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NBA AM: The Future Of The Magic Hangs In The Balance

For the Orlando Magic, this year’s NBA Trade Deadline could be the beginning of an end.

Steve Kyler

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The Future of The Magic and GM Rob Hennigan

As the Orlando Magic approach the All-Star break with a 20-34 record and having lost seven of their last 10 games, it’s easy to say it’s time to scrap the program. General manager Rob Hennigan has had now five seasons to turn the organization around, and today they appear no closer to being back in the playoff hunt than they were when they embarked on the current rebuild.

The Magic are expected to be active around the February 23 NBA trade deadline, which may be the last chance for the current Magic front office to make this current team into something, and that may or may not be a good thing.

More and more fans and outsiders looking in wonder if the Magic are best served to let Hennigan and company make more moves, considering the current batch of moves has resulted in a very poor fit. However, the sense from inside the organization is that upper management, namely CEO Alex Martins, isn’t ready to quit on Hennigan just yet, even though the results say maybe it’s time.

Before we get into the logic of all this (right or wrong), let’s review how the Magic got here.

In 2012 the Magic parted ways with long-time general manager Otis Smith, a year after Martins assumed the role of CEO and oversight of the day-to-day of the entire team. He did a very thorough and complete search, looking for a young general manager to build the foundation for the next decade of Magic basketball. Like most teams in Orlando’s situation, they were drawn to the San Antonio Spurs model that has yielded so much sustained success in a very small market.

As Martins started to sit with would-be executives, he began to compile something of a list of characteristics he wanted in his next GM and Hennigan, to many people’s surprise, surfaced as the candidate checking off the most boxes. He was ultimately hired.

Martins knew there would be a learning curve to all of it and signed off on what would be a lengthy rebuild. Martins and Hennigan presented their plan to ownership, who signed off on the path the team is currently on.

In 2015, the Magic fired head coach Jacque Vaughn (who was handpicked by both Hennigan and Martins) and decided to explore a more experienced voice. The Magic ultimately settled in on Scott Skiles. To say the fit with Skiles and Hennigan was a shotgun wedding undervalues shotgun weddings.

The two rarely saw eye-to-eye, and that relationship ended abrutly when Skiles presented a “him or me” type ultimatum, according to sources close to the situation.

Martins tried to talk Skiles into staying onboard, and the team thought they had an understanding, and then Skiles quit on the eve of the 2016 NBA Draft combine.

The Magic scrambled to replace him, settling in on current Magic coach Frank Vogel. The view from the Magic was that Vogel was very similar in style to Skiles, and much of the planning built around Skiles would apply to Vogel.

The Magic also decided that it was time to change course on the “all young guy” strategy they had been using. The Magic had a very open and brutal assessment meeting in which the management decided that it was taking too long with the young guys and that they would have to begin handing out huge contracts to keep their youth long before the youth had achieved anything. The decision was rather than showering the likes of Victor Oladipo with what was going to be a maximum contract, it would be smarter to pursue more established proven guys for the same dollar. The Magic also decided they were not nearly defensive minded enough to compete. Those two concepts are what put the Magic on the course they are currently on.

There are a couple of things worth saying. While Martins was a key voice in many of these meetings, he was not involved in picking players. That was Hennigan and his staff. Martins did sign off on many of the moves as CEOs of teams often do, but the ultimate decisions were from Hennigan.

Additionally, on the surface, it seems the Magic may have overpaid for Serge Ibaka, giving up Oladipo, the 10th pick in the 2016 draft and the very favorable contract of Ersan Ilyasova in exchange for him. That may turn out to be a bad deal, depending on what happens next with Ibaka. The flip side of that is the Magic did not want to pay Oladipo’s expected asking price in free agency, and Ilyasova was not going to be part of the future. So, the true cost of Ibaka was the 10th pick, as the Magic were likely losing Oladipo and Ilyasova to free agency.

Maybe the Magic could have traded those players to other situations for other assets, but the Magic took the chance that Ibaka could be the answer. So far, he hasn’t been, but the Magic are not married to him beyond this season. In fact, the Magic are not married to a lot beyond this season, something that Hennigan’s critics overlook.

Which bring us back to Hennigan’s future.

Sources close to the process say they are not sold that Martins will fire Hennigan. Much like the first year in 2012, Martins knew the team was embarking on a new course, one built around more veterans. The Magic landed a few in free agency and will be set up nicely this summer to pursue more. As the Magic sit today they have just $67.4 million in salary commitments for the 2017 season, with the salary cap set to be just at $102 million, giving the Magic about $34.6 million to spend this summer.

The team has been aggressive in exploring trade options and are likely one of the teams that will do something significant before the trade deadline.

While some may question the virtue of letting Hennigan take more swings at the piñata, the view from inside the Magic is the job is not done yet, and there is still a commitment to Hennigan to deliver on the plan everyone agreed to.

That won’t be open-ended, and the results of the trade deadline may weigh heavily in Hennigan’s future, but it does seem like Martins is going to be more loyal to Hennigan than many of the fans are right now, and that may or may not be a good thing.

Firing an executive is never an easy decision. There is no question that if the Magic decides to part ways with their general manager, there is enough that didn’t go right to justify it. The question is whether they make that decision this summer or wait and make that decision next year after Hennigan gets a final chance to seal his fate with another trip through the draft and free agency.

Henigan has one more year left on his deal, so parting ways with him this summer may make more sense that entering into a lame-duck year. It would be a hard sell to the fanbase to say Hennigan has achieved enough to warrant another contract extension, so that could weigh into the decision too.

There is little doubt this is an interesting croosroad the Magic are apparoaching and the results of the trade deadline could weigh heavily on the future direction of the team on many fronts, including the future of the general manager.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett and @CodyTaylorNBA .

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

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience

It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.

Spencer Davies

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Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.

He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.

To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.

“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.

“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”

Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.

“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”

So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.

“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”

It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.

Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.

“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.

“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”

After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.

Whether the next chapter in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”

And it’s about time people are taking notice.

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NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop

Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.

Joel Brigham

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When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.

He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.

Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.

The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.

“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.

“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”

And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.

“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”

This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.

Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.

It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.

“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”

Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”

Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.

After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.

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