Orlando Magic deserve Sports Illustrated’s “Clown Show” label

Sports Illustrated posted a debate over which team is the NBA’s biggest clown show. The Orlando Magic correctly received a nomination.

The Orlando Magic recently made Sports Illustrated’s list of biggest NBA “clown shows,” and they absolutely deserved that position.

Alex Hampl, the writer who nominated them for the dysfunction award, highlighted the team’s lack of success and direction. He mentioned the frequent coaching changes, bizarre personnel decisions, and questionable rotation decisions as reasons for their dysfunction.

In fact, he claimed that if Orlando were a bigger media market, the Magic would be much more commonly thought of as a clown show to the average observer. However, they often go under the radar when teams such as the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls have issues.

Most fans and casual observers can see how much of a mess this team has become. And there is no evidence to disagree with this “clown show” label, especially as the team pushed in for the Playoffs this year and is on track for a worse record than last year’s mediocre 35-win effort.

After the Magic traded Dwight Howard, they sold their fans on a slow and steady rebuild into a perennial contender. They seemed on track at least to have a core develop with each other into a team to create sustainable trouble in the Eastern Conference.

At the end of the 2015 season, the Magic had a team full of solid assets in Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Kyle O’Quinn and the fifth pick in that upcoming draft, the third top-five pick in three years.

The Magic were considered the team on the rise that would be fun as they grow into a playoff team. Not even two years later, they are considered a clown show with no end in sight.

The franchise grew tired of missing the playoffs, lost Harkless, O’Quinn and Harris for essentially nothing and stacked the roster with low-ceiling veterans with the hope of making the playoffs in the short term. They traded Oladipo and the 11th pick in the 2016 Draft (Domantas Sabonis) for Serge Ibaka, seemingly with the plan all along to throw big money at another big man.

The team ignored fit. Orlando elected not to build a roster around its best remaining asset in Aaron Gordon and put him in an uncomfortable position that may stunt his growth in the future.

They decided to bury the 2015 fifth overall pick in Mario Hezonja on the bench instead of giving him a chance to become comfortable against NBA opponents and grow. The Magic tried to rush his development and cast him and his talent aside when he was not ready to contribute.

All of these questionable decisions were with the hope of making the 2017 postseason. At this point in time, they are tied for the fifth-worst record in the NBA and have the fourth-worst net rating in the league. As NBA math shows, they do not even show quantifiable evidence of effort.

Most analysts and fans can see that this team is bad.

Now, they are at a crossroad that can set the tone for the future of the franchise.

One option is to admit they made a mistake, try to sell some of their older players for future assets (young players and draft picks), and recommit to the initial plan. Another option is to try to find a short-term fix for their struggles, perhaps acquiring another veteran, with the hope that they can end up making the playoffs either this season or next.

Fans should hope the first option is what the front office decides to do. But all indications point to the latter.

The 2017 draft is considered a relatively strong one. The Magic are only three games separated from the Phoenix Suns for position to draft a potential star point guard in Lonzo Ball or Dennis Smith, Jr.

If the Magic elect to trade a player like Nikola Vucevic or even a younger asset such as Mario Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, or their first round pick, they would set back the ceiling for the team for a roster that likely still is not good enough to make the postseason.

The Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets are currently tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference. If the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat went through with the rumored deal, for example, and sent Vucevic and a pick for Goran Dragic, they likely still would not be good enough to make the playoffs. They would be setting themselves back even more for the future.

The Magic have made a lot of severe mistakes in the past two years that have stunted their rebuild. They now have a big decision to make over the next few weeks.

They can opt for the total rebuild and hope they find a gem at the top of the draft that would give them a franchise player for the future, or they can continue to find vets for this pipe dream of two extra home games in April en route to a humiliating first-round playoff loss.

Either way, the Magic should not expect relevant basketball in the near future. And the more probable route of acquiring vets could put them in position for a Sacramento Kings– and Minnesota Timberwolves-type playoff drought.

The Knicks have Kristaps Porzingis, the Bulls have Jimmy Butler. The Magic have no potential superstars. They are steering away from building around the timeline and development of their most promising asset.

They are banking on a quick fix to this bad basketball team being enough to become one of the top 16 teams in the league. The odds of that happening are not too high.

The past five years of futility with no end in sight is why Sports Illustrated was absolutely correct in including the Orlando Magic on their list of NBA clown shows.

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