, With Draft Lottery Blues, Orlando Magic Pay Price For Sixers’ Tanking, The Nzuchi News Forbes

With Draft Lottery Blues, Orlando Magic Pay Price For Sixers’ Tanking

, With Draft Lottery Blues, Orlando Magic Pay Price For Sixers’ Tanking, The Nzuchi News Forbes

In the good old days, the Orlando Magic might not have had to pay the price they just paid on Tuesday night at the NBA draft lottery. That price could be a shot at a legitimate star player, with implications looming in the short term for the team’s coaching search and in the long term for the team’s front office.

They might have the Sixers to thank for that.

Back in the good old days, before there was a team that became so dedicated to the idea of losing on purpose that its intentional futility was given a two capital-letter name—The Process—there was a pretty standard method for tanking in the NBA. You put together a team that had a chance to earn a playoff spot, you watched a couple of key guys get injured, lamented your terrible luck, sold off your best players at the winter trade deadline and fired your coach in the offseason.

For the Magic: Check, check, check, check and check.

But then, in the heart of the following spring, you awaited your reward when the Ping-Pong balls rattled at the NBA draft lottery. Perhaps, with any luck, that would mean the No. 1 pick. At least, you figured, something in the Top 3.

And that was not a bad thing. It allowed a team that entered a season with the expectation of a decent result to recognize when things had stagnated or, worse, gone horribly wrong. The roster could be reset, with a chance at a legitimate star in that year’s draft. The whole tanking process took a half-season and was not made unqightly and unfair by the ugliness of terrible season after terrible season, like the Sixers from 2013-16, when they were 47-199.

But the Sixers and The Process happened, and the NBA changed the rules of the lottery in 2019, the top odds flattened out to give less of a draft advantage to teams that entered a season (or multiple seasons) bent on being horrible. Tanking, the league hoped, would no longer be rewarded.


Problem is, teams that adhere to a more traditional tanking model—ones that have losing thrust on them because of age, injury or overall disappointment—are the ones that have most paid the price. This week, one team had that bad luck punctuated by winding up with what might be the worst spot in the 2021 draft.

, With Draft Lottery Blues, Orlando Magic Pay Price For Sixers’ Tanking, The Nzuchi News Forbes

That is, of course, the Orlando Magic, who followed the old-school tanking blueprint to the letter, leading the league in games lost because of injury, and finishing with the third-worst record in the NBA. The Magic entered the NBA lottery on Tuesday with a 14.0% chance at the No. 1 pick and a 52.1% chance at remaining in the Top 4, where they could land one of the surefire prizes of this draft: Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Jalen Suggs or Evan Mobley.

Three years ago, the Magic would have had a 66.5% chance to land in the Top 4. But the re-jiggered lotto odds chipped away at Orlando’s chances and, in the end, the Magic are left drafting at No. 5, just outside the draft’s Big 4. Team president Jeff Weltman was asked whether he could get an elite player at that spot.

“I certainly hope so,” Weltman said. “There are a couple guys that are, if you follow the mock drafts and the narrative that’s been created around this draft, there’s a small group right around where we’re picking at five that would be under the line. But it seldom works out that way in hindsight. I do believe there are some elite, very talented candidates to become the players to outperform that position.”

Jeff Weltman: ‘It’s Just Dumb Luck’

That’s just the problem. The Magic are picking fifth and rather than reveling in a draft spot, they’re hoping to “outperform” it. Rather than sizing up the big-time scorer the team desperately needs—Green would be ideal in Orlando—the Magic will be weighing the likes of Jonathan Kuminga, a defensive-minded forward with a raw offensive game (the Magic are overstocked with that type), or Baylor guard Davion Mitchell, another solid defender who will be 23 in September, the same age or older as six of the 11 players Orlando has under contract.

As it stands, the Magic have the tantalizing No. 5 pick and another high-value spot, the No. 8 pick, acquired from Chicago at the trade deadline in the Nikola Vucevic deal. They’ll get two chances at a draft prize, and need one of them to turn into a high-scoring star—Weltman is under pressure to complete a quick turnaround entering his fifth season with the Magic.

Weltman tried to spin up some positive vibes despite his disappointment.

“Obviously, you go through a long season and it’s been a grind and you hope to cash in those chips at the end,” Weltman said. “But that’s the nature of this stuff, man. It’s like I’ve always said, it’s not calculated risk, it’s just risk. It’s dumb luck. You obviously want to win the lottery and come away with the No. 1 pick. … I’ll look at it now as we have a lot of work to do, and we get to put a finer point on the work. So we kind of are looking just to put this day behind us.”

Ideally, it would have been a celebratory time for the Magic, not a put-it-behind-us moment. Before the lottery rule changes, there was a better chance it would have been. But this is part of the lingering legacy of the Sixers’ Process—teams that have mostly taken a good-faith approach to winning and losing wind up paying a price.

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