In the perfect ironic twist in the narrative of the Orlando Magic’s tragic turn, Marcin Gortat said he wants to come back home.
“I would love to join the team for maybe two or three months, or maybe half a season at least,” Gortat told Josh Robbins, my Orlando Sentinel colleague, last week.
Oh, mercy. Is it too early yet to start drinking if you are a Magic fan?
Gortat’s absence is one of those connect-the-dots reasons the Magic are missing from this year’s playoff conversation, and have been since the 2012 season.
In case you are too squeamish to look, the Magic have 12 victories, second-worst in the NBA, and have lost seven in a row. They have no trade assets of great value, especially with Nikola Vucevic out indefinitely after surgery in his left hand, and are cruising down that potluck lottery road again.
Which takes us back to December 2010. For those in need of a quick history primer, the Magic — and former general manager Otis Smith, in particular — blew up the roster late that month.
It was a multi-layered implosion: Rashard Lewis went to the Washington Wizards for Gilbert Arenas. The Magic also sent Vince Carter, Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, a 2011 first-round pick and cash considerations to the Phoenix Suns in return for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark.
The Magic were in full-on championship mode back then and also cognizant of keeping a certain player named Dwight Howard in town. So they blew up a good team in the hopes of making it a great one.
“We had to do something,” then Magic president and CEO Bob Vander Weide told me at the time.
It was something, all right. Something very bad.
The Magic got a nice run early on and tricked folks like me into thinking this was a cool deal. In retrospect, it was horrible, and the franchise has never recovered.
Turkoglu and Richardson weren’t very good, but the real hot mess was Arenas (aka “Agent Zero”). He showed flashes of his All-Star form, but that was a mirage.
Some folks called Arenas “mercurial.” That was just a nice way of saying he was a train wreck, including a 50-game suspension in March 2010 for waving a gun in front of Wizards teammate Javaris Crittenton. But Smith had a close relationship with Arenas and pushed for the deal because of the bromance.
Ravaged by knee injuries — hey, it would have been nice to kick the tires before making the trade! — Arenas averaged eight points per game with a 40.6 shooting percentage.
The Magic waived Arenas the following December, using the amnesty provision allowing a team a one-time option to waive a player’s remaining contract from the salary cap and luxury tax.
The team still owed Arenas roughly $62 million on the final three years of his contract. Arenas and the Magic agreed to stretch out the payments, and the free money kept coming until 2015.
On the flip-side, Gortat has turned into a hard-nosed grinder at center for Phoenix and now Washington. He is a stat-stuffer both in points and rebounds, averaging as high as 15.4 and 10.4 in those categories.
Had the Magic not had itchy fingers, they could have survived the eventual defection of Howard and plugged Gortat into a lineup with Carter, Lewis, Ryan Anderson, Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick.
That’s a solid playoff team with huge upside, and one that would have been stronger assuming the Magic still get Vucevic in the deal for Howard.
Oh, and coach Stan Van Gundy wouldn’t have been kicked to the curb either in all the dysfunctional chaos.
I know we’re all playing Monday Morning Point Guard here, or however you want to label it. But it remains a devastating twist in the depressing plot lines that have developed for this franchise since that time.
Gortat never wanted to leave. Even if he eventually comes back, it’s like chasing ghosts.
Things have been spooky around here since you left, Mr. Gortat. You’ve been warned.