In the aftermath of the blockbuster trade that sent All-NBA center Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, most analysts predicted a very rough season for the Orlando Magic. In fact, most people thought the Magic were better off counting their pingpong balls to win the upcoming NBA draft lottery rather than the number of team wins because of the overwhelming lack of talent on the team. And in many respects, these predictions have been spot-on.
Currently, the Magic boast the league's fourth-worst record at 14-33, have won only two games since beating the Washington Wizards on December 19 and have four starters who are currently nursing injuries (point guard Jameer Nelson, shooting guard J.J. Redick, shooting guard Arron Afflalo and power forward Glen Davis).
The Mayans may have predicted the world would end on December 21, 2012, but it appears that they should have predicted the Magic's season would end on that day instead. The 21st marked the start of a 10-game losing streak, followed later by their current nine-game losing streak and a win-loss total of 2-20 since the predicted apocalypse.
So is all lost in Orlando? For this season?
Yes, without a question, but the future isn't nearly as bleak.
Three of the players acquired in the Howard trade (Afflalo, center Nikola Vucevic and rookie small forward Moe Harkless) have emerged as potential building blocks and possible franchise cornerstones for the team. When the trade was announced this past summer, nobody would have guessed the Magic would emerge as the victors of the move, but a legitimate case can be made to support this.
And even though Orlando can't seem to win a game anymore, that only increases the probability that the team wins a top draft pick. Combine this with the fact that many teams are lining up to acquire Redick (who has an expiring contract), and the Magic could seriously increase their talent base and be in a much better position to field a competitive team in the coming years.
We'll now look at three possible trades involving Redick (and rank them in order of quality) and then suggest whom the Magic should draft if they were to complete the deal.
Trade No. 1
J.J. Redick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for point guard Eric Maynor, shooting guard Jeremy Lamb and small forward/power forward Perry Jones III
A trade suggested by Jack Winter of WarriorsWorld, this would obviously be the Magic's dream trade as Orlando is highly interested in acquiring young players and/or draft picks. Not only would they be receiving two former lottery picks, Maynor and Lamb, as well as a player who has incredible upside in Jones, but Lamb and Jones are on rookie contracts that allow the Magic to control their rights up to four years (while Maynor is on an expiring contract).
Although I'm highly skeptical that Thunder GM Sam Presti would ever agree to such a trade, the Magic would make this deal in a heartbeat (and could possibly replace Lamb or Jones with Toronto's upcoming first-round pick that the Thunder own).
Rookie to draft?
Should this deal go through, the obvious need Orlando would look to address in the draft would be point guard, but there are no projected point guards who are a good value in the top five (where the Magic's pick will likely end up). So instead, the Magic would likely target a post player who can complement Vucevic.
The best fits would be Kentucky center Nerlens Noel or Indiana power forward/center Cody Zeller. Continuing with the dream scenario, the Magic would be best suited to select Noel, whose abilities as a defender and athletic force in the paint would perfectly fit with Vucevic and his improving post game and ability to shoot all the way from the three-point line. The pick: Nerlens Noel
Trade No. 2
J.J. Redick and point guard Ishmael Smith to the Los Angeles Clippers for point guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward Caron Butler
This trade, formulated by Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.com, would be another home run for the Magic, who would receive a veteran presence in Butler and land them their point guard of the future in Bledsoe. The Clippers would love to add Redick and his outside shooting, as well as his ability to pass the ball, to their championship-caliber team (and allow shooting guard and sixth man Jamal Crawford to continue to come off the bench).
The only reason that the Clippers, who have been rumored to be shopping Bledsoe, would hesitate to make this deal is if All-NBA point guard Chris Paul would not give his assurances he would re-sign with the team. This trade, however, is much more plausible than the first and arguably could top the list of possible trades the Magic could make.
Rookie to draft?
With the Magic boasting their point guard of the future, Orlando would find itself in a situation much like the first trade and target Noel. The pick: Nerlens Noel
Trade No. 3
J.J. Redick, the Golden State Warriors' 2013 second-round pick and the Denver Nuggets' conditional 2014 first-round pick (or Orlando's 2014 first-round pick) to the Utah Jazz for center/power forward Enes Kanter
A trade I came up with that would provide Utah with a talented shooter to play alongside center Al Jefferson, power forward Paul Millsap and power forward Derrick Favors (who would be a better fit with the Magic but is considered "untouchable" by the Jazz front office).
While Kanter is a very talented player, there simply aren't enough minutes for all their post players to get the time they deserve. The Magic would love to add the bruising Kanter to their roster, and he would fit very well with Vucevic.
Rookie to draft?
With no point guards to choose from (unless Orlando decided to make a serious reach for Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams) and the frontcourt held down by Vucevic and Kanter, the most likely choice would be a wing player.
The top choices would be Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, UNLV small foward/power forward Anthony Bennett and UCLA shooting guard/small forward Shabazz Muhammad. Even though he hasn't lived up to the enormous hype he generated coming out of high school, Muhammad's potential, athleticism and ability to score is too much for Orlando to pass up. The pick: Shabazz Muhammad