Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Two years ago, acquiring a 2014 first round pick from the Denver Nuggets probably caused Magic fans to shrug and think, “Neat,” if they even noticed it at all in the chaos of Dwight Howard’s exit. The Magic were promised a first round selection in the 2014 NBA Draft from the worst of the two first round picks between Denver and New York, who had themselves given up the pick long ago for Carmelo Anthony.
What would ensue seemed predictable: Denver and New York would end up getting knocked out in the playoffs, and Orlando would end up with a pick somewhere in the upper teens or 20s.
Then, after last year, the Magic fanbase would have felt even more disinterested. The Knicks were back. They finished with the second-best record in the East — their 54 wins were the most in 16 years. Meanwhile, the Nuggets were a Western Conference juggernaut, finishing with the third-best record in the conference. The Magic’s pick felt securely locked in the 20s. Surely, the Knicks and Nuggets couldn’t fall off much from where they were last season.
This year came and went, and nothing unfolded predictably.
Denver, after capturing the No. 3 seed in the West last year, failed to make the playoffs this time around, struggling under a new head coach. It had been over a decade since the Nuggets weren’t part of the NBA postseason party.
Denver’s struggles might not have mattered if New York had ended up anywhere in the ballpark of last year’s success. But no: the Knicks spent most of the year grossly underachieving and getting all kinds of circus-like media attention centered around Mike Woodson’s handle of the team, Carmelo’s future, and the hiring of Phil Jackson upstairs. None of that attention translated into wins, however, and the Knicks too fell short of the playoffs even in an unusually weak conference.
(As a side note, Orlando won the battle for .500 with the Knicks handily.)
Let’s return to the Magic. Most of its future hope centered around a likely top-five pick in the 2014 draft. The other pick shouldn’t have been as exciting as it is now. The team might have drafted in the 20s somewhere, and the hope would have been for someone to just make the roster and be good enough to actually play.
Now, there are two lottery picks. The second one will likely find a Rodney Hood or Doug McDermott available. Both are excellent shooters, a role of need for the team. The already-exciting draft is now perhaps the most anticipated one in Magic history. And all of this is from the surprising mediocrity of two distant teams.
As luck, or divine intervention, or the prophetic mind of Rob Hennigan would have it, the Orlando rebuild is going to take a leap forward with these two lottery picks in June.
Someone needs to pay the lottery ping pong ball cleaners a lot more money. By the time they start bouncing around in front of the eager eyes of team executives on May 20, you’ll never be able to tell how much blood, sweat, and tears had soaked them right up until the last minute.