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The Draft Lottery just another L for the Orlando Magic

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Last night’s disappointment was a sharp reminder that it’s a long way back for the Magic

2021 NBA Draft Lottery Photo by Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard something similar before.

Dispiriting basketball side plays through largely listless campaign, accumulating losses and short term pain in the hope that lottery positioning will eventually lead to long term gains. The team manages to churn out just enough putrid play to secure one of the three best sets of lottery odds, ensuring that a wave of optimism swells within the fanbase. However, the random drawing ultimately dashes those hopes, punishing but one member of this most woeful triumvirate by doling out the patented ‘X+1’ pick in what most experts agree is an X player draft.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Orlando Magic!

For the fifth time in the last seven lotteries in which they’ve participated, the Magic have taken a step back relative to their finishing order. In fact, the next time that Orlando actually benefits on lottery night and moves up will be the first time since 1993! Unfortunately for the here and now the 2021 slide is two whole slots in the wrong direction, down to pick number five in a draft that projects to have some number fewer than that in terms of franchise-changing talents.

Make no mistake: this is a distasteful outcome for a franchise and fanbase that had only recently again smashed the ‘reset’ button, aborting a rebuild that had reached its ceiling as first round roadkill. The Magic haven’t been truly relevant in almost a decade now, and some lottery luck would have been a welcome salve for a burnt out team with a long recovery looming.

No such luck for Orlando this year.

The Magic won’t enjoy the giddy optimism that comes with the first overall choice. They won’t enjoy the same number of options that come with being at the absolute head of the draft class. They’ll be, at least to some degree, at the whims of their direct competition, with their own big board ultimately subject to the selection processes of the team’s picking ahead of them. The job just got irrefutably more difficult.

As with any draft there are caveats, though. The most significant, of course, is that success still requires any team to nail their pick, whether that’s first overall, fifth, or fifteenth. It’s also worth keeping in mind that every single draft features a player or two who seemingly comes from nowhere to lay claim to being one of the best selections available. Finally, all the picks in the world aren’t worth a thing unless the team puts that player in a position to succeed moving forward; development once they’re in the door is just as important as draft slot when it comes to flipping the fortunes of any franchise.

Indiana Pacers v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

For the 2021 Magic, there’s also this to remember: process over results. The outcome of this lottery doesn’t decisively prove that the Magic were wrong to be obviously and actively tanking down the stretch. Instead, it just highlights the inherent cruelties evident in any system with such a heavy dose of randomness. Orlando did basically everything they could to shift the odds in their favor, but still copped a gut punch for their troubles regardless.

(There’s probably not much value to be gained by wading into these weeds, but how awkward is it that the last win of the Magic’s season came against the Pistons in a game in which their opponent simply out-tanked them? The result ultimately allowed Detroit to finish the season with one less win, which they converted into the first overall pick. What the tank gods giveth to the Pistons they seemingly taketh away from the Magic.)

Orlando’s current rebuild was already projecting to be a multi-year process long before last night’s ping pong balls bounced unfortunately. Picking outside the top three just confirms that fact while also increasing the task’s overall degree of difficulty. Still, having selections 5 and 8 this year — as well as what is almost certainly another significant lottery pick next year — is a decent head start in what always figured to be an excruciating process.

Does it sting to have not lucked into one of the draft’s juiciest picks? Absolutely, particularly for those who invested significant time and mental energy during a season that was tough to stomach. A top pick promises to extricate a team from whatever mire of meaninglessness they may be in, and Magic fans saw that hope snatched away. As such, the immediate wave of pessimism is understandable.

But last night’s unfortunate outcome isn’t a funeral dirge for the Magic. Fact is, the side was already at its lowest ebb (we hope). The scope of the rebuilding project facing Orlando is such that no one draft was ever going to completely reverse the franchise’s fortunes. The expectation remains — as it always should have been — that the Magic will be making multiple trips to the draft lottery in the years to come.

Last night’s results were simply another awkward reminder of that fact.