Now that I’ve had nearly twenty-four hours to process it, I don’t like the Magic’s trade for Serge Ibaka in exchange for Victor Oladipo. I LOVE IT! It signals a change in strategy, not a restart of a rebuild. It means Orlando Magic management are seriously making a push for the playoffs now. Not just talking about it, or waiting until whenever the young talent develops.
Let me set this up for you. I’ve always said that what Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan was trying to build in central Florida was the Eastern Conference version of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I have made that comparison for a few reasons.
One, Hennigan came from there as the Assistant GM to Sam Presti, who came from San Antonio were he was the assistant to GM R.C. Buford. The second was that all three teams are “small market” teams who would have to rely on building through the draft because it was believed to be highly unlikely to get free agents to move to San Antonio, OKC and Orlando in their primes. My third was because Hennigan’s first major draft choice at the helm in Orlando was Victor Oladipo, who is similar to a guy he was instrumental in drafting to OKC in Russell Westbrook. Don’t believe me? Just compare Oladipo’s stats to Westbrook’s after their first three seasons. But now Oladipo is gone to the Thunder where he will likely be Westbrook’s backup, and maybe replace him if he bolts in free agency next summer.
So what does all this have to do with the Magic? Hennigan has realized that what makes the Oklahoma City and San Antonio model work is they have once in a generation players in Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan that attracted talent to play with them. Orlando doesn’t have that, and won’t have that if they continue to improve just enough to smell the playoffs, yet not get a taste. So Hennigan traded away his “Westbrook” realizing his original plans won’t work, but in hopes fast tracking them to the playoffs by netting his first big free agent of 2017. You read that right. I know it’s still 2016.
Serge Ibaka will be a highly coveted unrestricted free agent next summer, and Hennigan, who has history with him from their days in OKC, just filled a void that wasn’t going to be available this summer. So why waste another year of being in the bottom of the lottery to only draft a player who wouldn’t make an significant impact, when he could go get a player who is a three-time 1st-team All-Defensive player, in the last year of his deal and motivated to prove he deserves another major deal?
Hennigan is rolling the dice he can convince Ibaka to stay with the Magic past this season. This move is unpopular with fans, but when playoff basketball returns to central Florida in the spring of 2017 for the first time since 2012, they’ll get over it. Thanks to Hennigan’s success drafting (Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja, Aaron Gordon) and acquiring (Evan Fournier) talented perimeter players, the need for Oladipo is lesser than the need was for a defensive stud like Ibaka. We all saw how soft this team was in the middle last season. The only thing softer on Earth was baby food.
Oladipo may have been Orlando’s most popular player, but Nik Vucevic is their best player. You need to build around him to highlight his pros, yet cover his cons. Ibaka’s strengths are Vucevic’s weaknesses. I equate this move to when the Golden State Warriors traded Monta Ellis in his prime to the Milwaukee Bucks for Andrew Bogut. The Warriors would’ve never won a title without Bogut—as proven in the 2016 NBA Finals—and Klay Thompson would’ve never become the All-Star he is. The Warriors decided their best player was Steph Curry, and decided to build around him. Flipping Ellis for Bogut started their rise to Champions. Ellis is by far a better player than Bogut, but Bogut was more valuable to the Warriors than Ellis. The same is true for the Magic now. Ibaka is more valuable to the Magic than Oladipo due to their weaknesses inside.
The goal with new Head Coach Frank Vogel, who has a hard-nosed, gritty defensive mindset to go along with an inside-out offensive scheme judging from his days with the Indiana Pacers, is to get to the playoffs now. This newly constructed roster can do that, even if it’s a 7 or 8 seed. Once you’re in the playoffs, you can attract bigger top tier free agents who are interested in your young talent, I.E. the Boston Celtics.
Will you all be complaining about trading away Victor Oladipo if Hennigan could sway a say, Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant to Orlando? Remember he was apart of drafting them to OKC as well. It’s not as far fetched as once thought.