The glimmer of hope that surrounded the team after its opening two games has suddenly evaporated. Fans may wonder: What is a No. 1 draft pick worth to Orlando? How many losses are acceptable this season?
After consecutive victories at home to Denver and Phoenix to open the season, it appeared that the Magic might be on their way to replicating the Nuggets' success in the post-Carmelo Anthony era. With Dwight Howard gone, Orlando looked as if it might be able to pull off the incredible, relying on a bunch of role players to draw together collectively to graft out wins.
Just a week later, it's alarmingly clear that won't be the case. Four consecutive losses at an average of 17 points, whilst scoring just 77.5 points per game, paints an incredibly bleak picture.
With Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington sidelined with injury, the Magic's lack of experience and ability is being highlighted.
E'Twaun Moore is not ready to be a starting point guard. Ishmael Smith looks unsure when he takes to the court. Gustavo Ayon can't find a way to impact the game. Maurice Harkless and DeQuan Jones are still too raw to contribute significantly.
Glen Davis, Arron Afflalo, J.J. Redick and Nikola Vucevic are the only pieces currently available to Jacque Vaughn that appear capable of matching it with their respective opponents.
With a harsh reality setting in, it's abundantly clear that the Magic need top-end talent if they are to climb the NBA pile once more. In the team's current state, Orlando is very unlikely to be a destination for prized free agents. Consequently, the Magic's method of rebuilding must be through the draft.
However, is falling to the foot of the league standings worth a No. 1 pick for Orlando?
Since the introduction of the weighted lottery system, only three teams with the NBA's worst record have claimed the No. 1 pick. Furthermore, with the exception of Oklahoma City, there are a number of teams that have had a long series of high picks in consecutive seasons that are still finding themselves lottery bound each year.
Ignoring the 2011-12 lockout-shortened campaign, the Sacramento Kings averaged 60 losses per season between 2008 and 2011. The Washington Wizards averaged 59 losses per year in the same period. Yet despite a number of high picks, both teams still find themselves at the bottom of each conference.
Losing seasons and high draft picks certainly don't guarantee a subsequent rise. Just like winning, losing can become a habit that's hard to shake.
However, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan has seen firsthand how a team can build through the acquisition of elite, young talent in his time with the Thunder. The absolute precision of talent identification shown by Oklahoma City has seen the rise of one of the league's current heavyweights.
Although the team averaged 57 losses over three seasons, the Sonics/Thunder never finished with the league's worst record nor landed a No. 1 pick. Yet that franchise still managed to land Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in three consecutive years.
With a little luck and fantastic selections, it's possible to build a title-contending team through the draft.
Yet the Magic must take into consideration the consequences of a disastrous season. If Orlando did slump to a 20-62 record (or possibly worse), will fans start to turn away? Can the team financially compete moving forward if their shiny, new Amway Center is half empty each night? Will senior players be looking for the exit doors?
While aiming for that prized first selection in next year's draft could be excused, the Magic certainly can't afford to find themselves at the bottom of the attendance table in coming seasons.
After outlaying $50 million to contribute to the construction of their new arena, Orlando desperately needs Amway Center close to full each night if it plans on competing financially with the rest of the league.
Additionally, the Magic could find themselves in a precarious situation if losing does set in. Among the team's veteran holdovers, Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis have all been on teams that have advanced to the NBA Finals. While none of these men are franchise-changing players, all except Turkoglu could be valuable additions to title-contending teams.
While harmony may exist now, it's plausible that the veterans could begin their search for new destinations if the team's direction is fixed firmly on draft picks, leaving the team with little experience to guide its youth.
That youth could also certainly benefit from a culture fixed on winning. With players such as Kawhi Leonard and Avery Bradley showing how quickly one can develop in an experienced, winning culture, Orlando must understand that the growth of players like Andrew Nicholson, Harkless, Moore, Smith, Vucevic and Jones could be slowed on a team that is focused on earning draft picks.
These are the realities that Orlando must face when assessing the worth of a No. 1 draft pick. Will losing now result in winning further down the line?
Times are tough for the Magic right now. In this star-powered league, the loss of Howard is crippling Orlando to a point very unfamiliar to them over the last half-decade. A No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft would certainly help, but is the price of chasing that pick too high?
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