A decade ago, the Orlando Magic needed a clean slate.
Their time as a contender had clearly run out. Dwight Howard was itching to leave — making a formal and public request before the lockout-shortened season began and then twisting in the wind of his own indecision throughout a miserable season. The Magic moved on from their successful head coach and the general manager left with him as chaos within the organization ensued.
The team needed to start fresh with whatever they could get. They needed to remake the roster how they saw fit.
But opportunity would not give them that chance. Not with the short-sighted way they tried to build and the misses they had in the draft process.
Their plan, entrusted to new general manager Rob Hennigan, would rely on the Draft. That was always a dangerous proposition. That inevitably hands over a lot of that clean slate to fate. The chance bounce of a ping pong ball will determine a lot of what a team can do.
Hennigan never really got his clean slate then.
He won a pick determined by Lottery just once through all that losing. Even with top-five picks in his first three full drafts, he could not put together a team to compete, seemingly one pick away from the guy and the opportunity he really needed.
Hennigan, because his plan was so dependent on the draft, could only take what fate gave him. He never really got to build the team he envisioned — on top of the general Sam Presti strategy of just collecting draft picks and young players without concern for fit until the team finds its star.
After a decade of taking whatever fate would give the team, luck has given the Orlando Magic the power to shape their roster and the clean slate to build again.
Jeff Weltman too sought to remake the roster and he undertook the same plan. He cleared his team’s books while his star player still had leverage, giving the Magic some cap room to play with.
But he still needed that last piece. That one player to shape his roster around and build upon. He could only hope he was there for him when the team picked.
The Magic learned the hard way in 2021 how much the Lottery can sting. Orlando lost its way to the third-worst record in the league but had to settle for the fifth pick, hoping someone dropped to them (that turned out to be Jalen Suggs to much celebration from Magic fans).
Getting the No. 1 pick in 2022 after another difficult season changes everything. That gives the Magic something they have not had in a long time.
Not only do they have that clean slate from starting a rebuild and starting over. They have every option in front of them. Weltman will now have the chance to draft a player to shape his roster and build the team he wants to build.
For the first time in a decade, Orlando will have every option available to it to create the team it wants to create. And this upcoming pick will play a huge role in that.
Most rebuilds start from a position without power. They start because of a crisis that necessitated change and a hard reset after a harder fall. Teams rarely get to choose when they have to make this turn because they want to hang on to whatever glory might still be in front of them.
Hennigan’s hands were tied every time he looked for his chance to get the star that would lead the Magic into the future.
His rebuild was always predicated on that luck. And if the team did not get it, they would be at the whims of what was available in the draft.
Hennigan never struck it big in the Lottery. The only pick determined by Lottery that he got to use was on Oladipo in the 2013 Draft. There were a lot of draft misses as he tried to build a team — or perhaps spent his time waiting for luck to strike his way.
Luck is not a strategy, even if it is an important part of the equation. But for the last decade, the Magic have largely had choices made for them.
They desperately wanted Marcus Smart before he surprisingly returned to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season. They got in early on Kristaps Porzingis, reportedly making a promise to him only to see him wait a year and go fourth the next season when they had the fifth pick (used on Mario Hezonja). They tanked two years for a three-player draft and put themselves in position for the highly touted Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid trio, only to get fourth and left with Aaron Gordon.
That is no excuse. Luck is only as good as the preparation. And Hennigan, despite his reliance n luck, never took the steps to build his team in whatever image he wanted.
Orlando never turned the keys fully over to Victor Oladipo — or even future All-Star Nikola Vucevic — just merely collecting talent without much direction or culture on the floor.
In the process, Orlando continually drafted duplicate talents that did not really fit together. Rob Hennigan’s obsession with Elfrid Payton led the Magic to have a backcourt that could not reliably shoot the ball (still a problem for the franchise).
Orlando missed out on Zach LaVine (taken 13th in 2014) and Devin Booker (taken 13th in 2015). The team traded Domantas Sabonis alongside Victor Oladipo in a last-ditch, desperate attempt to build the winner they could not draft.
Orlando was not dealt the chance to choose its own destiny. And the team under Hennigan floundered without that opportunity to control its destiny.
Weltman’s rebuild, undertaken when he pulled the plug and traded his own star before his hand was forced in March 2021, needed this clean slate to work from.
Weltman, in getting the luck of the first overall pick, has something his predecessor never had and never really worked to take advantage of: A true clean slate with the choice of how to rebuild and who to rebuild around.
Weltman now has the chance to make and remake his roster the way he envisions. He has all the options of the draft ahead of him, dependent on no one to leave him the player he wants.
Yes, there are important players on the roster. The team spent this past season building its culture and foundation under coach Jamahl Mosley.
And, as Weltman said after winning the Lottery, the team now has the privilege of pressure to get this pick right. That power is meaningless without making the right selection and then the secondary moves to make that player even better.
Orlando has their pick of the best players in this Draft. They have the cap room to chase after the players they want to support and make this team better. That gives them the chance to make the team they want.
The Magic have been at the hands of others for the last decade. They have been unable to find a clear direction, coming up with makeshift fixes or going back to play the Lottery again and again.
Finally, the wheel has spun in their direction. They are the ones in control now. And the options are seemingly limited to build the team they want at last.