Advertisement

Paolo Banchero is a star — an All-Star — with massive gravitational pull | Commentary

What we saw earlier this week wasn’t just a player being named an NBA All-Star; it was an orbital shift in the celestial trajectory of a franchise.

This was more than just, say, Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey becoming an All-Star for the first time.

Much more.

Nothing against Maxey, but he plays for a franchise that already has the league’s reigning MVP (Joel Embiid) and has recently seen two No. 1 overall picks (Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons) come and go.

Accuse me of hyperbole if you want, but I believe Paolo Banchero being named an NBA All-Star in only his second season in the league signifies a massive, monumental, franchise-altering development for the Orlando Magic.

This is a message to all of the other players in the NBA that Orlando is not just a tourist destination any longer; it’s a player destination and a potential championship destination.

Orlando always has been known as a city of attractions such as Disney World, and now the Magic have an attraction for future free agents. Planet Paolo — a place where your hoop dreams can come true — is open for business.

Great weather. Great airport. Great fans. Great theme parks. Great state income-tax rate (zero percent).

And now a great player who seems destined to be one of the league’s most dominant, dynamic superstars.

Banchero, the No. 1 overall pick two drafts ago, is on pace to be just the third NBA player since 1967 to average 23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal. The others are the legendary LeBron James and Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic.

Banchero is also only the second player in Magic history to ever be named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year and an NBA All-Star.

The other is Shaq.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying Banchero will ever have the overarching impact of Shaq although he will surely be a member of the Magic for much longer. I’m just saying the Magic haven’t had a true superstar-caliber player to build around since they drafted Dwight Howard two decades ago.

Bianchi, you moron, what about Nikola Vucevic? He was an All-Star, and look what the Magic accomplished when he was on the roster — NOTHING!

With all due respect to Vooch’s days in Orlando, he was a really good player, but he was not a superstar. He was not an attraction for either fans or free agents. He was not a centerpiece for a future championship run.

In fact, thank goodness that Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman didn’t listen to guys like me three years ago when he blew up the roster, traded Vooch and started the next iteration of the Magic rebuild. I and many others thought trading Vooch was a bad move, but it turned into a great decision.

It allowed the Magic to bottom out and put themselves in position to get the No. 1 overall draft pick and fool everybody by passing on Jabari Smith and picking Paolo. It also allowed them to turn one of the two first-round picks acquired in the Vooch trade into Franz Wagner who, although he didn’t make it this season, could very well be a future All-Star.

Even more uplifting is how Wagner and the Magic’s other players reacted when Banchero made the All-Star team Thursday night. The forward found out he was an All-Star while watching the TNT telecast with all of his teammates and coaches in a meeting room at the team hotel in Minneapolis. When Banchero’s name was announced, it were as if the Magic had just won the NBA Finals.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Banchero said of having his teammates around him when he found out the news. “Getting to experience that altogether was huge. That’s how it’s been since I got here. Everybody has been together. They embraced me from the second I was drafted. It felt like family from Day 1. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’ve had a lot more success this year, and we’re just all going to continue to get whatever it is that we want. Whatever goals that we have, we can reach them as long as we stick together and do what’s best for the team and win as many games as we can.”

It’s no secret that winning more games and making the playoffs is the ultimate goal this season. The impact of Banchero becoming an All-Star is certainly lessened if the Magic lose energy in the second half of the season and miss the playoffs. No doubt, All-Stars want to play on the same team with other All-Stars, but they also want to play on playoff teams with championship potential.

The Magic are currently tied with the Miami Heat for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, but are just a half-game behind the Indiana Pacers for the sixth spot. If they can stay healthy (knock on wood), make the playoffs and even make some noise in the playoffs, maybe another star might want to join Banchero and Wagner and help the Magic win what would be a franchise-first NBA title.

After more than a decade of watching a franchise stuck in the doldrums in the midst of a tropical depression, Magic fans can finally dare to dream. They have a star who can lure other stars.

Welcome to Planet Paolo — an All-Star Orlando attraction with massive gravitational pull.

Email me at mbianchi@orlandosentinel.com. Hit me up on X (formerly Twitter) @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and 969TheGame.com/listen