The biggest thing to watch for in the next couple of preseason games isn't entirely on the court. Over the last 8-10 years, The Magic Timeline (coming soon to a Television Network near you) has been eerily similar to the Mavericks but on a level far exceeding in terribleness.
In 2009, the Magic made the NBA Finals on the still massive shoulders of Dwight Howard. After losing to the Lakers, Howard's fall from greatness began and with it the downfall of the Magic. The Dwightmare ironically ended in Orlando with a trade to those same Lakers. Since that trade the Magic haven't even meddled in mediocrity, they have been down right hopeless.
At their peak, the Magic and Howard won 52, 59, 59, and 52 games with one trip to the finals and another trip to the conference finals. Since Howard was traded, the Magic have only won 20, 23, 25, 35, and 29 games. The Magic have won less games in five years than the Warriors have won in the last two. After losing all of those games the system should assist bad teams in the draft to get better players, what did Sam Hinkie die for anyway? In the last five drafts the Magic have picked 2nd, 4th, 5th, 11th, and 6th but have not returned with any projected All-Stars. Even if Aaron Gordon or Jonathan Isaac reach their peak it's hard to imagine an All-NBA type player for either case. (Gosh, this is sad).
The Orlando Magic: The Mavericks darkest timeline that never happened.
Like the Magic, the Mavericks peaked around an All-World caliber big man with a unique skill set for his time, no other All-Star players around him, and arguably overachieved in their greatest accomplishments. Since their decline (The Dwightmare and Dirk's Age), each front office has also made some interesting decisions since their fall from dominance. The Magic didn't win nearly the amount of games the Mavericks did during their stars's peaks, but on a smaller level their arc's are similar.
So why aren't the Mavericks in the same position as the Magic? Why is it called the Magic Timeline and not the Mavericks Timeline?
Obviously because Dirk Nowitzki is a Greek God (he's so good he extends beyond earthly race or nationality) that just so happened to choose basketball as his profession of dominance. For every one of his 30,000 points Dirk has had 10 nice things said about him from the media, fans, peers, former players, coaches, front office members, and other life forms.
Every single one of them are accurate. The reason the Mavericks are not on the Magic Timeline is solely because of Dirk Nowitzki. Dwight Howard quit on the Magic (and the Lakers, and the Rockets, and the Hawks) and forced their front office to trade him for Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Afflalo (who has full-circled back to the Magic), Big 3 Star Al Harrington, Mo Harkless, and the Mavs own Josh McRoberts. The same crop could have been yielded had a disgruntled Dirk forced his way out of Dallas in 2006 or 2007 or whenever the going got tough. That sentence reads ridiculous now because Dirk would absolutely never do anything of the sort and that's the reason the Mavericks are not the Orlando Magic of the West.
In tonight's game the Mavericks will (probably) trot out Dennis Smith Effing Jr. who is unequivocally a player with more promise and potential than any of the Magic's players--including Isaac who was selected three spots before Smith Jr. Harrison Barnes is a better player right now than any the Magic have employed since the Dwight Trade. And even without those two, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that the Mavericks could beat the Magic on the backs of Yogi Ferrell, Seth Curry, Wes Matthews, J.J. Barea, Devin Harris, Nerlens Noel, Salah Mejri, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell, and Dirk Nowitzki?*
As these two teams play over the next two games, sit back and appreciate the man who isn't even there, the man who made sure the Mavericks didn't choose their own adventure and wind up on the Magic Timeline. It could have happened, but it didn't.
*We probably won’t see much of the starters in tonight’s game, but should in the following game, also against Orlando