Magic Draft Nicholson, O’Quinn

The Orlando Magic did not go with a point guard like Marquis Teague with their first round pick. They did not go for an athletic wing like Perry Jones III. Nor did they go with a ball handler and penetrator like Tony Wroten.

Orlando fans likely are underwhelmed with St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson, Orlando’s first round pick. Rob Hennigan’s first official move with the Magic was an underwhelming one. But maybe that is what we should be getting used to. After all it was Otis Smith’s big dreams and risky moves that put the Magic in a hole.

Andrew Nicholson does not deserve this doubt. He was a four-year starter at St. Bonaventure and the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year last season. He averaged 17.1 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game in his career, including 18.5 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game last year on 57.1 percent shooting. He is strong and still improving.

“We are excited to have Andrew (Nicholson) join our Orlando Magic family,” general manager Rob Hennigan said in a press release. “We feel he embodies the types of values that will put him in a position to achieve success here. He’s a humble, high character player, who’s committed to working hard and playing within a team concept. We are intrigued by his cerebral, instinctual approach to the game.”

If we are going to learn anything about Hennigan’s philosophy it might be in Nicholson. He is ready to play immediately and is a low risk pick. He is now what we are going to have for a while (and for cheap too). This is what Hennigan is banking on. A guy that knows his skills, will know his role and fit in.

Most importantly, it seems like he will contribute immediately.

This was likely also the thought behind drafting Kyle O’Quinn from Norfolk State in the second round with the 49th pick in the Draft. O’Quinn averaged 15.9 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game, marking his second consecutive season averaging a double double. He also averaged 2.7 blocks per game.

His junior year was even better as he averaged 16.4 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game.

He was also the MVP of the Portsmouth Invitational, the pre-draft camp reserved for college seniors.

If the Magic needed a backup center to replace Marcin Gortat, O’Quinn might be as close as he can get.

It will be interesting to see how these two players fit in. It will especially be interesting to see how Nicholson fits in.

He is not quite a three, but still has to develop some to become a four. Nicholson unequivocally said he is a power forward in his interview with the Orlando media after his selection. But his versatility is something the Magic liked and something Nicholson can add to the team.

“They like my versatility,” Nicholson said. “They like my length. They like my size. They think I’m a good character guy. I’m just ready to come in and contribute to the team, and I’m very excited. I’m beyond elated right now. It’s like a dream come true.”

Nicholson is already a pretty developed offensive player. His back-to-the-basket game is pretty solid already and he is improving as a defender. Nicholson should be able to come in immediately and play.

That may not be what Magic fans want to hear. Orlando is pretty desperate to improve immediately to keep Dwight Howard. And with a player like Perry Jones available, a lot of people wanted Orlando to pick him up.

Nicholson does not come with a lot of “ifs” though. Nicholson is who he is right now. And that certainty obviously attracted Hennigan and the Magic to him. It is hard to find impact players late in this draft. Nicholson could be a solid contributor in the immediate future.

This pick shows Orlando intends to keep Dwight Howard for the time being. So take that for whatever it means.
Nicholson will make his impact on the floor and is just the first step in an important summer for the Magic.

Process Rules With Hennigan

It was official yesterday, and more official today with Hennigan in Orlando and officially introduced to the media. Hennigan is the new general manager of the Magic and explained part of the vision that sold the DeVos family on his qualifications, despite his oft-cited age.

It is very similar to the programs developed and used where Hennigan has worked the last eight years — San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Those two franchises have built small-market dynasties and it was clear Orlando wanted that experience in their front office. Alex Martins said in the introductory press conference that this championship program experience is what he was looking for. He wanted someone who would establish a system and a program that would build a long-lasting NBA championship contender.

“Simply put, our goal is to build an elite basketball operation both on the court and off the court,” Hennigan said at his introductory press conference. “If we can stay strategic and stay systematic the end goal is to be sustainable. We want to create something that has some longevity and continuity to it. We want to put into place a basketball operations department and players that this city and all of Central Florida can rally around, support and be proud of. We’re going to embrace the daily grind and embrace chipping away at trying to get better. It”s a humbling exciting day and I’m ready to get to work.”

This is something Orlando has gotten away from the last two years. There has been no, as Martins put it, systematic approach to building a basketball team. It has been a haphazard mesh of bloated contracts and veterans that has failed to deliver a championship and brought the Magic to the precipice of losing their star player — assuming winning is his top priority.

This means strong talent evaluation and drafting. This means, as Hennigan put it, making sure every move made is part of the plan and sets up the next move. This means expecting a championship every year, but being patient enough to build it. Hennigan said the Magic will be process-based and process-driven and systematic in their decision making. There will be no rushed moves as a team tries to hold onto a perceived chance at a title.

It will not be easy, that is for sure. The first task is finding a head coach — a search that will begin immediately, but may not end before next week’s NBA Draft. The big task is talking to Dwight Howard and trying to sell him on the new vision for the Magic, hoping he will sign a long-term contract to become part of it.

After the 2009 Finals appearance, Orlando went grasping for straws. The franchise tried to cash in and win a championship quickly. The 2009 core was getting broken up anyway — Hedo Turkoglu was not worth the deal he ended up getting and Orlando will end up finishing — but the spending spree the team went on put it all in. Things only got worse when the franchise tried to cash out on this team and make a quick turn without thinking of stepping back to reload for a championship.

Hennigan seems to understand this is a game of chess. And, sometimes, you need an out or a retreat to reach check mate.

This has been what the Spurs and the Thunder have done. They have rarely gone for the splashy move and have gone for the smart move, the one that always seems to move the team closer to a championship.

Hennigan impressed the DeVos family with his vision and his drive. That is how he climbed so quickly in the NBA ranks. Orlando has a new vision for what it wants. It is not satisfied with just getting to the Playoffs anymore. It is not satisfied with being a regular season success or consistently mediocre.

The Magic want championships. They want multiple championships. They want to do it the right way and in a new way, too.

Orlando is not unfamiliar with having a philosophy in its building. Remember Jon Weisbrod came in wanting a team with toughness — he just pegged this toughness on Steve Francis and failed to connect with his team or basketball staff members. Otis Smith had a philosophy too with Stan Van Gundy. That was abandoned when the team got its championship chance.

Orlando may take a step back to get there. That is what is natural when you are close to losing a superstar player and trying to change philosophies.

Hennigan though has the talk right now. He has the vision. Now it is time to see if he can put that vision into practice.

Rob Hennigan Named Orlando Magic GM

The Magic will introduce a new general manager Thursday afternoon.¬†After an exhaustive search, Orlando selected Rob Hennigan to be the team’s general manager, setting a new direction for the franchise.

Hennigan comes from the Spurs/Thunder family after starting out as an intern in San Antonio in 2004. He spent the last four years working with Sam Presti in Oklahoma City as the team’s lead scout and the last two years as the team’s assistant general manager. There is no doubting that his philosophies will be rooted in a championship pedigree. He was a three-time conference player of the year at Emerson College. Winning is in his blood, it seems.

Still, Hennigan is young and many believe he will bring fresh ideas and a new perspecitve to the Magic. He is born of the Thunder and Spurs family, but many suspect he will be his own man too.

Hennigan has a lot of work ahead of him to rebuild the Magic.

“It is with great enthusiasm and optimism that we announce Rob Hennigan as our new General Manager,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “Rob is an astute strategist and evaluator of talent who comes to the Magic family from two championship-level organizations. We feel he is an outstanding fit and the right choice to lead our Basketball Operations team in achieving our championship goals.”

The first task is finding a new coach, preferably before the Draft. The Draft will be his first real big decision after that. But the biggest decision comes with how he deals with Dwight Howard.

Howard said he wanted a coach and a general manager he could connect with. There is no doubting that a 30 year old is going to have a better time connecting with a young superstar than one of the retreads or “hardened” veteran general managers. This hire was not all about that. Hennigan is qualified on his own and is not going to have qualms about trading Dwight Howard if he will not commit past this year.

The Magic are a major problem to solve that is for sure. Patience may be needed to clean up this mess and create the kind of situation that has led to San Antonio and Oklahoma City’s success.

Hennigan is the man the Magic have chosen to do it. On to the next era…

Martins Focus Of Fan Scrutiny

Alex Martins was always a behind the scenes guy.

His career with the Magic started there as a public relations director. He would be the one shuttling players to and from interviews in the early Shaquille O’Neal days. You were not supposed to know he was even there.

He went from Orlando to New Orleans and then from New Orleans to business school before returning to the Magic’s front office. He was in an entirely different role, but still behind the scenes as he slowly climbed the ranks of the Magic’s front office.

Martins was front and center really for the first time as the point man between the Magic and the city and county as they tried to secure funding for the Amway Center. Since that point, Martins has been front and center as the Magic’s business-side representative.

After the Bob Vander Weide incident, Martins became the head of the Magic’s day-to-day operations. He is the point man between the Magic and the DeVos family — a little bit more, but essentially their mouthpiece and representative constantly in Orlando.

Martins was thrown into a crisis when he assumed that position thanks to the Bob Vander Weide incident, but Martins was already very present within the team. He had a reportedly strong relationship with Dwight Howard already, but in his new role he had been working double time to use that relationship to try and get Dwight Howard to stay in Orlando and sign long term.

The rumors were that Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy were ready for a Howard trade and that one with the Nets and Trail Blazers was completed and awaiting ownership approval when the word came down from the DeVos family through Martins that they would try to keep Howard in Orlando. That was the rumor at least. Smith and Van Gundy are gone, only Martins and Howard remain.

This new job came with a higher public profile. And now with the GM search active (and reportedly moving on to finalists, who will meet with the DeVos family) and the Dwight Howard situation still unresolved — along with the promise of resolution before next season begins — Martins is facing public scrutiny from the fans in a way he never has. Yes, Martins faced public scrutiny when he was the face of the arena deal, so he has experience in these matters, but sports fans want different things for sure.

It is just more difficult to replace the guys at the top and remember that Martins job has as much to do with basketball operations as it does with the franchise’s business operations.

It is difficult for Magic fans to know how to view Martins and his role with the team. After all, many of us care only about what he does on the basketball side and that is not necessarily how he is judged (although I imagine it is a good part of it). Martins has already had a deep impact on this team and he is going to shape the next decade of this franchise with his decision on who to hire as general manager.

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel asked his readers earlier this week whether they blamed Martins at all for the mess the Magic were in. To show how far into the background Martins was, he finished behind Otis Smith and Dwight Howard in that poll, but he was still ahead of Stan Van Gundy. Still, Bianchi felt Martins was getting too much blame in the national media as someone “sucking up” or “appeasing” Dwight Howard.

As Bianchi notes, Martins was dealt a pretty poor hand and a crazy situation to handle. Martins is not the one to blame for the Magic’s mess — after all, if Otis Smith had not pursued trades that put the Magic in salary cap hell and into the middle of the Eastern Conference, Howard would be happy and on a winning team.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to criticize his handling of it all. The goal has squarely been to keep Howard in a Magic uniform, despite the stated intention for the franchise to do its best to trade Howard. And he has done that, patiently waiting Howard’s every word and whim. The only change was that the Magic stood steadfast on having resolution at the trade deadline at least for the end of the year. They got that in his waiver of his early termination option.

Ultimately, Magic fans’ opinion of Martins may be determined on what happens this summer. Whether his GM hire gets a good deal for Howard or can convince him to stay. Martins has long contended that he and the DeVos family believe Howard wants to be in Orlando and that the franchise only needs to do enough convincing to get him to sign a long-term extension.

The latest rumor confirms what many likely suspect. A source told WESH News Channel 2 in Orlando that Howard “hurt by all the negativity surrounding him (and) doesn’t understand why he’s blamed for everything that happens inside the (Magic) organization.” The source told WESH that Howard loves Orlando and doesn’t want to be traded (h/t Andrew Melnick of Howard the Dunk).

The patience for that plan is running slim though. The Magic are done waiting on Howard to back up his commitment and loyalty with a long-term contract. And as the face for ownership, it is Martins’ public perception that is on the line.

Orlando’s Silence Fueling Rampant Rumors

Silence can be an organization’s biggest weapon, and one of its biggest risks.

Magic fans are growing frustrated with this longer-than-expected process to hire a new GM and you knew it would not take long for something crazy to jump into the fold without much backing.

All the while, Orlando has remained silent, unable and unwilling to comment on a search that is ongoing.

The search continues as Alex Martins selects his finalists to present to the DeVos family. That has not stopped people from churning stories out and trying to create something where there is nothing. In has stepped Sam Vincent, frustrating the Magic with somewhat wild rumors in his now leaked presentations to the team.

I linked to it yesterday, but the crux of Vincent’s latest offer as described by Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated to the Magic is to bring Phil Jackson on board as a consultant (and possibly minority owner) to help guide the Magic. Vincent would be in Orlando as the day-to-day point man. And the two would bring in Brian Shaw to be the head coach with Scottie Pippen as one of his assistants.

Only one problem to this plan: Jackson is not signed on to it and it appears that it is just Vincent spinning wheels in proposals to the Magic.

Jackson’s agent told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel that Jackson never expressed interest with the Magic and the Magic never called him: Todd Musburger, one of Jackson’s agents, did not return a phone call from the Sentinel for comment. But Musburger told NBA.com, “One, Phil never voiced any interest in Orlando, never had us check it out, never checked it out himself. Two, Orlando never called.”

Yes, this Jackson idea and rumor seems to be completely coming from Vincent. But knowing the news media today and how big Jackson’s name is, you know the media is going to run with it.

The Magic, for a change, have done a good job keeping a lid on their search and going through their process in selecting the new GM. Unfortunately, that leaves a vacuum for others to speculate and leak information.

That is what this Jackson scenario seems really to be telling us. People are hungry for information and a story, and so they will run with something when it gets brought to them.

Would this plan actually work? I have to agree with Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel who is skeptical of having a first-time GM and a first-time coach running the team at this critical juncture. Experience was supposed to be a key trait for the incoming general manager and Jackson certainly lacks that in a front office capacity — although he has plenty of championship experience to impart.

But Magic fans are getting impatient. As Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld tweeted today, Magic brass appear to be getting impatient with the search too and are ready for it to come to an end. Everyone is seeking closure he said from Chicago where assistant GM Dave Twardzik is representing the Magic at the draft combine.

Until the void is filled, rumors like Vincent’s proposal are going to surface as people try to angle and serve their agendas, whatever they may be.

A resolution is coming for Orlando. It appears to be coming soon as the search nears an end.