As the NBA trade deadline fast approaches, the Orlando Magic have a few important decisions to make that will ultimately dictate the team's success for years to come. Not only are they searching for a second star to please franchise cornerstone Dwight Howard, but they have to determine if starting fresh and trading the center is the best move for the future. After all, the Orlando Magic cannot afford to pull a "Cleveland" and lose their superstar for nothing.
However, as the truncated season has transpired, it has seemed more and more likely that GM Otis Smith and the Orlando Magic will decide to keep "Superman" with hopes of convincing the former first overall pick that O-Town is the place to sign long term. Even Magic owner Rich DeVos has been vocal about his desire to keep Howard for this season's entirety.
Nonetheless, if Orlando keeps Howard past the trade deadline and ultimately loses the All-NBA talent, how should the Magic rebuild their roster?
The first step in the long road to recovery is adding young talent. GM Otis Smith needs to infuse youth and athleticism, as the Orlando Magic have few prospects on the roster. Besides breakout star Ryan Anderson, the franchise has a very bleak future without Dwight.
The next endeavor GM Smith needs to tackle is to completely "bottom out." By keeping the veterans on their roster, the team will stay somewhat competitive every night. This would, in turn, eliminate any chance for the organization to win the first overall pick in the lottery.
No team has accomplished this rebuilding tactic better than the Oklahoma City Thunder. After acquiring Kevin Durant with the second overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft, the Thunder, who were the Seattle SuperSonics at the time, shipped veteran Ray Allen to the Boston Celtics and let star Rashard Lewis walk in free agency to, ironically, the Orlando Magic.
By ridding themselves of their two stars, the team focused on rebuilding around Durant. Instead of focusing in the present, GM Sam Presti made the right decision and "bottomed out." Sure, the team was horrible the first few seasons, but their terrible records allowed them to receive more high lottery picks.
With these selections, the Thunder obtained forward Serge Ibaka, sixth man James Harden and athletic point guard Russell Westbrook. All three of these young players have developed into rising stars in the association, and the future looks bright in Oklahoma City.
If Orlando loses Howard in free agency—which is a very likely possibility, as both the Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets have the cap room and big market "Superman" is looking for—the Magic should trade away starters Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu. Not only do their cumbersome contracts eat up cap room, but their talent will keep Orlando in NBA purgatory. By not shipping these players away, even if it is for a couple of second-round picks, the Orlando Magic will be a fringe playoff team for the next four to five years.
This, in fact, is exactly what happened to Orlando when the team acquired Howard in the 2004 NBA draft. Instead of "bottoming out," the Magic kept elder statesman Steve Francis, Grant Hill and Kelvin Cato. These veterans ate up all the minutes that could have been allocated to the young, developing talent on the roster. Plus, the team stayed mediocre and didn't receive anymore high lottery selections to help build around Howard.
In my opinion, the Orlando Magic should ship Howard before the deadline for young talent. Whether it is Golden State guard Stephen Curry or New Jersey Nets center Brook Lopez, by adding a young cornerstone, the Orlando Magic will already have a piece to the rebuilding puzzle solved. Even though owner Rich DeVos is searching for established veterans in exchange for the All-Star, there is no doubt that the Orlando Magic need a few future prospects.
In the end, Orlando still has many question marks with their current team and no deal is imminent. But the Magic have entered a crucial part in their franchise's life that will determine the success of the team for the next decade. Hopefully GM Otis Smith studies his history and makes the right call this time around.