FanSided 2030: Alex Martins’ promise for Orlando Magic still seems far away

Nikola Vucevic remains the only Orlando Magic All-Star since Dwight Howard as the team still seeks a championship path. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Nikola Vucevic remains the only Orlando Magic All-Star since Dwight Howard as the team still seeks a championship path. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins said he believed the team would win a title before 2030. As we look ahead, the Magic are far away from that goal.

During the beginnings of the Orlando Magic’s rebuild after trading away Dwight Howard, the Orlando Sentinel started a series trying to envision what the city and area would be like in 2030.

It was more than 15 years away, and so the future seemed endless. Even for a team like the Magic. They would recover quickly. That is what had happened before. Their plan and their vision for a rebuild was all still yet to be written.

The Sentinel asked Magic CEO Alex Martins where he thought the Magic would be in 2030. He answered the way any executive would or probably should. He believed in his team and its process. He believed in the endless possibility of the future.

Martins told the Sentinel that by 2030 he expected the Magic to have won a championship. He expected the team to make its recovery and be back among the NBA’s elite.

Orlando was just starting to build back again. They had Victor Oladipo and knew another high pick was likely coming. But the years passed and the team did not make progress. It took six years for them to return to the playoffs.

Martins’ statement has since become a point of ridicule.

It was a line used in that year’s version of NBA 2K to throw some slight shade on how far the Magic were from actually winning a title. When fans feel especially like trolling each other or criticizing Martins and his tenure as the sole man in charge of the Magic’s entire organization, this is the line they will likely point to.

It was a no-win situation for the Magic’s lead executive.

Say something cautious and realistic, and he would get painted as not believing in his team or his process at such an early stage of the rebuild. Say what he said, and he would be characterized as unrealistic or potentially put himself in a box if his team did not achieve this lofty goal.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Martins gets overly criticized for this statement. The quote itself was taken out of context by not acknowledging the Sentinel put him in this difficult position as part of a series on the future of the area. That in itself likely put Martins in a position to say something overly optimistic.

Still, the statement hangs in the air. The future of the team seemed less in doubt then but he has not delivered the franchise back to the second round, let alone contention.

And while Orlando has returned to the playoffs after a six-year absence, the team still seems no closer to winning a title.

A lot can change in a decade

FanSided completed its own 2030 project, looking into the trends, teams and players throughout sports that will define the next decade. They predicted and played out what the next decade of champions will look like — favoring Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks above other promising young NBA teams.

You would be hard-pressed to find any mention of the Orlando Magic in this project. Just like in the present, the Magic are a relatively nondescript and anonymous team.

For good reason. The NBA is about star power. The teams with the best players are the ones that win championships. It is the stars that dictate what the NBA and its history will look like.

The legacy of the 2010s was the growing obsession with star power.

It started with LeBron James dictating where he would play rather than accepting the winds of the NBA Draft Lottery and continued with “The Process” and multiple teams turning their franchises over to position themselves for Lottery odds in the hopes of striking rich with multiple top draft picks. In the middle was the growth of the trade machine and salary cap literacy.

The Magic were involved in all of this. They saw their superstar grow sour on the team by 2011. They traded him for what they could and decided their best path forward was to try to collect draft picks and build from the bottom.

Their bad luck and mismanagement put the team in an incredible hole they are just now starting to dig out of. Orlando’s breakthrough to make the Playoffs these last two years considering where they were is an accomplishment.

But the team has to look forward. And contention will inevitably require sacrifice, change and luck.

Since Dwight Howard left in 2012, the Magic have had just one All-Star in Nikola Vucevic. He is hardly considered a centerpiece player or the kind of perennial All-Stars teams need for contention.

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The Magic’s only player with “elite” skills is Jonathan Isaac. His defense is among the best in the league, but he still has untapped potential offensively. and he will miss the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL, forcing the Magic to make a financial commitment to him with just one full year under his belt.

The Magic have made the playoffs in consecutive seasons. But two straight appearances as a seven or eight seed and two five-game first-round losses has the team rightfully asking how does it improve and get better?

Unclear future

The team’s future is certainly still unclear. The Orlando Magic still doe not have a clear path to contention, a star to build around or anything more than a solid foundation that is good enough to send them to the postseason.

President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has his work cut out for him to improve this team. He will need to mine the draft for a player who outperforms his spot or get lucky in the Lottery during an odd off year for the Magic. Or pull off the miracle trade.

Fans wringing their hands about the Magic’s future are right to think and ask where the team’s next star might come from. It is the central question of the Magic’s building program. And a reason so many fans ponder potentially resetting the roster — trading away the All-Star in Nikola Vucevic and other young veterans in a bid to move up in this year’s draft or position the team for a potentially stronger 2021 draft.

The Magic are still trying to find their star. That is the center of any successful championship outfit.

It is no wonder FanSided’s 2030 project latched onto LeBron James, Luka Doncic and even young, waiting-to-prove-themselves players like Devin Booker or likely 2021 top pick Cade Cunningham.

This look into the crystal ball is whimsical for sure. The NBA is constantly changing and shifting. And one player can indeed change everything. And that can change quickly.

The Magic were an expansion franchise excited just to be in the league and three years later they had a generational talent in Shaquille O’Neal.

When the Magic lost Tracy McGrady in 2004, it seemed like there would be a long road back to contention even with top overall pick Dwight Howard coming into the fold. Five years later, the Magic were in the Finals and believing they were set for a long championship window.

That closed quickly and it has not come close to reopening since. Orlando will have to be smart and strategic and a bit lucky to find the star that ties everything together.

They hope that these past two years have built a foundation and a culture that will last until then.

That is still no guarantee a championship window will open. That is no guarantee that Martins will be able to make good on his vision for his team in 2030.

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The fact of the matter is that while things do change quickly in the NBA, the Magic are still far from a title.