By Caleb Walker
The Orlando Magic currently sit with nine players on their roster that they drafted, which is the most of any team in the NBA. The earliest selection amongst these nine was Jonathan Isaac, who the team selected in the 2017 NBA Draft. He is also the longest-tenured player on the roster. It’s a testament to how quickly this franchise has been flipped on its head, and how high the ceiling may be. We’ve already seen flashes of greatness out of this young core, but just how far can they go? Furthermore, how important is it that the majority of them have been under the same roof for their entire professional careers? Is it possible for a homegrown roster to win it all in the modern NBA, or is it necessary to look elsewhere?
Chemistry Between Players
The most obvious upside to building a roster on your own is to establish chemistry between players. It’s clear that players will connect no matter how they find their way on the roster, but being drafted to the same team likely strengthens the bond. These players were given their first opportunity by this organization, and share a common goal to reward them for it. Teams also have increased stake in players they draft, meaning they’re more likely to stick around on the roster. This emphasizes a bond that continues between seasons, as opposed to forming a new dynamic every year. A prime example of this in recent history was the Golden State Warriors. They found stars through the draft and consistently relied on them to carry the team each year. They had an obvious chemistry that made them practically unstoppable for years.
Financial Advantage for Players
Aside from connections amongst members of the roster, there are also significant financial benefits for players who remain loyal to their team. To begin with, the NBA rookie max is an extension of a rookie’s contract that can account for up to 25% of the salary cap. Beyond a player’s initial deal, sticking with a team can open the door for a player to receive a “supermax” contract. Along with different accolade requirements, a player is eligible for a supermax if they sign with the team that drafted them, or traded for them within the first four years of their career. Supermax contracts are worth up to 35% of the salary cap, obviously making them highly desirable for players. This system has been part of an attempt by the NBA to incentivize players to stay with their initial team. It won’t necessarily impact play on the court, but it’s a major bargaining chip for teams looking to retain stars.
Familiarity with Coaches
Just as players grow accustomed to one another, they also form bonds with their coaches. Players joining new teams have to get used to the style of coaching, as they work to understand their play style. It’s the same game at the end of the day, but it’s approached differently within each franchise. It’s also safe to assume that players will work harder for the coaching staff that had a hand in drafting them. For the Magic players selected in the last three drafts, Jamahl Mosley is the only NBA head coach they’ve played for. Players like Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner have been given time to understand his plays and coaching style, learning to blend it with their skills as a player. It’s an often overlooked element of team success that can heavily dictate how a player performs.
Becoming the Face of a City
Another key element for both player and team is an individual’s connection to the city and fan base. This is typically even stronger when a player develops for the team that drafted him. Fans get to watch their journey as they develop from a prospect into a major contributor. While the focus should remain on piecing together a great team, franchises value retaining the name seen on jerseys throughout their arena. It doesn’t always correlate with team success, but it makes victory that much sweeter. It’s safe to assume Magic fans would prefer to find success with their beloved young core, rather than dumping them for talent from elsewhere.
Short-Term Success vs Long-Term Success
Roster building is often broken down by the window in which a team is trying to compete. The Magic are obviously hoping to set themselves up for a long run at the top of the league by building a stable young core of talented players. Assuming they manage to keep their primary difference-makers, the team should be able to shine year in and year out. Other teams take a more finite approach, disregarding the future to win a championship as soon as possible. This is clearly the riskier approach, as front offices essentially put all of their eggs in one basket. We’ve seen it pay dividends in certain instances, such as the 2019-20 Lakers, who won the title after trading their young stars to pair Anthony Davis with LeBron James. There have also been some massive failures with this approach, such as the infamous Nets/Celtics trade. In the 2013 offseason, the Nets traded a massive haul of draft picks in exchange for a crew of talented veterans. They were never very competitive, and practically gifted the Celtics the young stars that they’re thriving with to this day. It’s a clear reminder for Orlando, as well as other young teams, that a long-term rebuild is typically the way to go.
Championship Rosters Built Through the Draft
Every title roster has its fair share of players who were found elsewhere, but franchise cornerstones are often found in the draft. Of the last 10 NBA championship rosters, only one lacked a current or eventual all-star drafted by that team. That was the 2019-20 Lakers led by James and Davis. Additionally, the last three Finals MVPs won the award with the team that selected them. The core of the Warriors recent dynasty was formed largely through the draft, as was the 2013-14 Spurs team that won it all. There have been plenty of key draft selections who contributed heavily to recent title runs, despite not being the team’s top option. Some of these include Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr, Pascal Siakam, and Jordan Poole. It’s clear that if a team drafts well, they can find success in the modern NBA.
Outsourcing for Title Talent
This isn’t to say the entirety of the roster-building job is done through the draft. As mentioned, the Lakers formed their championship-winning bubble roster by acquiring talent from around the league. The Warriors also infamously did so by bringing in Kevin Durant, as did the Raptors with Kawhi Leonard. There have also been some notable talents who made their home in the city where they won a title, despite being originally drafted by a separate organization. Some examples include Kyle Lowry with the Raptors, Khris Middleton with the Bucks, and Kevin Love with the Cavaliers. The Magic’s draft-centered approach seems to be proving its effectiveness, but several players have left a legacy after a new team took a chance on them. Orlando has already shown a willingness to experiment with this, as evidenced by their trade for Markelle Fultz in 2019. With that being said, similar opportunities are sure to arise in the future.
Balancing Loyalty and Initiative
If one thing is clear, it’s that there’s no one specific way to build a top-tier NBA team. It’s been done through the draft, trades, and free agency by past champions. We’ve seen loyalty pay off, and we’ve seen bold moves launch teams to the top of the pack. Striking a balance and moving with precision seems to be the name of the game. It’s crucial to give players time to develop and grow as a unit, but complacency can be detrimental. The NBA world has seen plenty of recent examples of teams and players being loyal to a fault, dooming them both. The marriage of Damian Lillard and the Trailblazers saw a decade of the star’s career go by with only a few solid playoff runs to show for it. The importance of building a culture can’t be overstated, but not at the cost of climbing the ranks.
Building a Championship Roster in Orlando
Having examined what has worked for other teams, the question now lies in how the Magic should go about their future. They’ve built a strong foundation, mostly through the draft, but how do they sculpt it into a team that can win in June? As simple as it may sound, it all boils down to making the right calls in tough decisions. Keep developing this young roster, but don’t shy away from moving someone if it means significant growth. We see time and time again that at the end of the day, the NBA is a business. Losing a beloved player may hurt, but it might be the right move to improve the roster. With that being said, getting too trigger-happy with trades could blow up everything they’ve built. It takes a certain level of thoughtfulness to navigate through the NBA, and ultimately succeed. The franchise is on the right track, but we’ll certainly see big decisions being made down the line. The subsequent answers won’t come immediately, but those moves will determine just how high the ceiling is for the team.
Is This Anything?
Taking all of this into account, it’s time to ask the question most Magic fans are familiar with: Is this anything? Does Orlando have a leg up on the rest of the NBA due to having the most homegrown roster? The answer is an obvious yes, but it doesn’t equate to immediate prosperity. What the Magic front office has done up to this point simply opens the door to success. These young players now have the keys to the franchise and can work together towards achieving every team’s ultimate goal. It expands the range of options for the team but doesn’t negate the possibility of a massive roster shakeup. The foundation has been laid beautifully in Orlando, but the constructive steps that follow will be just as pivotal.
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