With news breaking the other day that the New Orleans Pelicans had fired head coach Monty Williams, the Orlando Magic's coaching search got slightly murkier. With only one other vacancy prior to Tuesday's firing of Williams, the Magic's opening was the believed to be the best one, topping the Denver Nuggets', who are entering what could be a transitional period with their roster. Now, with the Pelicans' job open, there's great debate about which spot would be a better destination for a head coach.
The Pelicans, fresh off their first playoff berth since the 2010-11 season--which happened to be Williams' first year as the team's head man--bring forth one of, if not the biggest and brightest young stars in the game in Anthony Davis. Davis, in just his third season, has turned into one of the best two-way bigs in the league, terrorizing teams with his length and ability to block shots on defense, and using his athleticism and shooting ability do much of the work on offense. In his short time since turning pro, he's transformed into arguably the third-best player in the league, with room to continue growing.
Having that superstar in place is a big advantage for the Pelicans. However, when you run down the remainder of their roster, it's less than appealing. After point guard Jrue Holiday, a former All-Star who missed much of the 2014/15 season with a leg injury; and Tyreke Evans, the former Rookie of the Year; the Pelicans don't have much. Yes, they have one of the best shooting power forwards in the league in Ryan Anderson, but their general lack of depth across the board is a big issue.
Looking at the Magic, they lack that true superstar right now, but have slightly better depth. With the likes of Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Evan Fournier in the backcourt, the Magic have a three-man rotation that matches up well with many in the league. Add in youngster Aaron Gordon, and center Nikola Vucevic, along with another top-10 Draft pick this season and Tobias Harris, should he re-sign with the team, and the Magic clearly have their core for the next 3-8 years.
Aside from their players, the Magic also have the advantage off the court. With stability in their front office after general manager Rob Hennigan was given a three-year extension, the Magic don't have any questions or concerns about who is running the show.
New Orleans, on the other hand, is currently a mess. With Williams' firing came rumblings that former Detroit Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, not New Orleans general manager Dell Demps, was the calling the shots. Add in the current legal battle between team owner Tom Benson and his daughter and grandchildren over who will gain control the Pelicans and New Orleans Saints, the two teams Benson owns, once he dies, and you have an even messier situation, which could steer coaches away. Problems off the court, especially ones of this magnitude, can be a distraction.
Aside from their current roster constructions and front offices, another big key could be how the team is set up for the future. Obviously part of that equation is the players they have already, but some of it also depends on their cap space and the Draft picks they own, and are owed.
Cap-wise, the Magic have the advantage right now, but with the salary projected to balloon to around $88 million in the 2016/17 season, it becomes a virtual wash. Both teams will have the cap space to try to lure free agents, something the Pelicans might be able to do slightly easier than the Magic due to Davis' presence.
On the Draft side of things, the Magic also hold the advantage. With two picks this year, one which will be no lower than eighth barring a Draft-night trade, and a second-rounder from the Chicago Bulls, the Magic have a huge advantage over a Pelicans team that has just one second round pick this year. Following this year, the Pelicans will likely have both of their picks for the foreseeable future, with only a heavily protected second-rounder due to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2017. The Magic will add another second rounder from the Bulls next season, along with a first-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers, which will come no earlier than 2018.
While many would argue that the Pelicans' job is clearly more desirable than the Magic's, I think Orlando's isn't too far off. The Magic are still a group of pieces that are trying to fit together, they have multiple ones in place which could work and turn into something big. They've shown glimpses, but just need the right leadership.
In the grand scheme of things, I believe, despite the off-court issues, the Pelicans offer a slightly better spot to work right now, thanks in large part to Davis. Having a superstar in place, in a superstar-driven league, is key, and the Pelicans have that. That is not a slight against the Magic, but having Davis, someone who makes everyone on the court better--much like Dwight Howard did in his days in Orlando--is the tipping point in the end.