BONANNO: Orlando Magic Potentially Earning Second Consecutive Playoff Berth Could Pay Dividends in Future

By  //  December 28, 2019

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The Magic notched a big 98-97 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night to improve their grip on a playoff spot

The Orlando Magic defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 98-97 on Friday night (Image by Chris Bonanno).

ORLANDO, FLORIDA – The Orlando Magic have a two-game lead on the competition for the eighth seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference following their 98-97 win over the Philadephia 76ers on Friday night.

With the sixth-seeded Toronto Raptors a seemingly unreachable seven games ahead of Orlando, it appears the Magic’s ceiling is to get one of the last two playoff spots in the East where they’d be a decided underdog a team like Milwaukee, Boston, Miami or the 76ers.

So the question is this: With Orlando likely to finish either as one of those seeds or as a team that misses altogether, which outcome is in the franchise’s best interest?

There are arguments to be made on both fronts.

For as impressive as Orlando’s depth is, the Magic currently don’t have a player capable of being the best player on a title team and they very possibly don’t have one that could be the second best player either (with apologies to Nikola Vucevic).

As we know, the vast majority of NBA superstars come at the very front of the draft. A Tom Brady-type story of becoming a megastar after being chosen late in the NFL Draft simply doesn’t happen.

The Magic also won’t have salary cap space to anything significant in free agency this summer (and even if they did, the class lacks the type of young star the Magic need).

Further, the NBA’s lottery rules have been changed to de-incentivize tanking and thus give the teams in the mid-to-late lottery a better chance to attain a top four draft choice. As an example, both the Pelicans and the Lakers moved up to the first and fourth picks, respectively from the mid-to-late lottery area.

Missing the playoffs would bring the Magic a little more hope for the future, with a chance at the elusive potential superstar such as Memphis big man James Wiseman or North Carolina’s Cole Anthony that the Magic need in order to be serious contenders.

It’s certainly not unheard of for a team’s fans to root for them to lose as part of such a strategy. The most noteworthy team to do it was the 76ers themselves, who now boast two young All-Stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

But it says here that Orlando is best served to make the playoffs.

Culture is a very, very difficult thing to develop and is, in this writer’s view, an essential ingredient in franchise building in professional sports. The Magic started to build just that during the 2018-2019 season, making the playoffs for the first time since Dwight Howard starred with the franchise.

Making the playoffs for a second-consecutive year would set a standard that would be extremely beneficial for the Magic’s bevy of developing young players including Mo Bamba, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac.

Oh, and speaking of that trio, all of their respective developments would no doubt only be enhanced by a playoff appearance. It’s also not impossible that any or all of the three can develop into stars.

Ask the Spurs. It can work.

And even though the Magic aren’t projected to have cap space next summer, they could the following year and being able to sell a winning culture to free agents is huge. Their rivals to the south in the Miami Heat showed just how important that is as they were able to woo former 76ers All-Star Jimmy Butler this summer in part because of the standard they’d set over the past couple of seasons as they bucked conventional wisdom and did not rebuild (or tank).

Let’s face it, it would also be nice to have a few home playoff games, too, both as a reward to loyal fans and from a purely economic standpoint as well.

The Magic may not win an NBA Championship this year, but making the playoffs for a second-straight can help the team in one day achieving that goal.