CHICAGO — Key Orlando Magic decision-makers will leave this city Saturday with a better understanding of their options in the crucial 2014 NBA Draft.
Over the last several days, Magic executives and coaches conducted preliminary interviews with a group that included five of the top eight or nine draft prospects: Australian guard Dante Exum, Arizona power forward Aaron Gordon, Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart and Indiana big man Noah Vonleh.
"It's been helpful, as it always is, just to have a chance to sit down and interact with these players for a substantial amount of time," Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. "It certainly adds to our files on each one of these guys. It helps to complete the puzzle.
"The group we were able to interview was, by and large, really solid: very well-prepared, very articulate. We had some constructive dialogue, for sure."
Hennigan would not name the players he and other team officials interviewed in Chicago and would not discuss how specific interviews went.
But individual players themselves had no qualms discussing how their meetings went with the Magic's delegation, which consisted of Hennigan, assistant general managers Scott Perry and Matt Lloyd, director of college scouting Brian Wright, coach Jacque Vaughn and lead assistant coach James Borrego.
"They were a good group of guys, and they all made me feel comfortable in the room," Exum said. "They definitely said they want to get me in for a workout and see how it goes."
Smart, who spent two years at Oklahoma State, said: "It went very well. They told me what they were looking for. They're looking for somebody to come in and bring toughness and compete and help the team."
Exum and Smart are widely regarded as the draft's top point-guard prospects.
Randle, Gordon and Vonleh perhaps are the top power-forward prospects.
Of that trio, Gordon — who measured at 6-feet-8¾ in sneakers — is considered as the most explosive athlete. He posted the combine's ninth-best maximum vertical jump, 39.0 inches.
"It went really well," Gordon said of his interview with the Magic. "It was loose. It was fun. They seemed like a really good group of guys, and it was [a team] where they need me. I can see myself playing there."
Randle, Duke swingman Jabari Parker and Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins were the three most hyped members of college basketball's 2013-14 freshman class. Once the season began, Kansas center Joel Embiid joined the trio as the most highly regarded draft prospects.
Parker, Wiggins and Embiid didn't attend the combine.
But if you divide the draft's prospects into tiers based on their NBA upside, Parker, Wiggins and Embiid would comprise the top tier. They almost certainly will be drafted first, second and third overall — although not necessarily in that order — as long as their medical exams show no significant problems.
The next-best tier probably consists of five or six players: most likely Exum, Gordon, Randle, Smart, Vonleh and Dario Saric, a Croatian forward who didn't attend the combine.
The Magic will have two draft picks in the top 14, and the team's spots in the draft order won't be decided until the draft lottery is held Tuesday night in Manhattan.
Hennigan said the Magic will start bringing players to Central Florida for workouts and more extensive interviews during the week of Memorial Day.
The 2014 draft class is considered one of the best classes in years.
"Walking out of Chicago, I wouldn't say we have a better idea of how strong it is," Hennigan said. "But I would say we have a better idea of the quality of person that's in this draft. To gauge top to bottom how strong it is, it's always going to be a blend of on-court [traits] and off-court [traits]. Certainly the on-court piece is to be determined for all of these players."
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