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At 4-6 on the year, the Orlando Magic have again started hot after most preseason prognosticators lumped them in with the Celtics, the Suns, the Jazz, the Sixers and other like-minded franchises attempting to turn things around through the 2014 NBA Draft.
The term “tank” has an odious stank to it that most basketball fans find putrid. This is understandable. Nobody wants their team to try and lose games, since it flies in the face of everything we hold dear about sports and competition in general. That long preamble aside, the Magic really need to start losing more if they’re going to get the best odds in next year’s draft.
That’s not to say this year’s crop of youngsters, plus a few mended or mending veterans — who are, with the exception of Jameer Nelson, all in their 20s — aren’t super fun to watch. No, this scrappy bunch has been incredible to watch grow, and they’ll continue to grow, but they shouldn’t accelerate at a pace that disallows any draft lottery contention.
Is the current lineup good enough to compete with the best in the East? No, and it’s fair to say they won’t ever be, even if Oladipo fulfills his promise, Vucevic continues to blossom, and we stop waiting for Tobias Harris to come back.
The Magic need to get better and it’s preferable to snag one of the exciting college freshman rather than a trading away some cap space to sign a second-tier player from next summer’s free agent class. Rookie deals are a huge luxury because of their controlled costs. This point becomes more acute when you take into account the summer of 2015 when most of the roster is up for an extension or in-line for a new deal.
But how to tank without pissing fans off while instilling a culture of losing? Purposefully losing games just isn’t the way to do it. Even though a lot of GMs hope their teams start losing this year, not a single one is going to make this overt. Rob Hennigan is the same way, and so is coach Jacque Vaughn, who has done an exemplary job with personnel that ranges towards the lower end in age and skill level.
There are a few steps the Magic could take to improve their chances in next year’s draft lottery without forfeiting their competitiveness.