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Throughout the years of the Association’s existence, we’ve seen numerous ways of how teams choose to rebuild. Of how they go about attempting to bring their teams from positions of mediocrity or consistent failure, and into the elusive contender field that is rarely occupied by more than five or six teams from year-to-year.
There are different methods, for sure. Blowing it all up and starting from scratch by building through the draft (don’t make me say tanking), as of recently at least, seems to be the most common way.
Some teams are able to rebuild through free agency. Others are just unintentionally bad, catch a few lucky breaks, and manage to land a high lottery pick who works out, and they’re able to build around that player.
Then there’s what we’re seeing the Magic do right now, which we may have seen a similar version of before.
Back in October of last year, Magic Basketball’s Nate Drexler wrote about the issue surrounding Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis still being on the Magic roster, for they looked as if they would get in the way of developing the young talent. He wrote that dealing them was probably for the best — a near-consensus opinion at the time — as they were both believed to be decent players on relatively fair contracts, therefore they each had solid trade value.
We know what happened after that: the season began, Affalo’s trade value went up, and Davis’ down. Big Baby was, as expected, proving to be nothing but a potential trade piece eating up minutes that should have been going towards the development of the future of the Magic’s roster at his position: Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn, and Andrew Nicholson. On February 21st, Big Baby and the Magic agreed to a buyout shortly after the trade deadline expired.
Arron Afflalo, on the other hand, was everything the Magic could’ve hoped for and more after a disappointing first year with the team. He put up near All-Star caliber numbers in the first half of the season, was providing a positive veteran presence in the locker room, and was helping the Magic stay away from the embarrassing Philadelphia-level of bad.
Trade rumors circulated about him throughout the season, but at the deadline, Afflalo was still on the Magic roster. This decision was questioned, but I couldn’t help noticing it wasn’t the first time a team had kept a close-to-All-Star level player around as they built their way back up into contention, instead of trading him away for young talent.
Like the Magic have over the past two seasons, the Pacers missed the playoffs every year between 2007 and 2010. The comparison between the two franchises is a stretch, given that Indiana was a fairly average team around that time, instead of bad, but you have to imagine they might have been considering a dramatic rebuild after three straight 9-seed finishes to the season, followed by a 10-seed finish. And heck, maybe what they did eventually became just an unorthodox rebuild.
Although, what did they do exactly? The main thing was certainly that they drafted exceptionally well, by finding two pivotal players for the future who weren’t too high up on the board: their then-shooting guard, now-small forward and center, with the 10th and 17th picks respectively — Paul George and Roy Hibbert. Both these players are now two-time All-Stars.
Mentioning Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic in the same sentence as PG and Roy at this point is probably crazy, but it’s looking like Orlando acquired two real gems who could seriously take them places in the coming years.
More importantly, and tying back in with what the Magic did by keeping Afflalo around, is that the Pacers kept Danny Granger on their roster through their rebuild. He was of a similar age to Arron now — and like Afflalo, his trade value was through the roof — but throughout the rebuilding of their core, Danny remained in Indiana.
As noted, the comparison between the two teams is certainly a stretch, but it’s there.
Obviously, the speed at which the Pacers developed their young talent is rather uncommon — Paul George, in particular, went from a kid averaging 12 points and 6 rebounds to a top 5 MVP candidate. Roy Hibbert became a perennial Defensive Player of the Year player.
But with ‘Dipo and Vucevic taking huge strides in their games, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that we may see the Magic’s youth make similar improvements. Sure, they probably won’t be contenders in two years. This is expected, as they had a much lower floor to start on.
That’s not to say the ceiling couldn’t be just as high. Time will tell.