Feast your eyes upon the most expensive ping pong ball in Orlando Magic history. All 40 millimeters in circumference. Tipping the scales at less than a tenth of an ounce. But a bauble so full of promise that the Magic strategically endured two entire seasons of pummelings, positioning for one big night in the hopper at Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery.
The bright lights of New York City await and a global hoops audience is cable connected. Founding father and lottery miracle man Pat Williams has us all believing lightning can strike four times after winning the draw in 1992, 1993 and in 2004.
Even when Williams loses, he wins. The Magic had the best odds to win the top pick last season, but even though they wound up No. 2 instead, they still got the player they coveted in Victor Oladipo.
That’s the stuff of dreams for Magic general manager Rob Hennigan and his phalanx of advisors, analysts and scouts. His posse, along with the Bucks and Sixers are the three clubs that played themselves into the best position to claim the top pick.
Dubious additional company could — as Williams improbably proved in ’93 in winning with just one ball in contention — claim the top spot in June’s NBA draft. Ain’t likely to happen. The worst Orlando can do is get stuck at No. 6, and if you need an explanation as to why, you haven’t been paying attention for the past two months since the 2014 regular season mercifully ended.
And while the Cavaliers reaffirmed with the Anthony Bennett fiasco that even the top spot doesn’t guarantee success (but will get the GM and head coach run right outta Ohio if botched), this year’s glamour group of wiz kids — Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Aussie Dante Exum and (please let his aching back be healthy) Joel Embiid — are as close to a can’t miss collection as the NBA has ever enjoyed.
The Magic also own a second selection in the first round. One that belongs to either the Knicks or Nuggets. Whichever pick is higher. And it will stand no worse than 12th in June’s pecking order. Could well be the 11th position.
This is the pick that could launch Orlando into a warp speed return to the league’s elite. This is the slot upon which the sum total of the Magic’s analytics are most critical. The wisdom of experience. The cutting edge of data. Grab one of the Big Four from Lottery Night and Orlando builds its core. Quite predictably.
Nail the 11th spot, and glory days are here again.
Last season, Philadelphia owned the 11th selection. Michael Carter-Williams was crowned the NBA Rookie of the Year. The cool uniforms of Golden State stood at No. 11 in 2011 and chose Klay Thompson.
Orlando has experienced mix reviews in past years here, drafting fan favorite J.J. Redick’s hot shot in 2006 after apparently losing Fran Vazquez to Spain’s witness protection program a season earlier. Still can’t find him.
The greatest clutch shooter of the modern era, seven times an NBA champion, Robert Horry earned one of his rings for Houston against the Magic in 1995 after his ’93 arrival. And let the record show, the man who logged the most minutes in an Orlando Magic uniform in franchise history, the original No. 1 pick in 1989, Nick Anderson was taken by wizardly Pat Williams from the 11th position.
Should the Magic add an Anderson, Horry, Redick, Thompson, or an astonishing point guard like Carter-Williams to one of the marquee names that will be swirling in Manhattan on Tuesday, and the past two seasons will prove to be tactically well spent.
This all begins with a ping pong ball. Albeit, an incredibly expensive one, in a hopper on Broadway, far, far from the parquet court.