“Player development” is one of the most commonly used phrases around Amway Center these days. So it would be easy to conclude that player development has been an Orlando Magic weakness over the last few years.
That conclusion would be inaccurate.
Although the Magic have not found another consistent All-Star to pair with superstar Dwight Howard, a clear distinction should be made between player procurement/retention and player development.
The franchise has done a good job in recent years of developing the young players it did acquire.
The chart below lists notable young players the team obtained since 2004, along with brief synopses of how those players fared in Orlando after their acquisitions.
PlayerHow he was acquiredResults with the MagicDwight HowardDrafted 1st overall in 2004Perennial All-Star selection, perennial 1st-team All-NBA selection, 3-time Defensive Player of the YearJameer NelsonDraft rights acquired via trade in 2004Selected to 2009All-Star Game, has started 432 regular-season gamesFran VázquezDrafted 11th overall in 2005Never signedTravis DienerDrafted 38th overall in 2005Played in 49 games over two seasonsMarcin GortatDraft rights acquired via trade in 2005Became one of the league’s best backup centersJ.J. RedickDrafted 11th overall in 2006Now a solid contributor and is productive when he startsJames AugustineDrafted 41st overall in 2006Played in 27 games over two seasonsCourtney LeeDrafted 22nd overall in 2008Started 42 games as a rookie on a team that reached the NBA FinalsRyan AndersonAcquired in trade June 25, 2009Named 2011-12 NBA Most Improved PlayerBrandon BassSigned as a free agent July 10, 2009Started 54 games over two seasonsDaniel OrtonDrafted 29th overall in 2010Rookie year lost to a leg issue, played sparingly in 2nd seasonStanley RobinsonDrafted 59th overall in 2010Cut during his rookie-year training campEarl ClarkAcquired in trade Dec. 18, 2010Has played sparingly, with mixed resultsJustin HarperDraft rights acquired via trade in 2011Appeared in 14 games as a rookieDeAndre LigginsDrafted 53rd overall in 2011Appeared in 17 games as a rookieVon WaferAcquired in sign-and-trade Dec. 12, 2011Played sparingly during his lone Magic seasonIsh SmithSigned as a free agent Feb. 2, 2012Used mostly as the team’s 3rd-string point guard
The cases of Howard, Jameer Nelson, Marcin Gortat, J.J. Redick, Courtney Lee and Ryan Anderson must be considered unmitigated successes — at least during their Magic tenures.
• Howard is the sport’s best center by a wide margin. He has some on-court flaws — he’s an awful free-throw shooter, and his offensive game still can be improved and refined — but he’s well on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
• Some Magic fans rip Nelson because he’s not a pass-first point guard and because he struggles defending taller and quicker opponents. But he’s been a solid starter.
• Gortat arguably made the greatest strides in this group, rising from an unknown to one of the best backup centers in the league. He’s a success story, and he has raved about the influences former Magic assistant coach Brendan Malone and current strength and conditioning coach Joe Rogowski had on his career.
• Redick’s pro career started slowly — so slowly that he wanted a trade early on. But he’s grown into one of the team’s most dependable players, citing the impact of Stan Van Gundy and Rogowski.
• What quibble could be made about Lee’s one season, when he was a crucial contributor to the Magic’s NBA Finals run?
• Anderson also developed — so much so that he was named the NBA’s 2011-12 Most Improved Player. True, he needs to add more strength and more quickness, but he made strides in both areas. And he’s still only 24 years old. He, too, said Van Gundy helped push him to be better, and he also said he learned from former assistant coach Steve Clifford.
Of the players listed above, the individual who met expectations least was Brandon Bass. The 6-foot-8 power forward did improve as a rebounder and as a team defender from his first season to his second season, but he was traded to Boston in the sign-and-trade that deal that brought Glen Davis and Von Wafer to Orlando. Bass has been more comfortable with the Celtics, no question about it.
Earl Clark also has not quite fit in during his Magic tenure, especially in areas of team defense. But it also should be noted that his prior team, the Phoenix Suns, chose not to exercise their third-year option on him before they included him in a trade to the Magic. It will be interesting to see if Jacque Vaughn and Vaughn’s staff will help him grow over the next year.
Daniel Orton’s progress was significantly hampered by a left-leg issue that cost him almost his entire rookie season. The NBA lockout prevented him from working with Magic coaches last offseason, and the compressed schedule robbed him of a full training camp and practice opportunities.
The lockout hindered the growth of Justin Harper and DeAndre Liggins during their rookie seasons, making it difficult to evaluate their development.
Still, despite the organization’s success developing young players in recent years, the phrase “player development” is used over and over again by new general manager Rob Hennigan.
On June 21, during his introductory news conference, general manager Rob Hennigan was asked to describe the qualities he would seek in a new coach. He said he would “look for someone who embraces and takes pride in preparation, someone who can communicate effectively and then someone who’s going to embrace player development and really use that as a vehicle to accelerate the growth of our roster.”
On Monday, Vaughn was asked specifically about how he would structure his staff to help young players grow.
“Development will be a huge component of what we do here,” he answered. “I think San Antonio has done a good job of capitalizing on that part of the market. They’ve taken guys drafted 50th and drafted in the second round and created spots for guys that were on the summer-league team and ended up being integral parts of the team.”
So, if the Magic have been successful developing young players, why is player development mentioned so often these days?
It appears that the team will be headed for a dramatic rebuilding project once Howard is traded.
Although you can question whether that’s the best course of action, everyone can agree that the most efficient, most cost-effective way to acquire and retain young talent is to build through the draft. The problem is that in order to get a future superstar through the draft, teams typically need lottery luck or franchises drafting earlier to pass up those future superstars.
But, again, player procurement/retention should not be confused with player development.
In recent years, the Magic’s player procurement and retention record did not match the Magic’s player development record.
In retrospect, the two trades of Dec. 18, 2010 — attempts to catch lightning in a bottle and win right away — set the franchise backward for the long-term.
The Magic traded away Gortat, who might have fetched more in a different deal. The Magic also took on Hedo Turkoglu’s long-term contract while they gave away Vince Carter’s friendlier long-term deal.
The trade that sent Rashard Lewis to the Washington Wizards for Gilbert Arenas also was a disaster for the team’s long-term cap situation, because it forced the team to use its amnesty provision last December to sever its ties with Arenas.
But those moves weren’t “player development” moves.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times