Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard
"With the first overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic select Dwight Howard."
These are the words that completely changed the Orlando Magic franchise from a bottom-dwelling organization to a perennial championship contender. Since drafting Howard, the Magic have traveled to numerous playoff appearances and one NBA Finals berth. Not only was the city of Orlando ecstatic with their new rising star, but it seemed as if this young center from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy would be the franchise center Shaquille O'Neal never became.
However, this match made in heaven seems to be coming to an end. Howard has voiced his opinion many a time regarding his desire to leave the city that drafted him. It is widely thought that if Howard decides to bail out on O-Town and go to another city, it would be, in part, due to the lack of talent the Orlando Magic boast on their roster.
Whether this is his true reason is unknown, as Howard has also been rumored to be interested in becoming more marketable in a larger city, but there is no doubt that Howard's tenure in Orlando is not looking very bright.
Nonetheless, Howard is right and the Orlando Magic do possess one of the weakest supporting casts in the association. Despite having one of the highest payrolls, O-Town only has one lonely star, in Dwight Howard. The rest of the roster is mostly composed of overpaid former stars. From the team's inconsistencies at the point guard position to the lack of athleticism on the wings, an infusion of young talent would go far for this struggling organization.
But where did all these roster problems stem from?
Well, the answer to the aforementioned question dates back all the way to 2004, when the Orlando Magic were a mediocre team with a disgruntled star in Tracy McGrady, an oft-injured Grant Hill and no future prospects. The team was just coming off a disappointing 21-61 season.
The Magic GM at the time was John Weisbrod and he knew the team needed a massive overhaul. Weisbrod shipped the lackadaisical Tracy McGrady along with Reece Gaines, Tyronn Lue and Juwan Howard to Houston for Steve Francis, Kelvin Cato and Cuttino Mobley.
By trading mega-star Tracy McGrady for a package of talented veterans, the Orlando Magic made a catastrophic mistake that has prevented them from competing with the upper echelon teams even at this time. Instead of acquiring young talent to start the re-building process, the team decided to try to stay competitive.
Despite the weighted odds, the Orlando Magic went on to win the lottery that year and selected phenom Dwight Howard. They would, also, trade for point guard Jameer Nelson.
Due to the lack of young talent after the McGrady trade, Nelson and Howard did not receive the opportunity to grow alongside any other rising stars. Instead of "bottoming out" like Thunder GM Sam Presti did in Oklahoma City, the Magic were too focused on the present.
In the next few years, the Orlando Magic would play well enough to keep them out of contention for any first overall picks. Instead, they would select in the 11th overall spot for the next two seasons. In 2005, they would draft Fran Vazquez, who has yet to play a minute in the NBA, and, in 2006, J.J. Redick was selected. Redick has developed into a valuable role player, but nothing more.
By 2007, the Orlando Magic were a playoff team and their hopes of building a championship contending squad through the draft were shattered. Knowing this, current Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith decided to sign Rashard Lewis to a massive six year, $118 million contract. This would be the final nail in the coffin.
The Magic would go on to acquire numerous players with horrendous contracts in hopes of finding Howard a running mater. This list includes current Mavericks guard Vince Carter, current Magic player Jason Richardson, former Celtics sixth man Glen Davis, the infamous Gilbert Arenas and 6'10" forward Hedo Turkoglu.
The Magic currently find themselves in a deep hole. They have very little financial flexibility and no enticing trade assets to acquire a second star for Howard.
If Howard does, in the end, leave Orlando for either the sunny beaches of Los Angeles, the bright lights of Brooklyn or the championship attitude of Dallas, the Magic will once again find themselves with an opportunity to start the rebuilding process.
Hopefully, the Magic have learned their lesson.