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NBA AM: Not All “Calculated Risks” Work Out

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You Have To Take Risks To Improve

There are few things in sports that are the preverbal “slam dunk.” LeBron James was as can’t miss as almost anyone, but if you look at the draft and free agency, it’s been a crapshoot in the NBA for a long time. To vilify any one team over any one decision isn’t exactly fair, because as they say, hindsight is “20/20”. In the moment, all decisions have a risk.

As Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan addressed the media yesterday, he was asked about the decision to trade away Victor Oladipo, the rights to the 11th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft (Domantas Sabonis) and forward Ersan Ilyasova and if he regretted trading Serge Ibaka (the fruits of that trade) some 235 days later.

“I think it was a calculated risk,” Hennigan said of the decision in June. “Where we’re positioned we’ll continue to take calculated risks if we feel like they can address needs and push the team forward.”

“I think if you go back in time, you look at what was needed for us in the frontcourt and some of the voids we thought we had on the roster. Then, you balance that with the logjam we had at the two guard at the time with Evan and Victor, we felt like it made sense. Sometimes you have to take a few shots down the field. Sometimes it pans out; sometimes it won’t. I applaud our aggressiveness. I think given the same situation, circumstantially, we would make the same trade. Sometimes, things don’t work out as you plan. I think it’s important to be proactive in trying to rectify that too.”

There is no question that the Magic bailed out of the Ibaka deal at a loss. Victor Oladipo is the better of the two talents between he and Terrence Ross, whom the Magic acquired yesterday. Still, in the long-term, the skillset Ross brings and his lower salary make him a better fit for the Magic than Oladipo would have had the Magic re-signed him under the terms of the new deal he signed with the Thunder. Paying Oladipo (as the Thunder did) would have cost the Magic.

Sabonis, whom the Thunder selected with the 11th pick the Magic surrendered, is a promising player. He’s likely better than the lesser of the two picks the Raptors control in the 2017 NBA draft, which project to be either the 21st (Toronto’s selection) or 24th (LA Clippers’ selection). The 2017 Draft might end up being deeper than say the 2016 Draft, but Sabonis is looking like a solid prospect.

Projecting forward is tough. It’s tough for any organization, which makes the success of a team like the San Antonio Spurs all the more impressive against the backdrop of teams that can’t string together a similar track record.

Pick any organization in the NBA, there is a botched free agency deal or two in every GM’s resume and there are also botched draft picks and trades.

Unfortunately, in the court of public opinion, the expectations to nail every move or to grade well with every move is unforgiving, something Hennigan and the Magic are living through now.

It is pretty rare to see a move as the absolute sure thing, especially when there is so much a team can’t know before making a decision. Some decisions seem more obvious without the cloud of the circumstances and situations that drive them.

The Magic were fortunate to find a way out of the Ibaka situation. In the grand scheme, they got a quality player in Ross that fits the roster far better than Ibaka would have in the long-term (and far cheaper), and they get a draft pick to almost replace the pick they gave away in the “shot down field.”

Not all teams are as fortunate to be able to trade out of a bad deal, but the Magic and Hennigan won’t get any credit for that unless the Magic’s woeful 21-36 season turns around, but that too is part of the unknowns of professional sports, sometimes things just don’t work out.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.