The Orlando Magic were one of the most promising young teams int he summer of 2015, sitting on a collection of young players, draft assets and cap space that was enough to make a fan dream of days gone by when they cheered for a contender. Then in one summer of bad moves, they junked it all up, and the rebuild went completely wrong.
They traded Victor Oladipo and a pick for Serge Ibaka, then traded Ibaka for Terrence Ross (an inferior player to Oladipo) and a pick (which will be worse than the one they gave up). They squandered money on players with duplicate functions who also blocked the progress of their best young player, Aaron Gordon.
In some ways, the Ross trade makes sense, if Gordon can move back to power forward and Ross’s improved three-point shooting continues in Orlando, they may yet save this sinking ship yet. But all things considered, this is at least a big hiccup in the rebuild. And it’s not the first time a rebuild went completely wrong.
This is by no means a complete list, but I considered some similar situations over the last 25 years where a team looked like it was about to get things right, but then something happened to completely ruin their plans before they could even enter into “contender” status.
Sometimes it was the players’ fault, others the front office’s, and once, fate just took over.
The Jason Kidd, Jimmy Jackson and Jamal Mashburn Mavericks
Back in 1993-94, the Mavericks were the joke of basketball. They had one of the worst teams in the history of the league, winning just 13 games. They did, however, have two young stars in Jimmy Jackson and Jamal Mashburn. When they drafted Jason Kidd the next season, while they didn’t become immediate contenders, they did a whole lot better. Kidded averaged 16.6 points, 9.7 assists, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals to win shared Rookie of the Year honors with Grant Hill. Mashburn added 23.4. Jackson added 19.6.
First, an injury to Mashburn hurt the Mavs in 1995-96, and that put the rebuild on hold.
Then Toni Braxton happened. The star singer stood up Kidd to go on a date with Jackson (allegedly), and that started a feud that eventually caused the entire trio to be broken up, and by the end of the 1996-97 season, none of the three were Mavs anymore.
The Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury Minnesota Timberwolves
In 1996, the most exciting young duo was Kevin Durant and Stephon Marbury. The Wolves looked ready to be contenders for the first time in their history. First, Marbury demanded a trade because, as he told Mark Spears of the Undefeated: “Marbury said he wanted to leave primarily because the harsh Minneapolis winters were too cold for him and caused him too many dangerous spinouts on the roads.”
Second, the ‘Wolves moronically went out and signed Joe Smith to an illegal short-term contract with an under-the-table promise that once they had his Bird Rights, they would give him a max deal. The NBA came down harshly, stripping the club of its next five first-round picks. KG only had one deep run with the ‘Wolves because of it. Between it being too cold to attract free agents, and no picks, there was only so much one man could do.
And a whole lot of damage one front office could do.
The Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady Toronto Raptors
At the turn of the third millennium, the Raptors had two extremely exciting young cousins: Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady. The Raptors even made the playoffs behind their young duo in 1999-2000, and T-Mac was just beginning to show he could be an MVP-caliber player, which is why teams like the Orland Magic and Chicago Bulls were pursuing him for all he was worth.
While he had been in the league for just three seasons, he was in a narrow window of time when there was no such thing as restricted free agency, so the Raptors had no power to keep him.
He never seriously considered returning to Toronto. However, not that it’s any consolation, he told Dave Feschuck of the Star he would do things differently now: “Had I been a little older and wiser and knew what was ahead of me, I would have stayed, no doubt, with those guys. But that was some of the best times of my life, man. Being with (Charles) Oakley and Kevin Willis and Antonio Davis, Muggsy (Bogues), Dell Curry, Dee Brown. Man. I still talk to a lot of those guys to this day. Because I appreciated how they looked out for me. They were all professionals.”
The Raps traded Carter in 2005, and the world never got to see what could have become the greatest wing tandem in the history of the league. Sometimes, no matter how well you plan, the players have other plans.
The Elton Brand and Ron Artest Chicago Bulls
In 2000, Elton Brand won Rookie of the Year for the Chicago Bulls. Then he duplicated his 20/10 performance the following season. They also had elite defender Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace in the same draft). The following season, they acquired Jamal Crawford in a draft-day trade. They also took Marcus Fizer, who never amounted to much, with the fourth overall pick while Mike Miller, taken next, went on to win Rookie of the Year.
They added a surprisingly effective Brad Miller in free agency.
Then, just when they had nice, developing young core, they blew it all for no good reason. They traded Elton Brand for picks (who became Eddie Curry and Tyson Chandler), and they sent Artest and Miller to Indiana for Jalen Rose and garbage.
In the sense of starting things right, only to make a series of inexplicably stupid moves, this is probably the closest match to the Magic’s current situation.
The Brandon Roy and Greg Oden Portland Trail Blazers
Through no fault of their own, the Trail Blazers mid-2000s had one of the most tragic rebuilds in the history of the league, and they did it through cunning maneuvering too, not just blind luck. In 2006, they maneuvered to get LaMarcus Aldridge from Chicago and then Brandon Roy from Cleveland (originally Minnesota’s pick). In 2007, they landed the No. 1 overall pick and used it on Greg Oden, the consensus no-brainer the time.
Had they known both Oden and Roy would have their careers cut short by knee injuries, maybe they would have taken Kevin Durant instead. But they made the right move at the time. This rebuild went wrong, but it wasn’t Portland’s fault.