For the decision makers in the Magic’s front office, Saturday night’s showdown against the Kings is one that should carry with it some level of introspection.
Like their pinstriped colleagues, Sacramento currently finds themselves well outside the scope of the playoff picture. The two teams are a combined 56 games below .500 on the season, with the Magic the first to be formally eliminated from playoff contention and the Kings likely the next domino to drop in that equation.
As we know, Orlando has been a postseason level outfit just twice in the last decade, with both of those appearances amounting to only First Round roadkill against much higher-placed opponents. Sacramento’s futility is even more excruciating, about to stretch into an almost unimaginable sixteenth season. This is a once-proud franchise who has somehow averaged just 29 wins per campaign for a decade and a half.
Despite such a pronounced and prolonged level of losing, in that time the Kings have amazingly managed to select in the top five of the annual draft just four times, with only one selection even coming from a slot higher than #4 overall – 2018, when they used the second pick to add Marvin Bagley. This is a team that desperately just wants to ride the underwhelming Treadmill of Mediocrity, but who have been interminably stuck in the queue and watching fast-pass riders scoot by them in the overtaking lane.
So why exactly should the Orlando brass be looking at this relatively meaningless, late-season matchup with an out-of-conference foe as a potential learning lesson? Well, because the Kings have emerged as one of, if not the league’s most gruesome cautionary tale when it comes to rebuilding management. For almost two decades Sacramento has been teaching us that:
- No matter where you draft, you have to find talent
- When you do find young talent, you have to actually place those players in a position to succeed
- Messing up when to hold ‘em (see: Haliburton, Tyrese) and when to fold ‘em (see: Cousins, Boogie) can be a disaster
- Stability in the coaching ranks has value
- You can’t miss the Forest of Genuine Contention for the Trees of Minor Gains
When considered through this lens, it’s apparent why tonight’s game has the potential to haunt like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Each of the mistakes that the Kings have made while Kangzing is one that Orlando should be earnestly evaluating relative to their own rebuild. Because when you dig down into it, the Magic have whiffed on juicy picks. They’ve created logjams of youth. They’ve cut bait both too early and too late. They’ve cycled through leaders. They’ve prioritized short-term gains.
It would be a little misleading to not point out that the Magic’s recent stretch of struggle spans two entirely different front office teams. Therefore, any evaluation of the progress of the latest crew shouldn’t be colored by the failures of those that preceded them. However, the Kings have also undergone all sorts of changes at the top of their system, none of which seemed to really alter the tune being discordantly hummed from their offices. Their failures have seemingly become embedded into the musical notation of the organization.
The Magic can’t afford to let that become the case for them in Central Florida. Although they might be favored in the immediacy of tonight’s outcome, they more importantly have to position themselves in the race for future relevance.
Let’s hope that by looking to the lessons from Sacramento that the Magic can find a genuinely sustainable answer to their own rebuilding conundrum.
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