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Orlando is in trouble now because it’s not good at drafting

May 14, 2012, 6:38 PM EDT

Miami Heat v Orlando Magic Getty Images

More and more research is showing, if you want to build a sustainable winner in the NBA you need to do it on draft day.

Look at the teams still playing. Miami had to draft Dwyane Wade, which made it possible to bring in Shaq to get them one title (and LeBron James doesn’t come there without Wade). The Thunder are an obvious and easy example with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all drafted by the franchise. The Spurs not only drafted Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, they found Manu Ginobili late in the second round and have rebuilt their roster with youth through the draft. The Lakers drafted Andrew Bynum and made a draft-day trade to get Kobe Bryant. Boston drafted Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.

Orlando drafted Dwight Howard in 2004 and that set the tone for the past seven years, including one trip to the finals. But what they have done since then to build a team through free agency and not the draft has left them in a bind this summer, scrambling to find a trading partner to get a big piece to go next to Howard (good luck with that) or maybe having to move Howard.

Why don’t they have the pieces. Look at their draft since 2004: First rounders are Fran Vazquez (11 overall), J.J. Redick (11), Courtney Lee (22) and Daniel Orton (29). That’s just four first round picks in seven years and only one who panned out for them (Redick, although Lee had moments). The second rounders are all misses. By the way, who was drafted after Orton in 2010? Landry Fields, Devin Ebanks, Jerome Jordan, Luke Harangody and Jeremy Evans (not rock stars, but guys who might contribute).

Why the problem? Alex Kennedy has details at Hoopsworld that should make the stomachs of Magic fans turn (read the whole post about what the Magic need to do next).

The main reason that Orlando hasn’t been able to draft contributors is because they don’t put much time or effort into the pre-draft process.

When Orlando drafted Orton, they hadn’t seen him work out in person. Nearly every other team in the league had witnessed Orton struggle in workouts and knew of his knee issues. The Magic selected him sight unseen, and Orton isn’t the exception. Justin Harper had never met or interviewed with Orlando before they traded for his draft rights last year.

Rival executives openly joke about the Magic’s approach to the pre-draft process. Most teams interview and work out everyone on their draft board. Some teams will even bring in a player multiple times to make sure they have a good read on his personality and game. The Magic’s lack of preparation has hurt them and a new regime must have a better approach to the draft.

You can expect the Magic to deny the report in 5…4…3…

Whatever happens with Howard, Jameer Nelson and the rest of the circus this year, the change in the approach by the new regime is key. (We say that like it’s going to happen because we don’t imagine both coach Stan Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith lasting much longer.) If you are going to win and stay on top, you do it through the draft. It is how good teams stay on top.

  1. stoudemelo - May 14, 2012 at 6:48 PM

    The Magic got the big one pick right grabbing Dwight not Emeka.

    A lot of “experts” were 50/50

    although everything else has been terrible

  2. toddwoodfield - May 14, 2012 at 7:03 PM

    A little misleading. You forgot about Jameer Nelson who the Magic traded a 2005 first rounder to the Nuggets for the 20th pick. The Magic made that pick and he is only 1 of 5 all-stars from the 2004 draft.

  3. liljere24 - May 14, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    We didn’t need this article to tell us the Magic were in trouble, see Howard, Dwight, Van Gundy, Stan, you guys might have a few articles on that

    • dadawg77 - May 14, 2012 at 8:22 PM

      If the Magic would have gotten some quality from their drafts, maybe they don’t sing Lewis.

  4. southpaw77 - May 14, 2012 at 7:17 PM

    The Celtics didn’t draft Rondo, the Suns did but thanks to their cheap owner they dealt draft picks such as Rondo, Deng, Nate Robinson and Fernandez.

    • kylos13 - May 15, 2012 at 3:13 AM

      Then they NEED to hire whoever was drafting those guys back! They’re going to be in a lot of trouble very soon.

  5. rajbais - May 14, 2012 at 7:29 PM

    Give Orlando a break!!!! Courtney Lee was okay, but he ruined his own career by not playing well after being traded for Vince Carter!!!

    Plus, the draft is an outdated process!!!! It doesn’t help that much anymore (unless you’re not stupid and draft in the top three)!!!! All the earlier drafted players are too young and ill-paired to be in the NBA, but the later guys are lost in the shuffle and it’s a crapshoot there!!!

    My goodness, the number of good players (whether did you need them to start or be in the rotation) is too small to the point where you don’t even need the second round!!! You’re better off letting the remaining picks after Round 1 be in a free market!!! The teams can sign players that they know are fit for their organizations or let players pick places where they can play or go back to school!!!

    Players will be there and evolve, but you need ready-made players in order to win!!!

    • cmehustle - May 14, 2012 at 7:50 PM

      Here is a list of second round draft picks who either start or are rotation players from the second round…2010 Landry Fields, Devin Ebanks 2009 Sam Young, Dejuan Blair, Jonas Jerebko, Jodie Meeks, Marcus Thorton, Chase Budinger, Danny Green, 2008 Nikola Pekovic, Mario Chalmers, DeAndre Jordan, Omer Asik, Luc Mbah Mute, Goran Dragic, 2007 Carl Landry, Glen Davis, Josh McRoberts, Marc Gasol, Ramon Sessions. Look the average fan may not know the above players and it sounds like your only an average fan but you can get players in the second round. That was a dumb comment and I really only went back 5 years. If you actually do a little research you can find more in earlier drafts and more gems right before the second round in these above drafts.

      • rajbais - May 14, 2012 at 8:39 PM

        NO IT’S NOT!!!! It’s all about ready-made when it comes to rookies!!!!!

        They (particularly the lottery picks) are too unready compared to the 1990’s!!!

        Plus, in a free market teams can get as many as they want (kind of like another league like the NFL) and team like Sacramento could have a better chance of being a rags-to-riches story when it comes to winning!!!! So all the players you listed could help other teams, but not all teams!!!! Their roster spots are likely determined by circumstances!!! Not all spots on NBA teams are open or up for grabs!!!

        Let them make their own dreams while other teams can get better in quicker pace!!!!!

      • rajbais - May 14, 2012 at 8:42 PM

        Plus, the CBA would have all their salaries scaled anyways so no one will go “Steinbrenner”, “Jerry Jones”, or “Daniel Snyder” for the UFA’s!!!

        It can be somewhat like NCAA signing day where the chumps or big schools will get their guys, but success stories can occur with the less heralded names and smaller schools!!!

      • rajbais - May 14, 2012 at 8:43 PM

        BTW, just because you’re in a rotation it doesn’t mean you can play!!!

        You might just be a body because no one else was available!!!

    • dadawg77 - May 14, 2012 at 8:29 PM

      I wouldn’t say outdated but you hit right on the head, “It doesn’t help that much anymore (unless you’re not stupid …” So if you are smart it does can help. Plus you have to be able to move on from mistakes. Look at the Bulls Taj was taken 26th in 2009 while the Bulls let James Johnson (16th) go 2 off seasons ago.

      Another thought, the 2009 class is looking strong.

      • rajbais - May 16, 2012 at 5:38 PM

        Agreed on 2009!

        My problem is that I felt at that time Hasheem Thabeet was not even worthy of being picked in the Top 20!!!

        He averaged 13+ points in 33+ minutes during his senior year and that is at worst a defense-only player, but when guys like Serge Ibaka, DeAndre Jordan, and other defense-only big men are available after pick #20 Thabeet is a waste at #2!!!

        Thabeet is worse than Kwame Brown!!! Kwame at least averaged 10.9 pts and 7.4 boards in 2004.

        Thabeet will NEVER do that!!! He can’t play for squat!!!

        However, I think Jordan Hill is a good rotation player because he scores enough or at the bare minimum for a guy in his time frame; however he needs to do more!!! He was always better than Thabeet, but no one will realize that until he’ll really stand out!!!

    • scalfor3 - May 14, 2012 at 8:40 PM

      the spurs are proof that the draft is not an outdated process

      • rajbais - May 14, 2012 at 8:54 PM

        Yes, but they have not won a title since 2007 for a reason!!!

        They could still win it after acquiring certain players via trade and free agency: Stephen Jackson, Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw!!!

        However, they do it Major League Baseball style where they use the foreign teams as a farm system and/or set of minor league teams!!! In baseball, there are A, AA, and AAA teams and the foreign teams are like those except the foreign teams are not affiliated with the Spurs unlike baseball!!!

        Another problem is that not all foreign players can play in the NBA!!! Evidence, they have only won ONE gold medal in the Olympics since 1992 (2004)!!!

      • tk41 - May 15, 2012 at 12:22 AM

        @rajbais – It sounds like you don’t really watch enough basketball to have an informed opinion on this subject. Your points ignore the following:

        1) Mathematics has expressly proven that a players success directly correlates with how EARLY he reaches the NBA. It also shows that players who play longer in college are likely to be less successful in the NBA. Compare a guy like Kyrie Irving (12 games of NCAA) or Russell Westbrook to Mateen Cleves or Tyler Hansboro (highly decorated NCAA players). There is no comparison between their NBA careers. Take a look at this article: Illegal Defense: The Irrational Economics of Banning High School Players from the NBA Draft,” Virginia Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. 3, pp. 113.Michael A. McCann (2004)

        2) LOTS of good players came direct from HS in the 90s & were far from “unready” but STILL play in the NBA: KG, Kobe, McGrady, Jermaine O’Neal, Dirk (German HS), Al Harrington. There were also many more in the ’00s: LeBron, D12, etc… Meanwhile the 90s had plenty of great NCAA players who didn’t play well in the pros: Laettner, Jimmy Jackson, Eric Montross, Bobby Hurley, etc..

        3) Everyone who is on an NBA roster can ball. Period. If you’re in an NBA rotation, you’re a phenomenal baller. There is NOBODY on an NBA roster who plays because they “couldn’t find anyone else.”

        4) Draft picks provide cost effect labor. When teams draft these players successfully, they infuse useful and successful players at a controlled cost, allowing them to use the remaining funds on “superstar” players or save that space for future contracts. Look at the Bulls, with a core in tact, they target guys like Taj Gibson & Jimmy Butler late in the first round because they can play effective minutes at a controlled cost.

  6. drunkenjunk - May 14, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    oh man magic fans, I bet Deron Williams will come to Orlando now.

  7. paintman34 - May 14, 2012 at 7:32 PM

    landry fields wouldve been great in orlando

  8. bandanamac - May 14, 2012 at 8:07 PM

    Kurt you are without a doubt the worst NBA columnist in mainstream media. When you’re not jockriding Lebron, you’re making ridiculous contradictory entries like this. You said the Magic only drafted one good player (Howard) then tried to pair him with other pieces through free agency instead of building through the draft, then you compared the situation to Miami and Wade, who did the EXACT same thing with Wade, only they picked up better pieces through FA or trades.

    Why don’t you read through this crap before you submit it. Sometimes I can read a column on PBT and TELL you wrote it because the facts are skewed or you’re saddle riding Lebron. Get a clue or go write for a high school paper or something.

  9. mungman69 - May 14, 2012 at 8:21 PM

    I believe that Dejuan Blair was drafted in the first round. Someone help on this.

    • drunkenjunk - May 14, 2012 at 9:23 PM

      wrong, Blair was a 2nd rounder

  10. Justin - May 14, 2012 at 8:23 PM

    It is easy to say that drafting well put teams in this situation but 5 of the 8 teams have landed a pretty high caliber player or two in trade or Free Agency.

    KG, Ray Allen, David West, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Chris Paul, Mo Williams, Caron Butler.

    In that case this article is saying a whole lot of nothing.

    • dadawg77 - May 14, 2012 at 8:38 PM

      Do any of those players go where they went if the destination team didn’t already had a great player, who that drafted more likely then not. Also who would you rather be the Thunder or any other team for this year and the next five? Quality drafting is the cheapest way of getting great talent.

      Pierce for KG and Allen
      Wade for James and Bosh
      Kobe for Gasol
      Blake for Paul
      The rest are really mid level players who can have a great game and good pieces for champion.

      • Justin - May 14, 2012 at 8:57 PM

        Yeah I think the Thunder are probably in the best position going forward (Pacers are pretty good too). Just saying that if a big name decides he wants to buddy up with Dwight Howard in Orlando this article would have never been written.

        Orlando did draft well. They landed a superstar in Howard (I don’t care if he was the first overall pick. Plenty of teams miss with that pick). The real problem is that he no longer wants to be there. Simple as that.

  11. scalfor3 - May 14, 2012 at 10:41 PM

    okc is in the position they are because they didnt only draft durant, but also guys like westbrook, harden and ibaka who have all turned into major contributors.

    orlando is in the position they are because they have failed to get the complementary pieces to turn themselves into a year in-year out championship contender. if a championships the goal, jameer nelson and jj reddick just aren’t good enough. same thing happened in cleveland with all of the failed lebron sidekicks. ill give you that the nba draft is normally a huge crapshoot after the first 2-3 guys, but i dont blame howard for being unsatisfied with orlando’s future as a contender. (i do blame him for handling it by being an ass)

  12. nghtrder169 - May 14, 2012 at 10:45 PM

    Forget Orlando – look at what the Knicks have done with draft picks over the last 20 years especially the few high picks they have gotten

  13. williegault - May 14, 2012 at 11:44 PM

    Seriously? Miami is your first example?

    I hate this blog sometimes. They drafted Wade, which allowed James and Bosh to sign?

    Big deal.

    The Magic drafted Howard. A top 5 Player. Problem is their front office can’t sign a decent FA, forget about drafting.

    Yes, they suck at drafting, but to – without fail – work Miami into another unrelated discussion is goofy. Who have they drafted since Wade?

    Bueller? Bueller?

    Let’s not pretend that all of these teams mentioned above, other than OKC, have hit free agency out the ass. Even the Spurs.

  14. asublimeday - May 14, 2012 at 11:53 PM

    @rajbais

    Your stout use of three exclamation points at the end of every sentence is impressive.

  15. rajbais - May 15, 2012 at 1:47 AM

    People!!! Listen to me!!!! I’m an immediate results kind of guy!!!

    The earlier you succeed, the better you will be!!! I hate that it’s not like the era before the 2000’s where the lottery and the drafts were alternatives to free agency!!!!

    Look at key words like “ready-made”!!!!

    I am not sorry for seeking an immediate return on my value!!!!

    That’s why the draft is outdated, but free agency and trades are not!!!!

    My god!!! If these guys were in the drafts of years such as 1995, 1992, or 1984 they’d be picked at #24 or later!!!! Everyone who’s bashing me at PBT is stupid because they’re saying that time should be something greater than their friend!!!!! Well, it’s a waste of money and all my haters know it!!!! That’s why the draft is outdated!!! How sad is our society when we have idiots bashing while they embrace spoon feeding and gradual growth!!! In this league you have to be a man!!! Boys should NOT be allowed!!!!

    Again people, the draft is crap because there is too rare of immediate return on the pick value!!!! Yeah, it’s more about where you finish than start, but yesterday’s players were better than today’s players because they knew how to adjust from the beginning!!!! We will never see players win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season ever again!!! Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld did that and now they’re two of the 50 Greatest to ever play the game!!!

    I love watching the NBA, but some of the past’s values need to be in the present unlike the NFL where being “rough and tough” is not the way to go because we’ve heard south about the brain trauma.

    I don’t hate the league or the draft, but the draft is not as good or reliable as it used to be it’s too much of a crapshoot to the point where covering it is not interesting and having two rounds instead of a free market and one round might be better!!!

    I hate to brag, but I saw Eddie House and Aaron Brooks slide while too many other obviously crappy players were taken ahead of them!!! I ended up being correct!!! It seems like the NBA keeps having faith in a process that is way too not guaranteed than before and the people covering it keep acting as if it is important to the point where we overrate prospects!!! All of this is for the sake of keeping the NBA continuously synonymous!!!

    The league scouts and GMs should just look at players and say “you are what you are” and base their drafts off that instead of fooling or lying to themselves!!! They do not do that and try to act like psychics!!! That ruins most teams and that’s why there are so few that have a chance at winning the NBA championship!!!! The poorness of drafts will likely keep on continuing and that is what I see myself still losing faith with the process!!!

  16. rajbais - May 15, 2012 at 1:52 AM

    Another thing, Michael Jordan averaged 28.3 points per game as a rookie!!! I do not want to hear “oh, but it was Michael” because when you know that it’ll never happen again that’s a sign showing you that the draft does not work the way that it used to!!!

  17. 00maltliquor - May 15, 2012 at 4:41 AM

    Factual errors are killing me KURT! Rondo was drafted by the Phoenix Suns. Dangit man, get it together. It’s every freakin’ day with this guy!

  18. 00maltliquor - May 15, 2012 at 5:14 AM

    This article is complete B.S. I can name one key rotation player that was drafted by each team in the L. Draft day trades don’t count, they are still trades. I’m surprised Helin didn’t think Kobe was drafted by the Lakers.

  19. lakerluver - May 15, 2012 at 6:47 PM

    How has Otis lasted this long?! Howard’s a baby but if I were him I’d want to leave too!!

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