Friday, August 31, 2012

The Dreaded 'T' Word

‘Tanking’ may be a word once again developing in Magic fans’ vocabulary for the first time since the beginning of that eye-gouging 2003-2004 season. The local and national media have for the most part been resigned to the fact that Orlando is in 'tank mode' for the next year or two as Rob Hennigan builds us back into a title contender. There are still more player transactions that must occur before we can truly analyze if we'll be terrible or not. This current roster has enough veterans and talent that the Magic could still potentially sneak into the playoffs in an overall weak Eastern Conference. Now if you're taking a peek at the potential top 10 prospects for the 2013 Draft class already, you don't want to hear that. 

Rob Hennigan is not in a hurry to win games. Not at the sacrifice of his vision. 'Henny' is looking at building a championship product with much help from the draft and new non-player personnel acquisitions. Selecting Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn appears to have been a fantastic start. We also have our coaching staff for the '12-'13 campaign in place. Now more than ever it seems the magnifying glass gets whipped out for any new Orlando addition. I'm waiting for articles about the new janitorial and parking staffs hired. Jacque was an atrocious point guard with the Magic, but he's done an amazing job already in convincing myself and Magic fans that he is up for the challenge. If we play the uptempo style of play the Head Coach has described, then we're going to have a fun year. Even if that high energy doesn't translate into victories, it'll reveal who is busting their ass to try and make a difference on this franchise. We'll know quickly who wants to be a Magic man in the long-term. Shipping off Dwight Howard to Los Angeles in that blockbuster 4-team deal with Philly and Denver has basically wiped the grim-filled slate clean. Dumping Jason Richardson and Chris Duhon will go a long way in improving the squad as well. Arron AfflaloAl Harrington, and Nikola Vucevic are just a few brand new faces we'll have to get used to. With 16 contracts going into training camp, 17 players if you count DeAndre Liggins who can't be thrilled at the E'Twaun Moore signing, Hennigan has some more decisions to make as far as more wheeling and dealing goes down or if he cuts contracts like Justin HarperJosh McRoberts, and Christian Eyenga off the payroll books.

Let’s be honest now. For the first time since the Rashard Lewis acquisition in the 2007 offseason, Orlando has zero pressure to perform well. That can either motivate a squad or lead down an awkward path of complacency and mass losses. Even if ESPN thinks so, there is no way in hell the Magic are only winning 21 games. I was a season ticket holder for that 21-61 '03-'04. I have witnessed the abhorrent scene of a team with no hope or support. The '12-'13 team can lose half of its roster to a bubonic plague and Hennigan can trade away the other half for a box of Amway toiletries, and I still see it tough for this Vaughn-led roster to win 30 games.

Tanking doesn't solve or guarantee anything. The 'Thunder model' that everyone seems to claim they want to imitate depended on the Blazers drafting Greg Oden, and the Sonics/Thunder 'brilliant minds' having the luck and great scouting of finding diamonds in Russell Westbrook (#4 pick) and James Harden (#3 pick). It took years for the Sonics/Thunder to become good. In that time they changed time zones and changing its name and colors. No one wants to see that happen to any Orlando team. It wasn't that many years ago where the Magic almost ended up in OKC or Kansas City. Losing games and having an outdated arena will do that. In David Stern's league you can play abysmal and still end up with a terrible draft class to select from. When you're dealing with eighteen and 19-year-old individuals, it is rare to find a healthy-minded and moldable 'can't miss' stud. We're not in the National Football League, lotteries exist to potentially punish tankers. The ping pong balls have to drop in your favor, and we've taken Pat Williams' good fortune for granted over time with beating the odds and earning three #1 spots for the Magic.

Other franchises in years past have endured nightmares from those damn ping pong balls. The absurd actions teams have gone to lose games are frightening as well. As the years of the Draft Lottery have gone by, more and more we find that, statistically, tanking doesn't get rewarded. Would it be nice if another Shaquille O'Neal or even uncertain Dwight Howard were waiting in the wings to be chosen as a new potential superstar? Of course. But until the NBA raises the draft age restriction, the risk of drafting raw kids will continue to be very high. 

My advice: Coach and play as best as you're capable of and the pieces will fall into place. You can do that while still developing your youth. We know it's something Stan Van Gundy was criticized about. Let Jacque and his staff input the new systems and culture, and build that foundation that will lead us to glory. Tanking isn't a guaranteed solution. Plus, you turn off your casual viewers and that leads to a large drop in ticket sales and merchandise. The hiring of Hennigan, and the removal of coaches, scouts and players has been done. The mentality to scout better  than all other NBA teams is there. If we don't have a top 5 draft pick, or even a lottery pick, we're in a better position to have much more consistently successful drafts than we have maybe ever. That's counting the Pat Williams, John Gabriel, John Weisbrod, and Otis Smith General Manager eras. Do your homework and execute. Training camp begins in a month. Let's have a fantastic season and win as many games as possible. 

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