Orlando Magic have developed beyond needing Lottery luck

Jamahl Mosley and the Orlando Magic have the number one pick. Nobody knows yet what they will do with it. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Jamahl Mosley and the Orlando Magic have the number one pick. Nobody knows yet what they will do with it. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

Last year at this time of the NBA calendar, Orlando Magic fans were sitting on pins and needles.

They did not have a north star. The team had a second straight season angling for one day and hoping beyond hope the right four numbers would jump out of that lottery drum on this appointed day.

The Magic threw their season away (or let it wilt and twist in the wind) for something that was completely out of their power.

As Magic fans gathered for the Lottery Watch Party at Harry Buffalo in Downtown Orlando, there was a nervous energy. We all told ourselves (or at least I told people who gathered for this important night) that getting in the top four would be victory enough. Everything else would be a bonus.

But everyone knew there was a prize to be won. And finishing outside of what developed into a clear-cut top three in the 2022 NBA Draft would only leave the team still aimless and without the foundation to build around.

It was hard not to get wrapped up in the excitement and possibility. It always is on Lottery night.

When the Magic jumped up and got the No. 1 pick, the building exploded in celebration. Everyone knew right then and there the team had a future. Everything changed.

Everything about the team and its future relied on this night.

The Orlando Magic enter Lottery night with a different feeling after winning last year’s Lottery. The Magic do not need to win the Lottery to have a good draft. Their future foundations are now in place.

This is not the case this year. This year’s Draft Lottery is not essential to the team’s rebuild. The pressure of winning — how can there be pressure on the drawing of four ping pong balls at random? — is gone. The team has its prize and has its future. Now they are just adding to the foundation they have started building.

The pressure on the Draft is less on where the Magic’s pick lands and more on who they add to their growing core that can keep the team moving forward.

The Draft Lottery is an event for the Magic and Magic fans for sure. The idea of grabbing a player of Victor Wembanyama’s immense talent is too much not to think about. And nobody will be upset if the Magic turn up number one.

But for seemingly the first time in a decade-plus, since Dwight Howard left the team and kicked off a rebuild, the Magic now have that guiding light. They have that foundation. Winning the Lottery certainly does that to a team.

Orlando though changed its fortunes and changed its outlook with its play on the court and what their top overall pick in Paolo Banchero was able to forge.

The Magic had a successful season, growing from 22 to 34 wins. The Magic felt they were on the doorstep to the postseason.

Orlando went 29-28 after the team’s injury-filled 5-20 start. That put the Magic six games out of the final play-in spot — a three-game losing streak after the team was eliminated made that gap look bigger — and they will gladly point to the fact they were firmly in the playoff picture after the team got healthy.

The Magic finished sixth in defensive rating in the entire league after Dec. 7. A seemingly strong building block for the young team as Orlando thinks about how it grows and builds.

The fact this came from such a young team that was clearly still learning on the fly only adds to the optimism for next year.

Banchero, that number-one pick Magic fans celebrated so much a year ago, looks like a true star. He averaged 20.0 points per game as a rookie. He became a driving force for the young team, dealing with all the treatment that comes with a star player.

Everyone expects him only to get better.

The same could be said for Franz Wagner, his running mate and do-it-all forward. And the same could be said for Wendell Carter with his strong defensive presence and passing from the high post. The same could be said for Markelle Fultz, who is finally putting a litany of injuries behind him to play. The same could be said for Jalen Suggs or Cole Anthony or even Jonathan Isaac.

Orlando could stand pat and still feel like progress is possible. Although maybe not the amount of progress the team needs to keep growing.

And that completely changes the mindset about what the team needs to get out of the Draft Lottery.

Orlando has its foundation in place. They have their star player and the guiding light for the franchise. They do not need a home run in this draft — although if the ball clears the fence, no one will complain about more runs to continue the baseball metaphor.

Rather, what the Magic need out of this draft are players who will contribute to the team and add to what they are already building. They need players who will fit this vision and support what the team is already building.

Wherever the Orlando Magic land in this draft — whether they end up in the top four, fall from six to seven or eight, keep the Chicago Bulls’ pick or defer it to next year — the goal is less where the pick lands and more about who they get with the pick.

They need to find their shooter(s) on draft night or in free agency. They need to bolster their depth and front-court size. They need to put their team in a position to make the gains all the players have talked about. They need to build their playoff team.

That is the goal for the Magic on draft night. And that makes Lottery night so much less important.

What happens during the Lottery is not important. It will not greatly change the Magic’s preparations or what they hope to get out of it. Sure, the team could win and that will set up an entirely different path for the team to grow and walk.

But that win is not essential for the team’s growth and development. The team will grow and improve regardless of where they land in the Lottery. They will add important players who will support the foundation they have already built.

Lottery night is the cherry on top of a successful season and the bright future the team is building. The real work comes on the night of NBA Draft when the team adds the player who will support this vision.

Next. Orlando Magic should value flexibility as they improve. dark

Where that pick lands is less important now than who the Magic ultimately add. They have their star and their foundation to grow already.