Old News - Magic, Brook Lopez, and the Draft

In the Post-Magic Routing Thread, the topic of Dwight inevitably came up, as well as the Magic not wanting Lopez, and the concept of building through the draft.

Now while I am tired of Dwight Howard talk, and the Magic trade soap opera is thankfully old news, I do think it's an interesting debate about how successful teams are built, and what role the draft plays in it.

So I made a fan post to open up a conversation about it.

First off, let's address the whole build through the draft thing. NBA champions over the past 20+ years have had, in most cases, an all-time NBA great on their roster. Lebron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Shaq, Jordan, Hakeem, Isiah Thomas, Magic, Bird, Kareem. Only the 2004 Detroit Pistons won without an all-time great on the roster, but they had a lot of very good players in Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Prince, Billups, Rip, and company.

Now about this draft thing. Of those champions, yes, most of them drafted their all-time great. Some signed in Free Agency (Shaq and Lebron), others were dealt for (Garnett, Shaq, Kobe's draft rights, and Magic's draft rights). So, the draft is just one way to get a franchise making player. The other way, involves having enough assets to make your destination attractive to Free Agents, or the ability to trade for one.

The Magic elected to go the all out route of the draft in their rebuild. How efficient of a strategy is that? I would say it's the least effective and most alienating to a fan base. First of all, to get a franchise changing player, you need the right pick in the right draft. Even the top overall pick, is not enough. Of the last 12 years, the number 1 pick has less than a 50% success rate. For every Lebron their is a Kwame Brown. Even if they aren't an all out bust, they still aren't necessarily franchise makers. Yao Ming had a great career. But, he was never a Franchise player. Blake Griffin is exciting, but he can't carry a team to the finals on his shoulders. So, the draft route, even if you are lucky enough to get the top overall pick, is a long shot to success.

Then there are the long odds of even getting that top pick. The NBA draft lottery doesn't guarantee the worst team, gets the top pick. Even if you put your fans through a season of being the absolute worst, there is a better than even chance that your team will only have the 3rd overall pick, and end up taking a Hasheem Thabeet. Meanwhile in deciding to tank, you subject your fans to multiple seasons of losing, and your organization is tarnished for prospective free agents. What is the incentive to go all in on the draft? Seems like the least desirable direction to me.

The Magic had other options, and the one they picked was probably the worst. Brook Lopez was an option. A 24 year old Center, with a great offensive skill set. The Magic had Stan Van Gundy. A proven coach, with a track record of developing young talent, and coaching very good defense. SVG could have improved Lopez into a substantial talent in the NBA. Lopez could have been a Yao Ming caliber player for the Magic. The Magic could have used those multiple picks and MarShon Brooks, to bring in another talent, like James Harden, who also became available (Hennigan has friends in OKC and probably could have had the inside track). They could have moved their soon to be expiring contracts like Hedo Turkgolu and Kris Humphries for another key piece. If these players aren't enough to build a contender, they are some excellent and tradeable assets that could bring in that franchise changer. They could have hung onto Ryan Anderson to use as a trade chip as well. With the Nets deal the Magic had a lot of options, that they don't have now.

They could have put together a team with Jameer Nelson, James Harden, Turk, Humphries, Anderson, and Lopez. They could have stayed reasonably competitive, while not being a contender, and who knows what would have happened under SVG. So is the draft pick route really a better option? I say not a chance. Feel free to debate this and offer your thoughts.

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