No one will argue that the Orlando Magic are among the five worst teams in the National Basketball Association. Record-wise, they were THE worst until Friday night’s 115-106 overtime win over the Detroit Pistons.
The thing about being at the bottom of the standings is the fact you are almost certain to have a high draft pick when the NBA draft comes along. The Magic used the sixth pick in last year’s draft to select Jonathan Isaac from Florida State.
We do not yet know if Isaac will be worthy of the faith shown in him because he has only played in 16 of the team’s 62 games. He returned from the latest injury on Friday night, his first action since the end of December.
One of the best ways to turn your franchise’s fortunes around is to draft high enough to select can’t-miss players, make astute trades within the confines of the league’s salary cap, and have the right coach that can mold good players together to play as a team (check the Philadelphia 76ers).
It is at this point of the year where eyes look at teams like the Magic and ask this question? Are they tanking?
In other words, does the chance of getting one of the top two or three picks in the upcoming draft wind up being too enticing to win some meaningless games in March and April? Is it ok to lose big this year with the hope of a bigger payoff in two or three seasons?
Before answering that, we should set the foundation for what tanking really means. There is no better example than the one provided, appropriately, by one of the stars of the television show, Shark Tank.
Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban got in big trouble with the league when he admitted to telling his woeful team “Look, losing is our best option.”
He followed that up by saying “(NBA Commissioner) Adam (Silver) would hate hearing that.” Cuban was right about that as Silver presented him with a whopping $600,000 fine.
Other owners and player development directors could feel the same way, but have the good sense not to say so. The Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and the Memphis Grizzlies – the Magic’s opponent on Saturday night – are neck-and-neck for the top spot going into the draft lottery.
The guess here is the Magic are not tanking. Friday night’s win against a team in the playoff hunt says a lot.
We should also remember that these guys are professionals. As the season winds down some of the players around the league may be playing for the name on the back of their jersey instead of the team identified on the front, but not likely giving games away.
It is easy to forget that this Magic team started by winning 8 of their first 12 games, but then lost 39 of the next 49. If there was any tanking going on, it began in November.
Some of the Magic players are free agents and may not be around next year, making it important to put up some good stats this. They would have little interest in helping what would be a former team get a better draft slot (see Hezonja, Mario).
There are also several players under contract for next year, who hope for reinforcements. Despite that, it is on them to prove they are not falling into the tank.