George Diaz: Rob Hennigan firing only first step in another Magic rebuild
Orlando Magic rebuilds give you a quick roller-coaster rush. It seems fun at first, before you start feeling nauseous and want to barf.
Hang on Magic fans, and strap in for another ride.
The Magic officially began Rebuild Season No. 6 by firing general manager Rob Hennigan on Thursday. In another breaking news, traffic on I-4 is a hot mess.
Firing Hennigan after another torturous season for the Magic was a necessary and obvious first step in the process of yet another rebuild.
You won’t get that in the marketing pitch. Alex Martins, the CEO of the Magic, isn’t using the “R” word, saying he “believes in the majority of our players.”
It’s understandably not prudent to rip your players publicly, but when Martins selects a new GM and huddles with coach Frank Vogel, they should agree that “the process,” “sustainability” and “objective metrics” that Hennigan talked about were a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, which led to Nowheresville.
“What we’ve gone through over the last five years is not acceptable,” Martins said.
So go nuclear, and blow it up. If you can, that is. Hennigan has left the Magic with a flawed roster and without any solid assets who have trade value.
Power forward Aaron Gordon is the only player with star potential on the team. Even that’s iffy, given his spotty shooting touch. Everyone else has limitations, offensively or defensively, or has reached their peak pro level as a complementary player or sub.
Blame Hennigan, an untested GM who was generously given five years to get the Magic to their happy place again after the Dwight Howard divorce. It didn’t happen.
Blame Martins, the man who hired Hennigan and has signed off on all basketball personnel decisions since December 2011.
Blame any one of the five Magic coaches in place since 2012, if you start with Stan Van Gundy and include James Borrego’s cameo-stint of 30 games in 2015.
Blame the DeVos family ownership group, which has thrown good money after bad, with the eighth-highest payroll in the NBA and the fifth-worst record in the league.
Let out all the frustration. Scream! Curse the names of the dearly-departed – Howard, Victor Oladipo and Andrew Nicholson – or those still with us – Mario Hezonja!
Now take a deep breath and accept the reality:
We don’t know who long it will be before the Magic get it right again.
They are still struggling to find an identity on the court. They started the season wanting to play big-boy basketball and are now a small-ball team.
What you get is a 29-53 record and the fifth consecutive year of not making the playoffs.
“We took a step backward,” said Magic center Nikola Vucevic. “We have to deal with that.”
Credit the fans for sticking it out in sickness and in health and in 47-point blowouts like the one we saw against Chicago on Monday night. The Magic lost six games or more by 30 points this season, a reflection of talent, not coaching limitations.
Vogel gets to stay, as he should. Martins is here for the long term, too, despite questions about his basketball intuition. Martins has been great in his leadership role in business operations, shepherding the community venues push that included the Amway Arena. Orlando’s record under his reign suggests that he hasn’t been nearly as astute in the business of basketball operations.
But he’s spent much of his executive career with this franchise, and the DeVos family is loyal. Martins gets to stay, too, with the onus on him to get it right with the new GM.
“I bear the ultimate responsibility,” Martins said, alluding to the hiring of Hennigan. “I’m the leader of this organization and I’m the one who ultimately has to make these decisions.”
The hope is he gets the next one right. For now, everybody waits.
Where will the influx of talent come from? The NBA Draft, when the Magic will have a lottery pick? The free agent pool? Trades? The return of Dwight Howard? (Just kidding!)
These things aren’t short-term fixes.
Firing Hennigan is a start, but it’s really only the beginning.
ABOUT THE WRITER
George Diaz is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.