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Column: The Orlando Magic are stuck in NBA purgatory

Deciding between pushing for the playoffs or tanking for the lottery should be an easy choice

NBA: Orlando Magic at Minnesota Timberwolves Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

One is telling the Magic to try to make the playoffs, the other is saying to tank for the draft lottery. Problem is, we don’t really know which one is telling them to do what, because no one seems to know with certainty the best and safest course for the perpetually rebuilding franchise to take.

The Magic are stuck in NBA purgatory. Too good to be bad enough, too bad to be good enough.

At the midway point of the season, Orlando sits 2.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. And yet, with a record of 17-24, and having dropped four straight games and nine of their last 12, they own the league’s seventh worst record, and thus, the seventh best draft lottery odds.

That gives them a 7.5 percent chance of landing the top pick in the draft and a 31.9 percent chance of falling somewhere in the top-four. With each win, those odds become less. And if the team actually did make the playoffs, they’d surrender their chances altogether and draft in the middle of the first round.

By making the playoffs, with a first round match-up against the Bucks or Raptors waiting, Orlando’s stay in the postseason would definitely likely be a brief one. A chance at a high draft pick, small as the odds may be, would have been sacrificed by a team with clear holes to fill. All so the postseason lights could shine in Amway Center for an extra two or three games.

If the front office truly does have this goal of making the playoffs, misguided as it may be, doing so would bring an end to the Magic’s franchise-long six-year playoff drought. Perhaps the Magic brass sees a cameo appearance in the playoffs as a way to drop a stigma, build a winning culture, and sell veteran free agents on the prospect of joining a young team that’s on the rise now that they’ve finally made the long climb back to the postseason.

Many fans, as starved as they are for playoff basketball, don’t see it that way….

While there is little to no chance of catching teams like the Cavs, Suns, Bulls, Knicks and Hawks in the race to worst place, being in the lottery at the very least gives the Magic a chance to jump ahead of them in the Draft.

Is that hope, and the better pick they’ll have regardless, more valuable than what would be a four-to-seven game stint in the playoffs?

To many (myself included), it is. The Magic must look to the future, not the playoffs. They must accept reality, not try to defy it. They must become sellers, not buyers.

Nikola Vucevic should be sold to the highest bidder, and on the way out the door I’d thank him for his time and tell him he is more than welcome to come back in free agency this summer (for the right price).

Terrence Ross should bring in a decent return from a contender looking for a rental piece. Jonathon Simmons, with his play this season, would be on the clearance rack, but the Magic still should take whatever they can get from a team that has a need.

Do nothing, and the Magic risk losing pieces of value for nothing. This after they have helped the Magic win games they’d be better off losing.

This franchise is not ready for the playoffs. That angel on their shoulder is telling them to go back to the lottery.