As 16 NBA teams prepare for the playoffs next week, 14 others (yep, we're counting the Charlotte Bobcats) will be looking ahead to the offseason. For those teams, hope lies in the form of trades, free agency and the draft.
Perhaps no franchise has a more daunting task ahead than the Orlando Magic. The team that lost its 60th game of the season in New Jersey on Thursday has some gaping holes to fill and some big decisions to make this summer.
The No. 1 goal for the team will be getting some help for Tracy McGrady. The league's leading scorer is sitting out the final week of the season with tendinitis in his knee, and his absence has exposed just how thin Orlando's roster is. Poor drafting the past few years has left the Magic with holes at point guard, center and power forward. They have no defensive presence and rank at the bottom of the league in all major defensive categories.
New GM John Weisbrod surely is praying for his team to win the lottery so that he can draft Emeka Okafor (assuming he skips his final year of college eligibility and enters the draft, as expected). He would provide an immediate defensive presence that the team lacks entirely. In Thursday night's game, the Nets drove the lane repeatedly and found no resistance, totally exposing Orlando's obvious lack of size and strength.
The problem is that the Magic have just a 25-percent chance of winning the top spot in the draft – the best chance of anyone in the league, but poor odds nevertheless. If they don't get the first pick, what do they do? Will a high school player like Dwight Howard really help them out right away? Probably not.
The team would have to make numerous moves to address its other weaknesses, and frankly the Magic don't have a lot of assets to offer in a trade. Their recent drafts have netted the likes of Steven Hunter, Reece Gaines and Jeryl Sasser. Trades and free agency have wrought players like Drew Gooden, Juwan Howard, DeShawn Stevenson and Tyronn Lue. None have major value.
And Orlando doesn't have any salary-cap room, thanks to the Grant Hill contract that hangs over their heads. Hill again will attempt to make a comeback next season after a fourth ankle surgery, but (obviously) the Magic can't count on his presence.
Unless Orlando can land Okafor, I think they have to at least consider trading McGrady. He will enter the final year of his contract next season. If he doesn't receive a contract extension, he'll become an unrestricted free agent. Orlando fans remember all too well what happened the last time one of its superstars became a free agent – Shaquille O'Neal flew the coop and landed in Hollywood, and the Magic was left with nothing to show for it.
The franchise has to make sure history doesn't repeat itself, and McGrady's value never will be higher than it will be this summer. Orlando may be able to address multiple needs by dealing McGrady, although they would have to get a marquee player in return to appease their fans and sell some tickets. If they do decide to sign him, however, Orlando will have to pay him a fortune and they'll find themselves in the same spot as now – one superstar, no cap room and a bad team.
For a team that was expected to be a playoff contender at the beginning of the season, Orlando has fallen a long way. Weisbrod and friends have a difficult job ahead of them and some tough choices to make. Somehow they have to find not just one or two good players, but four or five. And they will have only one high draft pick and one marquee player with which to work.
Good luck, gentlemen.