More and more research is showing, if you want to build a sustainable winner in the NBA you need to do it on draft day.
Look at the teams still playing. Miami had to draft Dwyane Wade, which made it possible to bring in Shaq to get them one title (and LeBron James doesn’t come there without Wade). The Thunder are an obvious and easy example with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all drafted by the franchise. The Spurs not only drafted Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, they found Manu Ginobili late in the second round and have rebuilt their roster with youth through the draft. The Lakers drafted Andrew Bynum and made a draft-day trade to get Kobe Bryant. Boston drafted Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.
Orlando drafted Dwight Howard in 2004 and that set the tone for the past seven years, including one trip to the finals. But what they have done since then to build a team through free agency and not the draft has left them in a bind this summer, scrambling to find a trading partner to get a big piece to go next to Howard (good luck with that) or maybe having to move Howard.
Why don’t they have the pieces. Look at their draft since 2004: First rounders are Fran Vazquez (11 overall), J.J. Redick (11), Courtney Lee (22) and Daniel Orton (29). That’s just four first round picks in seven years and only one who panned out for them (Redick, although Lee had moments). The second rounders are all misses. By the way, who was drafted after Orton in 2010? Landry Fields, Devin Ebanks, Jerome Jordan, Luke Harangody and Jeremy Evans (not rock stars, but guys who might contribute).
Why the problem? Alex Kennedy has details at Hoopsworld that should make the stomachs of Magic fans turn (read the whole post about what the Magic need to do next).
The main reason that Orlando hasn’t been able to draft contributors is because they don’t put much time or effort into the pre-draft process.
When Orlando drafted Orton, they hadn’t seen him work out in person. Nearly every other team in the league had witnessed Orton struggle in workouts and knew of his knee issues. The Magic selected him sight unseen, and Orton isn’t the exception. Justin Harper had never met or interviewed with Orlando before they traded for his draft rights last year.
Rival executives openly joke about the Magic’s approach to the pre-draft process. Most teams interview and work out everyone on their draft board. Some teams will even bring in a player multiple times to make sure they have a good read on his personality and game. The Magic’s lack of preparation has hurt them and a new regime must have a better approach to the draft.
You can expect the Magic to deny the report in 5…4…3…
Whatever happens with Howard, Jameer Nelson and the rest of the circus this year, the change in the approach by the new regime is key. (We say that like it’s going to happen because we don’t imagine both coach Stan Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith lasting much longer.) If you are going to win and stay on top, you do it through the draft. It is how good teams stay on top.