PETER K: Magic’s Martins Orlando’s Most Powerful Person
By Peter Kerasotis // June 29, 2012
PETER KERASOTIS – MY TAKE
As you read this, the July issue of Orlando Magazine is hitting newsstands. On the cover is Magic CEO Alex Martins, freshly named Orlando’s most powerful person. Yours truly wrote the piece.
I had no hand in deciding who would top the magazine’s annual list. I was simply told it was Martins … and now go write a cover story. But I can tell you this: Martins’ power has much more to do with his community involvement than it does with his day job running the city’s only major league sports franchise. He sits on 10 different Board of Directors, rode the point in getting the Amway Center built and is deeply involved with construction on the new downtown performing arts center, bringing SunRail to Central Florida, upgrading the Citrus Bowl and other important civic initiatives.
None of which, of course, matters to Magic fans.
What they want is results. What they want is for Dwight Howard to re-up on his contract. What they want are championships – plural.
Whether or not Martins’ leadership brings all that to the Magic faithful remains to be seen. What we have seen so far, though, is that he isn’t sitting around, waiting for things to just happen.
Since Martins became the franchise’s CEO last December, 16 key people have departed the organization. Most of them were either fired or left via a soft-sounding euphemism. Actually, the body count is at 17, if you include the fact that when Martins became the CEO, he arrived at the expense of Bob Vander Weide, whose sudden exit seemed more like an exile.
(By the way, those body count figures come courtesy of my buddy Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel. Brian and I, and just a few other sports writers, are all who remain who have covered the Magic from their first practice in 1989 down to today.)
This is a franchise moving in a new direction, and doing so with pedal to the medal, exceeding the normal speed limit.
But will that new direction include Howard?
Days away from July, we still don’t know.
Either way, Martins has shown that he isn’t waiting around.
When Martins fired/dismissed/mutually parted ways with (whatever you want to call it) former general manager Otis Smith and former head coach Stan Van Gundy, he apparently did so without any assurance that it would placate Howard, who asked to be traded last December, then backpedaled hours before the March trade deadline and then, evidently, asked out again.
When Martins recently hired Rob Hennigan to be the franchise’s new general manager, he did so knowing critics would be lining up, waiting to take their shots. Not only is Hennigan just 30, he’s never been a GM before.
Martins could’ve gone safe. He could’ve gone established. There were several experienced GMs on the market he could’ve hired.
But he didn’t, and if you ask me, that says something. And that something is positive. Great leaders don’t settle for safe.
There’s a trend developing in basketball, similar to what happened in baseball the last 10-plus years or so. Baseball underwent a revolution with sabermetrics, which created a slew of new statistical acronyms, as well as the best-selling book and major motion picture “Moneyball.”
Back in 2002, the Boston Red Sox tapped into a young whiz kid who was riding the crest of that new wave way of analyzing all things baseball. His name was Theo Epstein, and he was just 28 at the time. In fact, when Boston named Epstein its general manager, he became the youngest in MLB history. Two years later, the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Three years after that, they won another.
So much for youth having to wait its turn.
Like Epstein, Hennigan grew up in Massachusetts. More importantly, like Epstein, Hennigan is immersed in his sport’s new sabermetrics terminology – into all the new ways of measuring players and the game.
So is Rob Hennigan his sport’s version of Theo Epstein, exactly one decade down the road?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that the two organizations he was with prior to joining the Magic were the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. Both are small-market teams that have won big. Both have been successful without bad, bloated contracts. Both are known for savvy draft picks and smart player development.
Safe to say, all of that mattered to Alex Martins and factored heavily into his decision when he hired Hennigan.
And it should have.
I’ve maintained for years that the biggest problems the Magic have had are its propensity for bad, bloated contracts (see Steve Francis, Gilbert Arenas, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu), bad first-round draft picks (see Fran Vazquez, Reece Gaines, Jeryl Sasser and Curtis Borchardt), and weak player development.
So I wasn’t sad to see Otis Smith go at the behest of Martins, and last week the assistant GM, six scouts and the player development director go at the behest of Hennigan.
It was time.
Time for them and assistant coaches and a whole slew of other folks in the franchise to go.
Time to move in a new direction.
Thursday night, in Hennigan’s second official act as Orlando’s new GM, he selected power forward Andrew Nicholson out of St. Bonaventure with NBA Draft’s 19th overall pick, and in the process chose not to trade Howard, although admitting the franchise had several offers.
So how good is this Andrew Nicholson?
Only time will tell.
What we do know is that Alex Martins is wasting little time shaping this franchise in his image, with a new head coach due to arrive shortly. Orlando’s most powerful person is exercising his power where it matters most to Magic fans, and that’s with his day job.