Fleeced—a simple yet powerful word to describe the lopsided transaction that went on between the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic. With the latter seemingly recouping more value than what they were losing. Even before that trade, the Magic were pulling moves to stockpile young talent. Young talent that could potentially be not only game but franchise-changing. Hopefully, something to freshen up the stale atmosphere in Central Florida that had been starting to get uncomfortable.
Mediocrity, an aimless direction, and poor draft results have been the consistent theme for the Magic since franchise pillar Dwight Howard left in 2012. Six head coaches have commanded the helm since that happened. It became evident that all the draft whiffs former general manager (GM) Rob Hennigan had made set the franchise back. No longer were they competent in any fashion, the Magic were an Eastern Conference bottom dweller.
Hennigan was eventually succeeded by current GM John Hammond, who in his own right has made the proper strides and necessary risks to put the Magic in an advantageous spot going forward. A spot that offers hope. Hope leads to belief then belief leads to an established culture that conclusively ends with a positive feeling amongst the organization.
The first trade to really show his ability to swing the fences in this competitive league was taking a chance on former #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz.
Fultz’s career so far was embroiled with shoulder/mechanic issues, reported family issues, and a noticeable absence in confidence he once displayed playing at both DeMatha Catholic High School and the University of Washington. Despite the disappearance of his once textbook jumpshot; flashes of self-creation, herky-jerky unorthodox movements, and impeccable footwork prompted Hammond to trade a 2020 top-20 protected first-round pick for Fultz’s services. Orlando was in desperate need of someone to possibly change the course of the franchise. Perhaps Fultz could be the answer.
Thanks to Hammond the Milwaukee Bucks were able to win an NBA championship. The two key players to the title run, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton were spotted and assembled by Hammond. He held the same position he currently has with the Magic.
Turning back to the aforementioned 2021 trade deadline deal with the Bulls, Hammond traded a 30-year-old, Nikola Vucevic, who was limited defensively and didn’t fit the timeline for a package consisting of…
- young defensive center with flashes of a mid-range game, Wendell Carter Jr.
- salary filler Otto Porter [whom is thriving in Golden State right now]
- 2021 first-round pick (who became Franz Wagner)
- 2023 first-round pick
Getting Carter Jr. who was a former 2018 top-10 pick as a piece of a package was a steal in itself. It doesn’t take a genius to bank on him one-day reaching contribution levels that could end up scratching or besting Vucevic’s success. Hammond then rewarded him with a market-friendly 4-year $50 million contract. He could eventually pair up alongside Jonathan Issac in the frontcourt, which in theory would be one of the best defensive frontcourts in the league.
Getting rid of Vucevic who made All-Star games and led the Magic to two playoff appearances [2018-20], was a business decision the Magic front office had to deal with. Vucevic was a fan favorite, stuck his head down, worked, was on a friendly contract himself, and had not up to that point asked out of Orlando.
Trading Vucevic away meant the Magic were going to a direction of rebuilding; accumulating talent with the hope of someone popping off as an eventual star. Going down that path also meant getting a player-friendly coach who fit the timeline. Enter Jamahl Mosley.
Mosley before the head coaching position was an NBA assistant since 2007. He was reportedly Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks’ young star, favorite to take over their own head coaching vacancy. Due to some shuffle in their own front office the Mavericks ended up missing on Mosley when he took up the Magic offer.
In his first year, Mosley led an inexperienced Magic team to a 22-60 record which personally is impressive. 2021 #5 pick Jalen Suggs (20) battled hand and foot injuries. Fultz (23) played a total of 26 games the last two seasons due to an ACL injury. Cole Anthony (22) turned it up this season in a more expansive role with the ball in his hands. The other 2022 top-10 selection [thanks to the Bulls trade] Wagner ended up being a revelation, exhibiting much more than what was seen in college. Wagner ended up on All-Rookie First Team. Carter Jr. (23) arguably had his best season statistically and from consistency point-of-view.
Infusion of young talent, a new head coach, a new regime have cast a new light over Orlando and its future. The development and on-court production were a bright spot despite the record. Based on their finish the Magic landed in a tie for the best odds of getting the #1 overall pick. Which in fact ended up happening. A spot they haven’t had since 2004—where Howard was selected.
Now, what are the best options for the Magic with the 1st overall pick?