The process that Thunder general manager Sam Presti often speaks of in Oklahoma City is playing out before our eyes in Orlando, where only after five years of rebuilding has the Magic positioned themselves to force their way into this year’s NBA Finals.
Orlando’s road took luck, patience, foresight and a few shrewd signings and trades. But it’s a journey that proves the Finals isn’t only reserved for NBA royalty like the Magic’s heavily favored opponent, the Los Angeles Lakers, or last year’s champs, the Boston Celtics, who traded their way to a title.
As they enter Game 1 of the Finals tonight in L.A., the progression of the Magic should give hope to Thunder fans who just finished watching Year Two of their franchise’s rebuilding plan.
"You have to have a plan for your team and follow it, regardless of what critics might say,” Orlando general manager Otis Smith told the Florida Times-Union. "It may not be the most popular decision. It’s about where are players you have today going to be three to four years from now? I want to give our team a chance to win a championship, not just make the playoffs.”
Orlando’s journey began in 2004, when the Magic won the NBA Draft Lottery and selected Dwight Howard with the first overall pick. The Magic, coming off a 21-win season, had found their star and looked to build around him.
That same summer, Orlando traded a future first-round pick to Denver in exchange for the draft rights to Jameer Nelson and signed Hedo Turkoglu to a free agent contract. The Magic also acquired veteran forward Tony Battie that summer in a multi-player trade with Cleveland.
A 15-game improvement followed in 2004-05, but the Magic was stuck on 36 wins in 2005-06.