Orlando Magic lose their bet drafting fifth and eighth in the NBA Draft

The Orlando Magic hoped for some Lottery luck but came up well short. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic hoped for some Lottery luck but came up well short. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports /

On March 27, president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman told Orlando Magic fans that it was a great day to be a Magic fan. It was a line he repeated after concluding a frustrating, injury-filled 21-51 season a month and a half later.

That March day, of course, was the day the Magic’s franchise changed forever. The day the team decided to restart from scratch, trading away two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic and veterans Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon and go all-in on building through the draft.

That team and that group had reached its end. Nobody really doubted that it was the correct course of action — three executives gave Weltman votes for executive of the year for it. But undoubtedly too, the plan and the idea for how to rebuild the Magic relied on an inherent risk.

The team was playing the Lottery again.

The Orlando Magic tried to set their rebuild up for the NBA Draft Lottery. In a loaded draft, the ping pong balls failed to deliver for them, dropping them to fifth.

Orlando was bad on the floor to end the season.

Despite some early energy and a few surprising wins, the young team settled in as one of the worst in the league. The Magic netted the third-worst record in the league and a share of the top odds to win the NBA Draft Lottery.

They did their part.

It may not have been the whole plan, but a good chunk of it in trading away their franchise’s foundations for the better part of a decade and two playoff appearances was to get the best shot the team could at winning an NBA Draft Lottery that executives had been waiting on for a long time — a potential four-star draft.

All the Magic needed to do was win their bet — a coin flip at 52.1-percent — and land in the top four.

Orlando’s rotten Lottery luck continued though. And while the Magic may still have a crack at one of the elite players in this draft, picking fifth and taking the scraps of the talented five players so many are eager to see enter the league is hardly going to comfort fans.

Not after such a difficult season.

The Magic did not strike rich with the Lottery. The odds again let them down.

"“You go through a long season and it has been a grind and you hope to cash in those chips in the end,” Weltman said after the Lottery took place. “That’s the nature of this stuff. it’s not a calculated risk, it’s just a risk. It’s just kind of dumb luck. Honestly, I look at it now as we have a lot of work to do and we get to put a lot of finer point on the work.”"

It is hard to say the Magic came out so poorly on Tuesday night. They did keep the Chicago Bulls’ pick acquired in the Vucevic trade and hold two top-10 picks in the draft, after all. And the fifth pick will still net one of the top players in this draft.

But with so much promise contained in this draft class and all the pain the team went through to get this opportunity, it is hard not to feel disappointment. Jeff Weltman’s face the moment Mark Tatum revealed the Magic as the fifth pick on the ESPN broadcast said it all.

The team now has to hope that it can draft and develop the right player and make a shocking leap. It is not impossible at all. How everyone evaluates the draft beforehand is not usually how the draft ends up looking when everyone’s careers are said and done.

And Orlando still has two cracks at a top-10 pick and a chance to add some talented players.

"“You don’t get that very often,” Weltman said after the Lottery. “There are some good players there. Now that we’re all slotted into our positions, agents will start to send guys around and we’ll get to know these guys a little better. I don’t look at it as we get two shots at it but more as we get to add two young players. I know we ill. and we already have a bunch of good young players. this is an exciting day for us in the respect that we are going to add two, high-character guys to our group as we start to move forward.”"

This is where the real work begins as Weltman put it.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Now the team has to get down and evaluate the players who might be available to them, bring them in for workouts and get to know them as people. In one sense, this day was a day the team had no control over and its results only clarify the work ahead.

But there is still no escaping the narrative Weltman created for this draft, whether intentionally or unintentionally. This was meant to be a draft to define the franchise and one to push it past the rebuild of the last decade that spun its wheels.

That rebuild largely failed because it could never find its stars. It failed on a lot of Lottery nights like this one — seemingly one pick away from Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Trae Young or some other potential franchise-changing talent.

As reductive as it sounds, it is hard for any rebuilding team to advance without that central player to build around. And it is hard for any team to compete for championships without an elite player to lead them.

Orlando may still be searching for that. This pick will not be the savior that the team hoped for. And barring some surprising trade or development, the Magic may well be back on Lottery night next year hoping for luck to bounce their way.

It did not do so enough to move the needle Tuesday night. And either the Magic will have to move the needle themselves by staying active in the trade market or they will have to push forward and either hope a future star emerges from the Draft or from within the roster.

Or they have to bet that they can strike it rich when they go through this again next year.

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No one draft was ever going to be a cure-all.