Tuesday, May 3, 2011

BDT -- When Luck Isn't Enough (May 3)

Could this be a familiar site in the future? Perhaps...
There's an old and often quoted saying that goes like this; "sometimes it's better to be lucky than to be good." If you've ever played golf with me, then you know this is one of my favorite phrases. I say it every single time my ball bounces off five trees and kicks back in the fairway...and I hit the trees quite often by the way. Perhaps you're not a fan of the word "luck"...perhaps you'd rather call it circumstance, happenstance, or divine intervention. That's fine. Whatever you want to call it. At the risk of beginning a huge theological debate, I'll say I don't believe in actual "luck" either. I don't believe anything in life is completely random. Regardless, let's put that aside and define luck as any favorable and seemingly random event. For example, accidentally banking in a three pointer would definitely be considered luck. (Side note: If you happen to bank in a three, don't you dare hold your pose as if you meant to do it! Don't you dare nod your head as if you're a baller! YOU APOLOGIZE FOR WHAT YOU'VE DONE! YOU DROP YOUR HEAD IN SHAME AND TELL EVERYONE HOW SORRY YOU ARE FOR DISGRACING THE GAME! Moving on...)

Here's another definition of luck; the Orlando Magic. Perhaps you've never thought of sports this way or perhaps you refuse to think about sports this way, but luck is one of the biggest factors of success; especially in the NBA. Yes, you mostly make your own luck, but it's hard to deny it as a factor when the mere bounce of a ping-pong ball can make or break your franchise (unless of course you're the New York Knicks and you have a frozen envelope). In Orlando's case, Lady Luck has definitely been on their side. Don't believe me? Consider this:
  • Orlando won the 1992 NBA Draft Lottery despite having only a 15.15% chance of winning. With the #1 overall pick, they selected Shaquille O'Neal.
  • Orlando won the 1993 NBA Draft Lottery despite having only a 1.52% chance of winning; the lowest odds to ever win the draft lottery. With the #1 overall pick, they selected Chris Webber.
  • Orlando won the 2004 NBA Draft Lottery despite having only a 25% chance of winning. With the #1 overall pick, they selected Dwight Howard.
That's three draft lotteries they've won! The Clippers are the only other team to have won three, but they've been in nearly all of them since the lottery started in 1985. Orlando has only been in nine lotteries! They win the lottery 33% of the time! Still don't think they're incredibly lucky? Look at who they landed with those #1 overall picks!

What if, instead of winning the 1992 or 1993 lotteries, they had won the 1991 lottery and landed Larry Johnson? Larry was a good player, but he was never great and his career was cut short by injury. What if they had won the 1994 lottery and landed Glenn Robinson; a guy who never played defense, made only two All-Star teams, and barely lasted a decade in the NBA? Seriously, look at some of the surrounding #1 overall picks:
  • 1995 - Joe Smith (13 teams, 0 All-Star games)
  • 1998 - Michael Olowokandi (8.3 ppg, 0 All-Star games)
  • 1999 - Elton Brand (2 All-Star games, never great, short prime)
  • 2000 - Kenyon Martin (1 All-Star game)
  • 2001 - Kwame Brown (worst player of all time, Laker fans used to scream "NO" when they passed him the ball)
  • 2002 - Yao Ming (deceased; 1980-2009; RIP)
  • 2005 - Andrew Bogut (0 All-Star games, good not great, major injury problems)
  • 2006 - Andrea Bargnani (*comment edited out by myself due to being inappropriate*, kind of a girl, worst rebounding seven footer of all time)
  • 2007 - Greg Oden (already made the "deceased" joke...umm, likes to take "interesting" pictures of himself)
But hey, that's only eleven out of the last twenty #1 overall picks that have been less than ideal! With the #1 overall pick, you get a franchise player less than 50% of the time! Let's not stop there; what if Orlando had had received the #2 overall pick in those years and landed Alonzo Mourning, Shawn Bradly, and Emeka Okafor? Of course, that didn't happen. Instead of the above possibilities (very real possibilities), they land the two greatest centers of our generation and one of the four or five best power forwards of our generation. I'd say they did pretty well in those draft lotteries! So, short story made painfully drawn out and long, luck is a significant factor in the NBA and Orlando definitely has it...and after this summer they will have completed the process of ruining their luck and running off the last of their #1 picks; Dwight Howard.

You see, while it's great to be lucky and have my golf ball kick back into the fairway, it doesn't do me much good if I snap hook my next shot in the water. Likewise, it's great to land a franchise center like Dwight Howard, but it doesn't do you much good if you pair him with Stanley from 'The Office.' Luck can only do so much for you; eventually stupidity shines through. Ironically, that's something else the Orlando Magic have in bunches...and it's going to cost them the best center in the league.

I'm sure you've all heard the rumblings of Dwight Howard leaving the Magic when his contract expires after next season. Personally, I don't think it will make it to that point. Maybe it will happen this summer, or maybe we'll witness Carmelo Anthony 2.0 during the season (if there is a season...PLEASE GOD, LET THERE BE A SEASON), but Dwight Howard  is NOT hitting free agency and he's NOT staying with the Orlando Magic.

This is the point where I'm supposed to start hammering Howard for "forcing his way out of Orlando." This is the part where I'm supposed to rip on him for not being loyal to his team; for quitting, for giving up, for holding them hostage. Surprise! I'm on Dwight Howard's side! Unlike Lebron and Carmelo, Dwight Howard has been saddled with an incompetent franchise that's seemingly hellbent on wasting his prime. Say what you will about Cleveland, but they made some decent moves and had the #1 overall seed two years in a row! Say what you will about Denver, but they put some good pieces around Carmelo! Heck, they were better without Carmelo! I ripped on both those guys because they kicked good organizations and good situations to the curb for no logical reason. Dwight Howard?  Look, if I were him, I'd be on the first plane to Boston or Los Angeles, crying giant tears of joy the entire way.

Before you call me a giant hypocrite, know that I've been no big fan of Dwight Howard. I hate his constant whining, his occasional lack of effort, his insistence on blocking shots ten rows up instead of keeping the ball in play, his blatant moving screens...basically, I don't like Dwight Howard. Believe me, I take every last chance to crush him, so it's not blind love causing me to take his side. Orlando has been one of the most incompetent franchises in sports since winning the 2004 lottery and I can't possibly expect Howard to waste his career while Otis Smith throws gasoline on their dumpster fire of a roster. After all, an NBA superstar only has so many years in him and Orlando is so incredibly buried with bad contracts that Howard will be in his 30's before they have some flexibility. It's like if you told your teenage son he could go to a party after cleaning his room; except you shoveled in sixty pounds of raw sewage and trash. Either the party will be over by the time he's done, or he'll be dead. Either way, it's not good.

For your viewing pleasure; here is the metaphorical sixty pounds of raw sewage and trash GM Otis Smith has shoveled into Dwight Howard's room:
  • July 29, 2004 - Orlando trades Tracy McGrady and others to Houston for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato. At this point, McGrady was still in his prime and he would have been an excellent complement to Howard. Francis and Mobley were noted gunners and neither turned out to be anything. Good job trading a top ten player for crap!
  • July 23, 2004 - Orlando trades Drew Gooden, Steven Hunter, and Anderson Verejao (drafted #30 overall that year) to Cleveland for Tony Battie and two 2nd round picks. Hey, anytime you can give up the three best players in the trade and get nothing in return, you gotta do it!
  • November 1, 2004 - Orlando trades Keith Bogans to Charlotte for Brandon Hunter. Not a big trade, but Bogans is a solid rotation player and they got literally nothing for him.
  • 2005 Draft - Selected Fran Vazquez #11 overall and Travis Diener #38 overall. Vazquez made it clear, before the draft, he wanted to remain in Europe and he has yet to ever play a game for Orlando. Danny Granger was selected six spots lower at #17. Diener didn't last long in the NBA, but #40 pick Monta Ellis, #45 pick Louis Williams, and #49 pick Andray Blatche did.
  • June 8, 2007 - Traded two 2nd round picks to Miami for the right to hire Stan Van Gundy. Just hiring SVG would be bad enough...you had to give up something to do it?
  • February 15, 2006 - Traded Kelvin Cato and a 2007 1st round pick to Detroit for Carlos Arroyo and Darko Milicic. This pick looks bad enough as it is; and that's before I tell you the 1st round pick ended up being Rodney Stuckey! Also, they traded the #44 pick and sold the #54 pick in a second round where Marc Gasol went #48 and Ramon Sessions went #56. Oops. (Side note: Has any player been involved in more bad decision than Darko Milicic? Maybe Kwame Brown?)
  • July 11, 2007 - Signed Rashard Lewis to a 6 year $118 million contract. Consider this the cherry on top of the worst offseason in NBA history. What could possibly compel someone to sign a tall, non-rebounding, jump shooter to a record deal?! Seriously, the Magic could have gone bankrupt, been shut down for four months, and then sold to former Enron executives and they'd be better off.
  • November 20, 2007 - Traded Trevor Ariza to Los Angeles Lakers for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans. I really don't even know what to say about this one.
  • February 19, 2009 - Three team deal sends 2009 1st round pick and players to Houston/Memphis for Rafer Alston. (Note: Kyle Lowry was sent to Houston in the deal). Orlando gives up the most in the trade and doesn't even get the best point guard. "Skip To My Lou" was always horrible...
  • June 25, 2009 - Traded Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, Tony Battie to New Jersey for Ryan Anderson and Vince Carter. Behold! A good trade! Moving Lee was tough, but they netted an undervalued Ryan Anderson and the salary flexibility of Vince Carter's soon to be expiring deal. They follow up their new found commitment to cap responsibility by...
  • July 10, 2009 - Re-signed Brandon Bass to a 4 year $18 million contract. Always a good idea to commit long term to an undersized backup power forward...
  • July 8, 2010 - Signed Chris Duhon to a 4 year $15 million contract. Always a good idea to commit long term to a poor shooting third string point guard...
  • July 13, 2010 - Signed Quentin Richardson to a 3 year $7.5 million contract. Always a good idea to commit long term to a shooter who can't shoot...
  • July 14, 2010 - Re-signed Marcin Gortat to a 5 year $34 million contract. Always a good idea to throw the farm at your back-up center when the guy starting above him is Dwight Howard...
  • December 18, 2010 - Traded Rashard Lewis to Washington for Gilbert Arenas. I liked this trade at the time...and I was wrong. Orlando took on an extra $20+ million in payroll for a washed up point guard who shoots under 40%.
  • December 18, 2010 - Traded Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, and a 2011 1st round pick to Phoenix for Jason Richardson, Earl Clark, and Hedo Turkoglu. With all kinds of other possible trade offers left, Orlando spun Vince's valuable expiring deal into Jason Richardson's smaller expiring deal and Hedo Turkoglu's monstrous, nauseau inducing contract. That makes a lot of sense. Oh, and they also gave up their only low post depth in Marcin Gortat (who averaged a 13/9 since). Oh and they also gave up their best perimeter defender and bench scorer in Mickael Pietrus. Oh, and they also gave up a 1st round pick. Awesome deal all around guys!
Look, I'm not saying Orlando is dumb because they made a bad trade. Every team makes bad trades! I'm not saying Orlando is dumb for making a dumb signing. Every team makes bad signings! I'm not saying Orlando is dumb for not picking a good player in the 2nd round. Hardly anyone makes good 2nd round picks! I'm saying they're dumb because they do all of them! All the time!

You think an organization like the Boston Celtics, the San Antonio Spurs, or the Los Angeles Lakers would screw up every major trade they make for seven years? You think any of those organizations would disregard draft picks like that for seven years? I'm not saying Orlando should be nailing every decision, but it seems like they should hit on something. But, since drafting Dwight Howard, the Magic have whiffed on nearly every decision they've made; often times looking like they have no plan or direction.

At this point, Orlando has about $76.8 million committed for next season. Who knows what the salary cap will look like in the new CBA, but I can guarantee you it won't be anywhere near $76.8 million. Even worse, Orlando already has $56.6 million committed for 2012-2013! And that doesn't even include Howard's sure to be declined player option! Simply put; they're screwed. What can you expect from a team that has around $40 million committed each season for the next three years to Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Duhon, and Quentin Richardson? I'll tell you what you can expect; no Dwight Howard.

I don't know Howard personally and I don't know what he values, but if it's winning then he'll be gone before next season. We have all summer to speculate as to where he will go, but that's not really the point. The point is, Orlando has once again squandered its good fortune and that's why Dwight Howard is leaving. Like I said, I don't blame him! You know how you feel when you're picking teams for a pick-up game and you miss the first free throw? Yeah, you know right away you're gonna get stuck with the short, overweight guys who wear the goofy goggles and are lucky to graze iron when they shoot. What do you do when that happens? You get crushed the first game and immediately volunteer to sit the next one out so someone else can get in! Well, Dwight Howard missed his first free throw (no surprise there) and he's stuck with the Adam Morrison All-Stars! How can you blame him for sitting the next game?

Yes, you need luck to win in the NBA, but there's a reason certain organizations always win and certain ones don't. As Orlando has found out, luck isn't always enough; you have to be good as well. They weren't and they now have to pay the price. Next up for the Magic; how to completely botch the trading of a superstar and obliterate the franchise in the process. I'm already excited!


  1. Remember at the Grace game last year when they were up like 50 points, and a guy on the other team hit a 3, and he held his pose as he walked backed? So then I started screaming at him from the stands because he was like 1/12 shooting. I immediately pictured that in my head when you were talking about banking in 3's.

  2. Ironically, that is exactly what I was thinking about when I wrote that. Also, I thought about a particular high school game when the guy I was guarding did this. I hit four straight 3's on him after that...