AP Photo/John Raoux
I’ve been watching the Orlando Magic since 1993. I’ve seen the Magic get close to winning a championship in two different seasons. First in 1995 with Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, then in 2009 with Dwight Howard. To witness my hometown team — the only sports team I have an emotional investment in — fail to reach their ultimate goal is frustrating. I can only imagine what other Magic fans were going through when Nick Anderson missed those four free-throws or Courtney Lee missed that incredibly difficult alley-oop layup or Jameer Nelson didn’t properly close out on Derek Fisher. However, through all that pain and suffering, I know that the odds of me being alive to see Orlando eventually win a title are good. Why?
Because I’m 24 years old. I’ve been fortunate to be blessed with good health and that’s something I’ll never take for granted.
Now imagine you’re Rich DeVos. This is you’re 21st season owning the Magic. You have been at the forefront of everything. You’ve been through the ups and downs of being a professional sports owner. But most importantly, you’re 85 years old and in the midst of dealing with a scenario in which your franchise megastar wants to be traded because he’s not sure he can win with Orlando anymore. The catch is that if you trade him, then you can’t win anymore. And how painful would that be? The truth, and this is not to purposely paint a grim picture but merely being realistic, is that there’s no telling how much longer you’ll own the Magic. You’ve been close to winning a championship twice and the clock is ticking. What do you do?
This is the reality that Orlando finds themselves in right now.
There is at least a fairly clear sense out there about what the Magic would eventually want in exchange for Howard if they decide, as widely expected between now and the March 15 deadline, to make sure they get something for their face of the franchise as opposed to risking the sight of their Team USA center bolting Orlando in July with nothing coming back in return, just like a certain TNT analyst did in the Olympic summer of 1996.
Sources familiar with Orlando’s thinking say that a picture of what the Magic will ultimately expect in return for their anchor has indeed begun to emerge, telling ESPN.com this week that Orlando would not hold out for youth and draft picks as the league-owned New Orleans Hornets were ordered to do in the Chris Paul sweepstakes. The Magic, sources say, would instead prefer to bring back multiple established veterans who can keep the team competitive.
Reason being: Orlando has moved into a new arena last season and has a 85-year-old owner in Rich De Vos. Sources say De Vos has little interest in starting over/rebuilding, as evidenced by the recent decisions to trade for Glen “Big Baby” Davis and re-sign Jason Richardson even though Howard’s future is so murky.
Because it’s starting to become clear that the Magic, at the behest of DeVos, are in the business of acquiring veterans in a Howard trade to win now as opposed to acquiring draft picks and young players to rebuild later, it’s important to understand the reasoning for this. Meaning, Orlando’s obsessive pursuit with winning.
It started in the offseason in 2009 after the Magic lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals that year. Once it became clear that Orlando was close to hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy, the goal became clearer — win for DeVos. I know because I was there when then-CEO Bob Vander Weide said it. General manager Otis Smith would say the same thing as well in interviews when I covered the team in person during that offseason. As such, everything the Magic have done for the past several years, the trades, the spending, it’s been done with the intentions of trying to win for DeVos. The term “going all-in” could not be more appropriate.
That’s why it should come as no surprise to the mainstream media and blogosphere that Orlando is not in the business of rebuilding with draft picks and young players if Howard is traded. Trading for veterans to field a competitive team and fill the Amway Center?
That’s an ancillary reason.
No, it doesn’t make any sense that the Magic should forgo the opportunity to reload through the draft. Orlando is asking to send themselves to the worst possible destination in the NBA and that’s purgatory, where perpetual mediocrity leaves franchises stranded on a desert island with only one way out, which is to blow the whole thing up and start over. But the Magic don’t care because they want to win for their owner and get that gold trophy. Or DeVos will die trying.
That’s love right there.