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Tonight’s game between the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder is very likely to end a certain way. The Thunder are one of the league’s best teams, perhaps the only reasonable candidate, aside from the San Antonio Spurs, to topple the Heat from their throne. The Magic are starting rookies and sophomores while working under the 20-win threshold. There’s room for variance in sports, but we’re unlikely to find it here.
However, as the Magic take the court in Oklahoma City, they will be facing off against more than just an overwhelming opponent. For the Magic, the Thunder are the goal line, the final realization of a plan that will hopefully lead the franchise back to better days.
When Rob Hennigan was hired as the Magic’s general manager this summer, it was a fairly clear declaration of intent. Hennigan had grown under Sam Presti’s supervision in the OKC greenhouse, where the optimal model for rebuilding an NBA franchise from the ground was re-established: hoard draft picks and young prospects who will hopefully pan out, keep maximum financial flexibility, avoid the questionable temptation of signing average veterans to long-term deals, and put your resources into player development. Oh, yeah, and luck into a superstar or two (or three, and trade the third away).
It’s that last part that is the most crucial piece of the puzzle. Fittingly, it’s also the hardest to emulate. It is perhaps somewhat unfair that Hennigan’s execution will ultimately be judged on his ability to stand idly by while ping pong balls are sorted out in the correct way in the correct year, but such is the nature of the business.
Meanwhile, as the Magic wait for a Kevin Durant or a Russell Westbrook to fall into their laps, they have already made several moves in the right direction since their last superstar — Dwight Howard — has left.