The Magic Follow the San Antonio–Oklahoma City Model to Success

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Magic hoping to become the Oklahoma City Thunder

The Orlando Magic got a close up look at their possible future Sunday night. The Magic fell short 98-101 in Oklahoma City to the Thunder, but In defeat they saw what General Manager Rob Hennigan hopes and plans to turn them into.

The Magic’s rebuilding project is ahead of schedule, even though they are currently 7-17 and in 13th place out of 15 in the Eastern Conference. Orlando fans can thank the San Antonio Spurs & Thunder for that. Orlando has plenty of young talent with a nice mix of seasoned veterans, but it probably still won’t be enough to keep them from having one of the bottom three worst records this season, and that’s okay. That means they have a higher chance of earning one of the top three picks in the 2014 NBA Draft.

The 2014 Draft Class is projected to be loaded with franchise building and cornerstone players. Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart to name a few. The Magic want to build a consistent championship contender thru the draft like fellow small market franchises, the Oklahoma City and San Antonio. The Thunder built their championship contending team based on the model of the San Antonio Spurs, where GM Sam Presti began his career. Presti was Magic GM Rob Hennigan’s tutor in OKC. Hennigan has already laid the down the Spurs/Thunder model in Orlando.

He first signed a former back up point guard and a former highly respected league veteran, to his first head coaching job in Jacque Vaughn. Presti did the same when he hired Scott Brooks, another former back up point guard with a championship pedigree from his time with the Hakeem Olajuwon led Houston Rockets.

Then he cut ties to the old regime by trading away Dwight Howard and using that trade to bring in young talent in Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, and a seasoned veteran in Aaron Afflalo. Later, he traded away fan favorite and free agent to be JJ Redick to the Milwaukee Bucks for Tobias Harris, which may be his shrewdest move yet. Presti did the same in Seattle with the Sonics—before the move to OKC—when he traded franchise Star Ray Allen to Boston for the draft rights to Jeff Green and let Rashard Lewis walk and sign as a free agent with Orlando.

Then Hennigan added his first cornerstone piece in Victor Oladipo with the 2nd pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. In 2007, Presti helped his fortunes and the Sonic/Tunder franchise when he drafted Kevin Durant 2nd. Now I’m not saying Oladipo is the Magic’s Durant, but early in his rookie campaign he’s showing that he is prime to lead a revival of a franchise that was just competing for a World Title only four years ago.

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Oladipo will lead the Magic’s resurgence into becoming one of the NBA’s elite.

In the coming years, Hennigan will be looking for a Russell Westbrook and James Harden to pair up with Oladipo. The 2014 NBA Draft will probably be his best bet to do so. It’s too early to say what additions the Magic are looking to make via the draft. Afflalo has been a pleasant surprise as a combo shooting guard/small forward. You have to guess he’s in the future plans. Plus you have Mo Harkless and Tobias Harris steadily improving at those positions, therefore do you need Wiggins or Parker? You don’t want a log jam at wing positions.

Word is the Magic brass want Oladipo to be more of a point guard in the mold of a Russell Westbrook. So does that rule out Marcus Smart? Julius Randle would be a nice power forward compliment to Vucevic. That selection would make great sense. Then, there is always the possibility Orlando misses out on a top pick by sliding into the 8th seed of the playoffs in an Eastern Conference where half the playoff teams could have losing records.

The next two years will be telling for the Magic. Here’s where patience will need to be a virtue. The Thunder were bad enough that they were able to draft Russell Westbrook going into Durant’s second season and then were futile enough to draft James Harden number three overall the following year. In the 2010 playoffs, the Thunder surprised many by pushing the defending Champion L.A. Lakers in the first round of the playoffs to six games. Three years is all it took. The Magic are technically in year two of rebuilding a team that was just in the NBA Championship race two season ago.

Magic fans should take a Que from the OKC fans and support this team now to give them the same “all in this together” feel Thunder players felt from their crowds. It’s only a matter of time before the Magic Kingdom is the center of the basketball universe again, then the stain of another goofy, misguided, arrogant 7 foot superstar will be wiped away.

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