When Tobias Harris and Channing Frye were sent packing at the trade deadline, Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan sold fans on the future.
By creating cap space, and promising to be "as aggressive as any team in free agency", it seemed that solutions were to be found in time. This hope has marinated for months, giving Magic fans visions of top-tier free agents and an instantly competitive roster.
Free agents are especially attractive because of the notion of winning something. The team that comes out on top makes a pitch, and the player chooses which one is most appealing. It is a source of pride to be a top free agent destination, and that can divide teams into tiers.
In free agency, there is no price other than cap space, and the surrounding roster remains intact. In some ways, this is the closest a player ever comes to being a fan – he believes in his new team, and their success can determine his happiness.
Months after the departure of Harris and Frye, it was another trade that brought expectations back down to earth in Orlando -- Draft night. The Magic shocked the NBA community, moving fan favorite Victor Oladipo to Oklahoma City in exchange for Serge Ibaka, Magic fans were reminded that in the NBA, few things are free.
It’s time for Hennigan to make good on his promise, but it’ll be hard for reality to meet those loft expectations. When the dust settles, what if Orlando is left with Deron Williams and Harrison Barnes rather than Mike Conley and Nicolas Batum?
Success many not come in the form it was promised. A marquee free agent may not ride in on a white horse to save the Magic. It could be a collection of trades and smaller acquisitions that rights the ship in Orlando.
In the immortal words of Larry David, "A good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied", and this often plays out between NBA front offices. Few deals are totally one-sided, and both general managers have to give up something they want in exchange for something they deem more valuable.
Often, different teams have totally different needs. This means one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure.
Take a player like Jason Terry, for instance. To some teams, he’s a defensive liability with his best days as a shooter behind him. To a team like the Magic, he’s a veteran leader with championship experience.
Many factors go into rating a player’s worth beyond just his talent level and his cap number. These include things like work ethic, personality, adaptability, and room for growth. Too many leaders can create a team with no followers; too few leaders can foster a culture without accountability.
When the Magic make moves this offseason, it’s easy to view them in a vacuum – to turn these players into algorithms without a human element.
After last year’s collapse, it seems that the Magic are done with this way of thinking. They want veterans, and they’re willing to sacrifice talent to get them. This front office has seen firsthand that a locker room without accountability can be a nightmare.
The 2016 offseason is sure to be stranger than any before it. In the midst of the hype, it’s easy to get caught up in idealism. This wave of additions may look much different from what people expect, or even what was promised, but only the scoreboard will tell if it was a success or a failure.