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Could the Magic really have had Blake Griffin and Paul George?

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Over the last few months, former Magic players have been dealt for the perennial All-Stars

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine a “Big Three” of Aaron Gordon, Blake Griffin and Paul George.

In a league where championship teams are built with star-studded rosters, that’s not a bad trio, particularly for an organization yearning for one All-Star, never mind three candidates. Perhaps even four had the Magic not backed out on a potential trade for DeMarcus Cousins.

Of the two most recent blockbuster trades in the NBA, the Magic have been something of an invisible franchise in essential three-team deals, unofficially facilitating the trades through their past deals. The Detroit Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder each used players they acquired from the Magic for what proved to be pennies on the dollar and ultimately flipped them for a star player.

On Monday, almost seven months to the day after former Magic guard Victor Oladipo was dealt by the Thunder for Paul George, former Magic forward Tobias Harris was the centerpiece of the Pistons trade for Blake Griffin.

The Griffin-Harris deal sparked something of a frenzy among some Magic fans. One article, based on the comments of a Reddit user, even called the Magic the ultimate losers of the Pistons-Clippers trade.

But it’s true, the Magic might actually be the first team in the history of the NBA to be the losing team of a trade they weren’t directly involved in.

Let’s take a look at the Magic transactions that eventually played a role in helping Griffin land in Detroit and George in Oklahoma City, deals we discussed a few months ago in a story asking which Magic transaction would you most like to undo.

February 2016: Orlando trades Tobias Harris to Detroit for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova

June 2016: Orlando trades Victor Oladipo and lottery pick Domantas Sabonis to Oklahoma City for Serge Ibaka

As we all know too well, Jennings and Ilyasova finished the season with Orlando before going their separate ways, and Ibaka played 56 games for the Magic before being dealt for Terrence Ross and a first-round pick.

I’ll gladly criticize former Magic GM Rob Hennigan for many things, but the Oladipo trade isn’t necessarily one of them, only because at the time I didn’t think it was a bad deal. With Oladipo evolving into an All-Star, it’s easy to be angered by it in retrospect. The Harris deal, however, was a head-scratching salary dump that, even for a player that at times was viewed as a ball-stopper that disrupted the flow of the offense, never quite made sense. If the Magic were unable to land a larger return on their investment than what they received, they simply should have held on to Harris and either waited for him to further develop or for a better trade offer.

Speaking of, here are the subsequent trades involving Oladipo and Harris:

June 2017: Oklahoma City trades Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana for Paul George

Monday: Detroit trades Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a 2018 protected first round pick and a 2019 second round pick to Los Angeles for Blake Griffin, Willie Reed and Brice Johnson

There are obviously many variables at play in a hypothetical scenario such as this, but the frustration of Magic fans is understandable. The exact package the Magic sent away for Ibaka brought in Paul George elsewhere and, had Harris never been dealt away by Orlando, he perhaps could have been offered along with two of the Magic’s expiring contracts (Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja?) and a combination of draft picks to equate what the Pistons gave the Clippers for Griffin.

That of course begs the next question: although the Magic organization and fan base are starved for a star, and more importantly for a winning team, would they have even wanted George and Griffin?

George is headed for unrestricted free agency, and with his eyes reportedly set on Los Angeles, his stay in Orlando likely would have been a brief one (but then again, so was Ibaka’s). Griffin, after signing a five-year, $173 million deal last summer, would have been under Magic control through 2022. But his astronomical annual salary, which will reach nearly $39 million in the final year of the deal, would have saddled the Magic financially and put their future in the hands of an oft-injured 29-year old who has undergone a half-dozen surgical procedures in recent years.

It’s a considerable risk at $173 million. And yet…

Orlando is not exactly a free agent destination for those not named Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, Rashard Lewis and the few other marquee names that voluntarily decided to join the Magic.

The Magic’s best chance of landing a star in the superteam era is through the draft or by taking on an undesirable contract like Griffin’s and hoping that he can still be the player that turned the Clippers around. Perhaps we’ll never know how realistic it would have been to pair George and Griffin in Orlando, or how long it would have lasted had it happened. Nor do we know exactly what the Magic may have offered for each player behind closed doors.

But the recent trades being made with pieces Orlando gave away have shined a spotlight on the poor return the Magic received on deals they made.

What are your thoughts? Should the Magic have gambled on Paul George? Should they have taken on Griffin’s contract just to have a big name in Orlando? Both? Neither? Sound off in the comments below.