The Miami Heat's Free-Agent Success is Not the Orlando Magic's Free-Agent Failure

The Orlando Magic's biggest additions this summer are Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson. Their rivals to the south, the Miami Heat, added Chris Bosh and LeBron James. So clearly, the Magic's offseason was a failure. Fran Blinebury of NBA.com put it this way last month:

How do they convince themselves that Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson compare with LeBron James and Chris Bosh?

Quite obviously, they don't, because they are not delusional. Blinebury's view--and it's not unique to him, if some of the comments at this site since mid-July are any indication, so please don't think I'm trying to hammer him--utterly fails to consider the different circumstances the Magic and Heat faced this summer. Cashed-out Orlando won 59 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season. Miami, meanwhile, had a historic amount of salary-cap space with which to work. Mark Deeks explains how Pat Riley managed to pull it off here.

Let us not get it twisted: Miami's goal this summer was to play catch-up with the Magic, Boston Celtics, L.A. Lakers, and the rest of the league's elite. Orlando's core players were already in place. In Dwyane Wade, Miami had but one. That's a huge distinction.

Remember, the Magic made over their roster in 2007 with the addition of Rashard Lewis, using the salary-cap space that freed up once Grant Hill's contract expired. They further adjusted it last summer by trading for Vince Carter. Given their salary structure, and the constraints the NBA salary cap imposes, there's no way they could have reasonably expected to land a premiere free agent this summer. Instead, they split the mid-level exception on Duhon and Richardson, drafted Daniel Orton, re-signed Jason Williams, and called it a summer. In more abstract terms, they added two rotation players, drafted a project, and retained a third-stringer. Minor tweaks to an already elite roster.

Also consider that the Magic may not have even wanted to overhaul their roster this summer. John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com explains GM Otis Smith's thinking:

Otis Smith remained true to his word that he likes this team and wasn’t planning major moves this offseason. And without question Smith isn’t the reactionary type, so he wasn’t about to scrap his plans just because the Heat made a couple of major moves this summer. Smith is of the belief that the Magic were the best team in the East last spring, but simply suffered through a bad series in the Eastern Conference Finals and ran into a red-hot Celtics team.

Blinebury fairly points out that the Magic may well no longer be the best team in their own state anymore. I don't take issue with that assessment. But the idea that the Magic are inferior to the Heat simply because their free-agent additions are worse doesn't fly. Orlando started the summer far more talented, but also more constrained, than the Heat did. The summer finishes with the teams markedly more even. That's not failure on the Magic's part, but rather a success on Miami's.

Perhaps a better contrast to the Magic's summer is that of the Boston Celtics, who had fewer options than the Magic did entering free-agency; both teams had mid-level exceptions, but the Celtics didn't have a bi-annual exception. The Magic did, but have yet to use it. As Zach Lowe points out, Boston added a variety of talented players at reasonable cost "without giving up a single basketball asset," and the only rotation player they lost was Tony Allen.

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