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In Orlando Magic rebuild, process should trump product

As the Magic shift their focus from contending for championships to rebuilding, the team should be more concerned with building a new culture than it should be with winning games.

Alex Martins, Rob Hennigan, and Dan DeVos
Alex Martins, Rob Hennigan, and Dan DeVos
Fernando Medina - Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic you see on the floor in the 2012/13 season will bear little resemblance to the squad which won 65.7 percent of its games over the last five seasons, and that's okay, just as it's also okay that the team will operate in a dramatically different way than it did over the same span. New general manager Rob Hennigan, who cut his teeth in the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder organizations, is tasked with a most difficult rebuilding project. And as Hennigan continues his rebuild, of which trading Dwight Howard was only a part, the team's focus needs to be on improving its internal processes, not necessarily on winning games. The latter will come in time, as a consequence of the former.

Hennigan has already undertaken several steps to change the way the Magic work. He gutted the team's basketball operations department, for example, and brought aboard Matt Lloyd, formerly of the Chicago Bulls, to head up the team's scouting wing. Lloyd is renowned in NBA circles for his vast database of pro and collegiate scouting data. Josh Robbins wrote more on the overhauled basketball ops department for the Orlando Sentinel here.

In addition, the Magic are among three teams to install ball- and player-tracking cameras in their arena for the forthcoming season, reports Zach Lowe of Grantland. The Spurs and Thunder are among the teams that have already implemented these cameras to collect this new sort of data, and while no one's entirely sure what the long-range implications of having these data are, bringing the Magic to the cutting edge in data collection ought to be one of Hennigan's foremost concerns.

Plenty of teams across sports face rebuilding projects, and the feeling I get is many of them don't have a plan more extensive than getting new players and hiring a new coach. Hennigan recognizes that winning teams--like the Spurs and Thunder organizations of which he was a part--have a certain culture about them, one which places a premium on player development, scouting, and personal relationships, in addition to talent.

Which brings me to my next point: all the scouting wizardry in the world won't amount to much if the team that has it lacks the talent necessary to win games. In the first few years of the rebuilding project, the Magic still won't have much talent. But if Hennigan succeeds in building a strong organizational foundation, one built on the philosophies of the Spurs, Thunder, and the league's other cutting-edge franchises, then when he finally does bring in that talent, Orlando will be well prepared, and ready to return to the ranks of the league's elite... or at least the league's respectable.

To judge the Magic by their record in 2012/13 is to miss the point. The season is more important in ways we, the public, lack the means to measure.

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