.
There are no Patricio Garino’s or Stephen Zimmerman’s on this Magic team. And, in any case, the team was already playing its worst players and experienced success doing so. Orlando might very well be better than its current record indicates.
Be prepared for this team to go down fighting for better or worse.