If you’ve been a News + Record subscriber for any number of my 18-month tenure as the paper’s sports editor, you’ll likely know one super important thing about me: I loathe Duke Basketball.
As a Tar Heel through and through, it has been my duty to express disdain for all things relating to “The Brotherhood,” Coach K and Duke as a whole through many columns that have graced this very sports section.
Today, however, I’m here to announce something that, quite honestly, makes me a little nauseous.
Duke fans, I’m (sort of) on your side. I’m legally obligated to be.
Let me explain.
Last Thursday, the 2022 NBA Draft took place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Here are a couple of my quick hits:
I’m not sure I’ve ever expressed it in the pages of the News + Record, but I grew up a fan of the Orlando Magic. (Yes, you’re allowed to feel sorry for me. Pity is welcome.)
Over the last decade, the Magic have been the definition of irrelevant.
Since the 2012-13 season — the year after the team’s last No. 1 draft selection, Dwight Howard, demanded a trade that left the organization in shambles — Orlando has made the playoffs just twice, losing in the first round in both instances. Its highest win total came in 2018-19 when it won 42 games, finishing barely over .500 (42-40).
The Magic have had six coaches in 10 years, have put faith in countless young players that ultimately aren’t on the roster anymore and have failed to put together any semblance of success.
But the tides are (hopefully) turning, with the front office duo of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond putting together a young core with names like Markelle Fultz (former No. 1 pick), Jonathan Isaac, Cole Anthony (former Tar Heel), Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs and Wendell Carter Jr. (former one-and-done big man at Duke), all of which are aged 23 or younger.
And heading into this year’s Draft, the Magic found themselves with an abundance of luck, happening upon the No. 1 overall pick for the first time since drafting Howard in 2004.
Much to my dismay — despite all of the rumors that said they were almost guaranteed to select Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr. — the Magic used Smith as a smokescreen and used their No. 1 pick on Duke forward Paolo Banchero.
A text from my college roommate from UNC says it all.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOO,” it read.
I was stunned. But as much as I wanted to hate the pick, using every Carolina blue bone in my body to reject it, I just couldn’t.
Because, truth be told, it’s the perfect fit.
Banchero will undoubtedly be the Magic’s top offensive weapon and will help the offense flow a heckuva lot better, given both his deadly scoring ability and passing prowess.
His defense leaves a little to be desired, but it can be improved. And with a team like the Magic, they’ve got time.
The only real issue, of course, is the school he went to.
But with Orlando formerly being the home for Duke greats Grant Hill and J.J. Redick — and now Carter Jr. and Banchero — I’ve gotten used to holding my nose and rooting for a player no matter the school he went to.
Reluctantly, I’ll do the same for Banchero.
After all, he only spent one season at Duke, one where he and his teammates ruined Coach K’s legacy by losing to UNC in the Final Four. So I’m sure he’s more than happy to forget about his time in Durham, anyway.
It may sound odd to say coming from a Magic fan, but I’m sorry to all of the Charlotte Hornets supporters out there.
This organization is destined to be average.
Entering Draft night, the Hornets possessed the No. 13 pick, and for a moment, used it on Memphis big man Jalen Duren, an 18-year-old player with plenty of raw talent that many analysts considered a solid pickup at 13.
But in a flurry of draft-day trades, the Hornets wound up sending Duren to the New York Knicks for a 2023 first-round pick and four future second-round selections.
Then, at pick No. 15, the Hornets nabbed Duke 7-footer Mark Williams to make up for trading Duren.
It wasn’t the worst draft ever, especially since Charlotte turned one pick that it clearly didn’t want (No. 13) into five total selections for later drafts. But the idea of the Hornets missing out on a talent like Duren, while simultaneously coming out of a draft where they had two top-15 picks with just one middle-of-the-road selection, is on brand with what the Hornets have represented since changing their name from the Bobcats in 2014: a whole lot of mediocrity.
Charlotte clearly made the right decision by drafting LaMelo Ball at No. 3 overall in 2020, who’s turned out to be a star, but aside from Ball and forward Miles Bridges — who’s a restricted free agent this summer — the Hornets are a team which looks content staying in the middle of the Eastern Conference for years to come.
Sadly, this Draft didn’t do a whole lot to change that.
Pair an uneventful Draft with the news that broke the following day of the team hiring Steve Clifford to be its next head coach — after Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson spurned the Hornets after the Warriors won the NBA title — and you’ve got little reason for Charlotte to draw much excitement this season (besides, of course, Ball).
For the record, Clifford coached the Bobcats/Hornets for five seasons from 2013-18, amassing a 196-214 record and making the postseason just once. He’s also notorious for stunting the growth of young players, as seen by his short-lived tenure in Orlando from 2018-21.
Oh well. If history is any indicator, the Hornets will likely be sitting near the back half of the Lottery again next season. Maybe then they’ll finally strike mid-first-round gold.
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
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