By John Denton
May 16, 2017
NEW YORK – No one in the basketball world is about to feel sorry for the Orlando Magic’s recent run of bad luck in the NBA Draft Lottery, especially considering how the franchise dominated the proceedings in years past, including the historic win 25 years ago that netted them larger-than-life center Shaquille O’Neal.
Orlando was hoping to recreate that 1992, umm, magic on Tuesday night in the NBA Draft Lottery, but instead it saw its franchise fall to the No. 6 pick in the June 22nd NBA Draft. The Magic came into the night armed with the fifth-best odds at landing the No. 1 pick and holding a solid shot at staying in the top five. However, it dropped to sixth and, to make matters worse, it whiffed on nabbing a future first-round draft choice from the rival Los Angeles Lakers.
Magic interim GM Matt Lloyd said time and again following Tuesday’s lottery that falling to sixth wasn’t catastrophic for the franchise because of the depth of talent in next month’s draft.
“It’s not what we hoped for, but at the same time we’re going to be able to expose an opportunity here,’’ said Lloyd, who watched the proceedings from the crowd and toted a trendy Magic blue fidget spinner as a good-luck gadget. “The work that our staff has done and all the research that we’ve done, it’s going to pay off in a very positive manner. So, we’re still excited.’’
Magic head coach Frank Vogel, who represented the franchise on the podium for the made-for-TV proceedings, echoed the sentiments of Lloyd. Vogel is working closely with Lloyd to work out and evaluate college prospects and he’s convinced that Orlando can still snag an elite player at No. 6.
“You feel that way every year that if you do your homework, you are going to get a good player,’’ Vogel said. “This is a deep draft and this is why we continued to preach winning down at the end of the season because there’s so many times where the sixth pick turns out to be as good as the first pick or the 10th pick is as good as the first. We’ve had a lot of luck in my career with one, two or three picks and them turning into top players, so that’s the plan here.’’
The Boston Celtics, which moved into the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night, won Tuesday’s Draft Lottery – a position they got via the Brooklyn Nets’ acquisition of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry several years earlier.
It was the third consecutive year that the team with the best odds captured the top spot in the NBA Draft. That wasn’t the case at all from 2004 (when the Magic did it and drafted Dwight Howard) until 2015 (when Minnesota did it and drafted Karl-Anthony Towns). Also, it is the first time ever that the Celtics have won the Draft Lottery in their storied history.
The Lakers will draft second, while Philadelphia is third, Phoenix is fourth, Sacramento is at No. 5 and the Magic are sixth. The rest of the lottery will Minnesota at seventh, New York at eighth, Dallas at ninth, Sacramento at 10th, Charlotte at 11th, Detroit at 12th, Denver at 13th and Miami at 14th. The Suns, Magic, Timberwolves and Knicks were the teams to fall on Tuesday from where they were slated via their odds.
In addition to dropping to sixth, Orlando also failed in its bid to nab an unprotected first-round pick from the rival Lakers – something that was the final piece of compensation for the 2012 trading of Howard. When the Lakers jumped to the No. 2 pick on Tuesday, it meant that the Magic will now get the No. 33 pick in this June’s draft and another second-round selection in 2018 from the Lakers.
Had the Lakers fallen out of the top three on Tuesday, Philadelphia would have gotten their first-round pick next month and the Magic would have owned their 2019 first-round selection.
It wasn’t to be for the Magic on Tuesday night – not with their own pick or that of the Lakers. Still, the Magic are excited about the prospects of having four draft picks under their control – something that could help them hold a bit of control over the latter stages of the first round.
“To come out with six, 25, 33 and 35, that means we’ve got four of the top 35 picks in the draft and the percentages are playing in our favor,’’ Lloyd said. “So we’re going to have the opportunity to move around a little bit (potentially with trades) and have a handle on the draft. So it’s exciting.’’
Point guards are expected to dominate the early stages of the June draft. Some mock drafts have playmakers Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and D’Aaron Fox listed as the potential top three picks, and N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. could work his way into that conversation. Forwards Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum and Jonathan Isaac are also expected to be taken within the top 10 picks, while talent shooting guard Malik Monk could be within range for the Magic at No. 6. No team struggled to shoot from the perimeter more than the Magic last season.
“People talk about this draft being guard heavy; no, it’s player heavy,’’ ESPN analyst and former San Antonio Spurs standout Bruce Bowen said, referring to the depth of the draft.
The NBA’s Draft Lottery is a fickle foray into both faith and fantasy, one where the bounce of a ping-pong ball means almost as much as a bounding basketball and respected executives – many of whom have dedicated their lives to studying the sport – are reduced to rubbing hokey good-luck charms and casting wishful prayers.
No one understands this maddening, yet meaningful process more than the Magic, a franchise that has often played a leading role in the made-for-TV event. Much of the Magic’s past success can be directly traced to winning lotteries – starting with that first victory 25 years ago that resulted in O’Neal donning blue and black pinstripes. Similarly, much of Orlando’s frustration and lack of luck in recent years can be pointed to striking out in the NBA’s annual ping-pong process.
The Magic had the best overall odds in 2013, but dropped to second. They had the third-most chances in 2014 only to see Cleveland and its 1.7 percent odds leap to the top of the field, dropping the Magic to fourth. And in 2015 and ’16, the Magic stayed in their spots heading into the lottery, resulting in the fifth and 11th picks.
Over the past four years, the Magic drafted Victor Oladipo (second in 2013), Aaron Gordon (fourth in 2014) and Mario Hezonja (fifth in 2015). Oladipo was traded to Oklahoma City last June, while the others have yet to enjoy major success at the NBA level. However, the Magic are confident that all three – along with 2014 draft-night trade acquisition Elfrid Payton – are about to enter their primes and return the franchise to prominence.
“Maybe the basketball gods don’t want to be too generous with us right now,’’ joked Magic Senior Vice President Pat Williams, who represented the franchise in the back-stage room where the actual lottery proceedings take place. “Maybe it will be another 10 years or so until it is our turn (to win the lottery) again.’’
The NBA Draft is June 22, and the Magic are already deep into their preparation. The team sent an army of executives to the Draft Combine in Chicago last week and worked out elite point guard prospect Dennis Smith Jr. in Orlando on Monday. UCF center Tacko Fall, all 7-foot-6 of him, is scheduled to work out in Orlando for the Magic on Thursday. In the days and weeks ahead, dozens of other prospects are expected to come to Orlando for workouts and interviews with Lloyd, Vogel and others.
“From a philosophical perspective, we’re going to try and get a player who we feel can be a star,’’ Lloyd said. “There’s going to be players in that range that feel can outkick their coverage from where they are picked. We’re going to get them all in, get them all lined up and then we’re going to get the best one.’’
Vogel, who is known for his positivity as a coach, said Tuesday’s results are far from being a setback for the Magic.
“It’s not the end of the world,’’ Vogel said. “Like we’ve said, this is a deep draft and there are many, many times where you get a player at six, seven or eight or 10 and it ends up being better than the top pick or the No. 2 pick. So we’ll do our homework and we’ll be diligent about the process.
“There’s going to be a good player there for us at six and we’re excited about that,’’ Vogel added.
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.