August 10, 2012 was the day basketball changed forever in two cities. It was the day the Orlando Magic traded their franchise center, Dwight Howard, in exchange for a package of solid veterans, prospects, and draft picks. In that same transaction, the Sixers acquired a game-changing center in Andrew Bynum, a man who ownership, front office, and fans hoped would lift the franchise from mediocrity to greater heights.
It marked the official beginning of the Magic's rebuild, and in an unintended consequence, it marked the unofficial beginning of the Sixers rebuild. Bynum, obviously, never played a game for the Sixers (though some of us haven't given up just yet), and the package the Sixers gave up to acquire him (Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, and a future first round pick) left the Sixers in dire straits moving forward.
Since that day, the Sixers and Magic have been the two worst teams in the NBA, winning 79 and 92 games, respectively. The last winning season, and playoff appearance, for both teams was in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
While the Sixers rebuild has come under intense scrutiny for its brazenness, the Magic's has gone largely unnoticed. The Magic did a lot of the things critics have suggested the Sixers do. They went out and signed veteran free agents like Ben Gordon and Channing Frye to multi-year contracts in the midst of the rebuild. They drafted players with high lottery picks that were expected to make an immediate impact, like Victor Oladipo.
The Magic, in some ways, however, are also a cautionary tale for the Sixers, or a mirror image, depending on what you think of the Sixers recent draft history. Despite finishing with one of the five worst records in the NBA each of the last three seasons, they still don't have a surefire superstar, drafting Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, and Mario Hezonja with top five choices. Despite not being the team everyone thinks of when you think of "tanking," they could be the example teams point to to showcase the idea that there's no guarantee of success at the top of the lottery either.
The Magic hired Scott Skiles in the offseason, with the idea that this year would mark the turning point of the rebuild. Skiles was known as a coach who would get the most out of his players, before his act eventually wears thin several years down the line. Remind you of anyone?
However, that plan has not exactly come to fruition. This is Year 4 of the rebuild for the Magic and they currently sit 4.5 games out of the last playoff spot in the East. At last week's trade deadline, they overhauled their team, shipping out Tobias Harris and Frye and bringing back pending free agent Brandon Jennings and forward Ersan Ilyasova, as well as a second-round pick.
Since the Bynum trade, the Magic have essentially been the half-measure version of the Sixers. They're tanking, but they're not really tanking. They're signing free agents, but not ones that would drastically change the team's present outlook. They're planning for the future, but winning now would sure be great too. You may not be able to get to the moon by climbing a tree, but you also can't get there if you're trying to launch the spaceship with a Bic lighter.
Like the Sixers or not, for the most part, they haven't been a team of half-measures. Put the two organizations side by side and let me pick one, and I'll still take the Sixers every day of the week.
Tonight, the Sixers and Magic will play in a basketball game. Since the trade, these two teams haven't played in a game's that ultimately relevant to the NBA. One day, possibly soon, they'll both be competing for playoff berths yet again, and on that day, the two rebuilds will be compared yet again. Then again, perhaps we're destined to do this forever.