The NBA regular season has just about six weeks remaining. And it appears the Orlando Magic are attempting to improve their draft lottery odds.
Two weeks ago, the NBA sent out a memo to all 30 teams about tanking after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban publicly announced his Mavericks best interests were to throw games. That statement cost the Mavericks owner $600,000.
A week ago, the Chicago Bulls received a stern warning from the NBA about resting healthy players. They were holding out healthy starters to reduce their chances of winning games.
The tanking agenda is now to the point that media-related sites are warning the NBA office about other lottery bound teams possibly tanking.
— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) March 7, 2018
But all seems well down in Central Florida. The Orlando Magic seem to be going about a possible tanking move the right way. Their latest moves come just in time as they prepare to play against some of its stiffest competition to the bottom of the standings.
It’s all about the player’s health
A player’s health is of the utmost importance to a team’s success. Some teams can successfully game plan and remain competitive through injuries. Others completely fall flat on their faces until certain players return.
The Orlando Magic have had a long season of injuries. They began the season with an unexpected 8-4 mark with impressive wins over teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers. Those 12 games had many people talking about the end of the teams current five-year playoff drought. But those talks quickly subdued. Over the course of the next 51 games they would only manage to win 12 games.
In several interviews, Magic President of Basketball Operations, Jeff Weltman, stated that injuries were a big issue this season. Looking at the numbers he is correct. Every starter on the team has missed time due to some type of injury. In total, starters have missed a combined 88 games this season and counting. Combine those games with the games missed by rookie Jonathan Isaac and that number rises to 122 on the season.
As a result, the Orlando Magic have underperformed and headed towards a sixth consecutive lottery appearance.
Coincidence or not?
The months of March and April will be lottery defining months in the NBA. For the Orlando Magic, their next 13 games will match up against 7 other lottery teams.
During their March 7th matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Magic suffered three key injuries to their starting lineup. Team leading scorer Aaron Gordon suffered his second concussion of the season after a collision with Lakers forward Julius Randle. According to John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com, Gordon will miss court action and must pass the NBA concussion protocol before returning.
.@OrlandoMagic ruled PF Aaron Gordon OUT for Fri’s game vs. @SacramentoKings because of a concussion. Gordon collided with Julius Randle & experienced symptoms after the game. It’s his 2nd concussion of the season. He’ll have to pass a series of progressive tests before returning
— John Denton (@JohnDenton555) March 9, 2018
The team’s second leading scorer, Evan Fournier, managed to sprain his MCL in his left knee which may end his season. Fournier has been playing very well as of late and his scoring prowess is sure to be missed.
An MRI has determined Evan Fournier has a sprained left MCL and will not play Friday night in Sacramento, a Magic official said.
— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) March 8, 2018
Point guard DJ Augustin sprained his right ankle which has him expected to miss time on the court as well.
It’s never a positive to see a player go down with an injury but the Magic aren’t likely to be disappointed by having to sit a few of their key players.
Tanking seems to be on the horizon
Is it coincidence that the Orlando Magic are moving into what will be their easiest stretch of the remaining season and now have significant amount of injuries biting the team?
In theory, absolutely not.
Its been long rumored that acquiring a top draft pick in this upcoming 2018 draft was a priority for this team. Although no one within management has publicly stated or supported such claims, it’s all but assumed the Magic are preparing themselves for the summer.
Doomed with salary cap restrictions and bad contracts, the Magic must creatively find ways to improve this roster before the start of the 2018-2019 season.
The most effective hope for the future will be to strengthen positions through the upcoming NBA Draft. The Magic have scouted most of the top 10 prospects and are surely looking at non lottery talents who could become gems.
The Magic have a glaring hole at the point guard position after trading away former starter, Elfrid Payton, to the Phoenix Suns just minutes before the trade deadline.
With top prospects Trae Young and Luka Doncic vying for top point guard honors, Orlando could be looking to improve their chances to make sure they can select one of the two.
The Final Verdict
While never wanting to accuse a team of purposely losing games, it’s hard not to see the warning signs.
Is it just a string of good, eh, bad, luck that the team is suffering injuries or a thought out strategy? If the Orlando Magic were vying for a playoff spot instead of lottery odds, would players still be on the injured report? Would Jonathan Isaac have missed 44 games due to an ankle sprain? Would Terrence Ross have been back on the floor at this point from his knee injury?
While it’s never assumed an injury is not as severe as being reported, the signs are just too apparent for the draft improvement cause.
Either way, it’s clear that the Orlando Magic are positioning themselves for the best draft spot available.