Magic rebuild cannot rely on pingpong balls, pixie dust

Cavaliers get No. 1 pick; Magic No. 2

You know it's been a forgettable NBA season when the highlight of the year for Magic fans came Tuesday night when a few hundred of them cheered loudly at the Amway Center as they watched on TV as bunch of guys dressed in suits prayed for their bouncing pingpong ball to finish No. 1.

Then again, it could have been worse.

They could have been watching the Magic lose 120-91 to the Washington Wizards.

As it was, the Magic played a much closer game Tuesday night, but still lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs came away with the No. 1 pick while the Magic will draft second in the upcoming June draft.

As Paul McCartney sang in this very building a few days ago: "The long and winding road …"

It was just four years ago when the Magic were playing in the Lakers in the NBA Finals, and Dwight Howard was the most beloved athlete in the city. Now, of course, Howard is one of the most hated athletes in America, and the Magic are the worst team in the league. Which put them front and center Tuesday night for the NBA draft lottery – the event most responsible for the Magic building championship contenders in the previous two decades.

"I've lived in Orlando my whole life," said Jason Gray, decked out in his throwback Penny Hardaway Magic jersey Tuesday night. "This is nothing new to me. I've been through a few of these rebuilds."

Even so, this isn't exactly what Gray and many other fans were expecting when they bought season tickets to the new Amway Center. Little did they know that only two years after the building opened, they'd be sitting in the Mercedes Benz Lounge on Tuesday night watching the lottery on TV and hoping the Magic's resident good-luck charm Pat Williams could once again bring home the top pick.

Williams joked beforehand that he cultivated and harvested a special, magical pingpong ball to take up to New York for the draft lottery. "We still have that little farm out there (at Disney) and it's in a secret location," said Williams, the founding father of the Magic and a man who has come home from the lottery with the top pick on four previous occasions. "Nobody knows where it is. We sprinkle the pingpong balls with pixie dust and keep them happy. ... I feel confident we're going to have a good run and our pingpong ball is going to prevail."

Unfortunately, not even Williams – the consummate promoter – could build much interest among Magic fans for this year's draft lottery. And not even those make-believe Disney pixie dust-encrusted pingpong balls could turn the Amway Center into the Happiest Place on Earth.

Unlike past draft lotteries in which Williams has participated, there is no miracle cure for the Magic this time. There's no Shaq out there waiting to turn an expansion franchise into an instant contender like he did 20 years ago. There's no Dwight out there to give a flagging franchise instant hope like he did 10 years ago.

Here's all you need to know about the quality of this year's draft: The No.1 pick might well be Nerlens Noel, the Kentucky center recovering from a torn ACL who might not even be healthy enough to play next season.

For all of you Christmas carolers scoring at home, Nerlens would indeed be the Magic's first Noel, but he is far from a messiah. Who knows, he could be the franchise's next Dwight Howard -- or he could be the franchise's next Grant Hill. Is this really a chance you want to take with an early first pick in the draft?

The Magic's young GM Rob Hennigan doesn't seem like the type to roll the dice with the team's future. If he were, he would have traded Dwight for Andrew Bynum and the Magic would be stuck with Bynum, who sat out this entire season with bum knees.

Instead, Hennigan sought out the 76ers' obscure young center Nik Vucevic, who this year emerged as the league's top young big man. Only 22, Vucevic finished as the second-leading rebounder in the league, broke the Magic franchise record with 29 rebounds against the Heat earlier this year and was one of only 10 players in the league to average a double-double (12.0 points, 11.9 rebounds).

The upcoming draft will be just another way for Hennigan to add another young building block to a team that will most likely be right back here at the draft lottery next year.

The fact is, there are no surefire saviors coming in this draft to rescue the Magic from another lackluster season. Unlike the past – when the Magic truly were built on lucky charms and pixie dust -- this overhaul is going to be slower and more methodical.

Maybe it's a good sign that the Magic didn't win the draft lottery Tuesday night.

Hennigan, after all, doesn't seem like the type who believes championships are built on a wing, a prayer and a bouncing pingpong ball.

mbianchi@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.

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