By John Denton
April 13, 2017
ORLANDO – Upon making the decision to fire GM Rob Hennigan and change the Orlando Magic’s Basketball Operations leadership department – moves that came on the heels of a fifth-straight losing season – CEO Alex Martins wanted to make one thing explicitly clear on Thursday.
The Magic aren’t facing yet another long-term, drawn-out and massive rebuild, Martins stressed at a news conference to announce the firings of Hennigan and Assistant GM Scott Perry.
Because the franchise already has strong and committed ownership, because it has a solid coach in Frank Vogel and a promising core in place and because there will be multiple avenues available to re-stock the talent this summer, the Magic could potentially be missing only a difference-making GM in their pursuit of a playoff berth in the very near future, Martins said with conviction.
“I don’t believe this is a total rebuild; we’ve got a lot of the pieces and the foundation is already in place,’’ Martins said. “It’s about taking it to the next step, utilizing the foundation that we have, utilizing the assets that we’re going to have this summer and utilizing the expertise we’re going to have in roster-building (with a new GM). I don’t think we’re that far away.
“Without having gone through the interview process yet, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we’re one year away or two years away – I don’t know that yet,’’ the CEO continued. “It will play itself out as we identify who is going to lead us. But I believe in Frank (Vogel), who knows how to win, and we’re going to find an individual to lead our Basketball Operations that knows how to win. I don’t think we’re that far away, I really don’t.’’
At 29-53 this season and a franchise-worst 132-278 (.322 win percentage) over the past five seasons – none of which ended in playoff appearances – Martins felt the Magic were still far enough away to end Hennigan’s five-year run as GM. Far too many errors in the NBA Draft, whiffs in free agency, botched trades and stagnant player development convinced Martins that the Magic needed someone else making the calls on personnel decisions. He acted accordingly by firing Hennigan and Perry, while naming Matt Lloyd – an assistant GM the past five years in Orlando and someone with 13 years of prior NBA experience with the Chicago Bulls – as the team’s Interim GM.
“Some things didn’t fall (Hennigan’s) way, some of the decisions didn’t work out and maybe over a longer time horizon it would have turned for him,’’ Martins said. “But this business is about results and, in my estimation, five years was enough time to get results. Other organizations have proven it during that period of time.’’
Vogel, who just completed his first season with the Magic, has been given every assurance that he will continue to be the head coach regardless of the GM hired going forward. Vogel admitted that he was hurt by Magic failings that led to Hennigan’s departure. Hennigan hurriedly hired Vogel last May after Scott Skiles shockingly resigned his post as the Magic coach following just one season. Vogel wishes the Magic could have had more success this season in order to save the jobs of Hennigan and Perry.
“I’m thankful of them being very supportive of the job that we were trying to do here in light of a very difficult season with a lot of losing,’’ Vogel said. “They were very inclusive in their nature and our relationship is strong. This is a tough day. They’re both good men and good basketball people.’’
Vogel went along with an offseason plan crafted by Hennigan and Perry to add size, toughness and rim protection to the roster last summer via big men Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo. The problem was that the plan flew directly counter to the NBA’s sweeping trend of smaller, faster personnel and a much heavier reliance on 3-point shooting.
The Magic traded three players – namely standout guard Victor Oladipo – for Ibaka and signed Biyombo to a massive free-agent contract. However, the moves created a logjam along the frontline, forced players such as Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier out of their natural positions and it made the defense slow and immobile. It was apparent early on that the bigger lineup wasn’t going to work – Orlando lost is first three games and 11 of 17 – but Vogel kept trying to get the best out of his flawed roster.
The Magic ended up using Biyombo, the team’s highest-paid player, off the bench most of the season and traded Ibaka to Toronto on Feb. 14. By then, the season was already a wash and hopes of making the playoffs were long gone.
“It was a conversation of, `Hey, we have the opportunity to get Serge Ibaka. What do you think?’ I liked it and I was supportive of it,’’ recalled Vogel, referring to his conversations with Hennigan and Perry from last June. “That’s the way I had success in the past (by playing two big men). The league was changing, but I thought that would be a successful (move), but it didn’t turn out that way.’’
Vogel, who will have input into the next GM hire, has no desire to do both jobs. He said he is confident that the Magic will pick someone who he can work closely with because “I’ve got a lot of trust in Alex Martins and the DeVos family.’’
Vogel, like Martins, is hopeful that Orlando can land a strong leader, a persuasive communicator and someone who understands the nebulous dynamic of team building.
Vogel is hopeful that the new GM is potentially the final piece in the Magic getting over the hump and into the playoffs a year from now.
“My perfect situation who is there every day and we talk about everything every day,’’ Vogel said. “They give me ideas and I give them ideas on all of the decisions that we make on a daily basis. A lot of them are clear and a lot of them are not.
“Our mindset is to win now and I’m hopeful of whoever we bring in here shares that approach,’’ Vogel added. “I think our fans have endured enough losing and it’s time to get this thing into the playoffs as soon as we can.’’
So often in the NBA, when teams fail with veteran decision-makers loaded with experience, they look to mix their approach up by turning to younger minds influenced heavily by analytics. Conversely, when the unproven fail to make a difference, there’s often an overreaction toward finding a replacement that has a proven track record at the NBA level.
Martins said there will be no set requirement that the Magic’s next personnel director has previous NBA GM experience. Finding a person with the traits the team is looking for – team-building knowledge, decisive decision-making abilities and strong leadership skills – will be the deciding factors in who becomes Orlando’s next GM.
The Magic thought they had that person in Hennigan, a young executive who emerged five years ago after rising the corporate ladder with the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder – two franchises known for their ability to find talent and build strong teams.
When Hennigan wasn’t able to consistently find talent for the Magic or build a winner in Orlando, he lost his job. The next GM, Martins said, could be the benefactor of the Magic having most of the pieces in place to win in the near future.
“We took a chance on Rob and he was dealt a difficult hand when he first arrived here,’’ Martins said, referring to franchise center Dwight Howard demanding to be traded. “Some would say that he didn’t have the benefit of luck in the NBA lottery, which is true, but sometimes you have to make your own luck, which we believe we haven’t done enough of.
“The facts are that we’ve regressed this year and we made the decision that five years with this leadership team was enough to show improvement,’’ continued Martins, pointing out that the Magic had a top-10 payroll this past season and still came up short. “This organization has seen great success over the years, but this five-year period unfortunately hasn’t seen that same success. We feel as if we’ve fallen behind several of the teams that started this (rebuilding) process at the same time that we did or even after. But we also believe that we can catch up quickly with different leadership and a different approach.’’
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