As he walked off the Miami Heat practice court Monday, veteran forward and converted hockey fan Udonis Haslem shook his head.
“Not good. Not good,” he said. “The Lightning, that’s not good for us, right?”
He was talking about the Florida Panthers’ second-round matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the two-time-defending Stanley Cup champions. And he recognized an intrastate rivalry percolating because of the Panthers’ rise to contender status.
The day after Haslem’s forecast, ahead of what turned into 0-2 direness for his adopted Panthers, another intrastate rivalry received a jolt, with the Orlando Magic winning the NBA lottery, the first pick in the June 23 draft now theirs.
That, of course, is a big deal.
And the Magic certainly have done big things with such selections before, turning previous No. 1 selections into Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway (through trade) and Dwight Howard.
The Heat, by contrast, with the notable exception of Dwyane Wade, largely have created their success through free agency or trades, including LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler, and, yes, Shaq.
Yet where the two Florida franchises have never converged is a playoff series of heft. When the Magic were up, the Heat were down, and vice versa, with this season as the latest evidence.
In the Heat’s 34 seasons, they have faced the Magic in the playoffs once, winning in the best-of-five 1997 first round.
Otherwise, for all the bluster of former Magic executive Pat Williams at the franchises’ inceptions, not much.
It was Williams, in fact, who went as far as to try to create a trophy for the annual season series, noting of the trophy, “It’s an ugly, ugly trophy. It cures hiccups, it’s so ugly.”
So perhaps something real now, with the lottery-winning Magic actually with a chance of getting up to where the Heat stand?
That could take more than this year’s No. 1 pick, whether it is Gonzaga forward Chet Holmgren or Auburn forward Jabari Smith or Duke forward Paolo Banchero.
Yes, it could leave the Magic with the best NBA power forward in the state (or at least as long as Bam Adebayo is listed at center), considering the Heat’s revolving door at power forward in recent years of long-in-the-tooth Jae Crowder, Trevor Ariza and, now, PJ Tucker.
But there also simply are too many questions on the Magic roster, from the health of Jonathan Isaac to the contract uncertainty with Mo Bamba, to what exactly might come of Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter or even the ultimate upside of Franz Wagner or Jalen Suggs.
We have been at this crossroads before, where the draft could transform the Magic to something closer to what Pat Riley has fastidiously developed in South Florida.
There was Suggs last year at No. 5, Bamba at No. 6 in 2018, Isaac at No. 6 in 2017, Mario Hezonja at No. 5 in 2015, Aaron Gordon at No. 4 in 2014 and, yes, even current Heat guard Victor Oladipo at No. 2 in 2013.
To put that in perspective, since 2013, the highest Heat pick was Justise Winslow, at No. 10 in 2015, needing to go back to Michael Beasley at No. 2 in 2008 as the Heat’s last single-digit first-round pick.
The fact is the Heat could use some legitimate competition in their division, with 16 games annually against Southeast rivals.
The Charlotte Hornets are going through another coach. The Washington Wizards are wobbling amid Bradley Beal uncertainty. The Atlanta Hawks regressed, as their first-round ouster at the hands of the Heat showed.
So now, from the depths of 22-60, come the Magic with their No. 1 selection, in a draft without a consensus No. One.
But, for now, because of Tuesday night’s Ping-Pong balls, at least hope again.
“We’re at the stage right now where we’re not a need-based team,” Magic executive Jeff Weltman said.
Actually, they very much are in need.
As is any hope of the true arrival of an intrastate rivalry.
IN THE LANE
SPEAKING OF: With the Magic (again) landing the No. 1 lottery pick, it left the Heat in a group of six franchises yet to earn the top overall selection (albeit not for a lack of trying in 2008, when the hoped-for target was Derrick Rose). The other five are the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz. Of that group, only Indiana was in this year’s lottery, exiting with the No. 6 pick.
NEW PERSPECTIVE: Tim Hardaway has gone to the dark side. OK, perhaps it’s not that extreme, but the New York Post revealed that the former Heat All-Star guard has been working as a scout for the New York Knicks, including at the Chicago pre-draft combine. Hardaway, whose post-playing career included time as an assistant on the Detroit Pistons staff of former Heat coach Stan Van Gundynow finds himself at work with an organization that stood as the fiercest of rivals during his Heat playing career, but also a franchise that twice had his son, current Dallas Mavericks guard Tim Hardaway Jr., on its roaster. Hardaway will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September.
ON THE MEND: In the wake of sustaining an ugly knee injury in the Philadelphia 76ers’ season-ending loss to the Heat in the East semifinals, veteran 3-point specialist Danny Green vowed a return by midseason. “I will be back for All-Star break. You got to believe it,” he said on his SiriusXM podcast, Inside the Green Room. Such an ACL tear often can take a full calendar year for recovery. It is a tricky spot for Green, 34, whose $10 million with the 76ers for next season can be excised by the 76ers if he is waived prior to July 1. “My body and my bones usually heal pretty well. I don’t have any bad habits,” he said. “So, yeah, I think I’ll be back in time to help a team in the playoff run and show and prove that I’m able to still play at that level to help a team get a win in the playoffs.” Green was injured during a rebound scramble against the Heat, with 76ers center Joel Embiid falling on Green’s knee.
STILL GOING: The NBA journey continues for Alvin Gentry, with the 67-year-old former Heat coach named vice president of basketball engagement for the Sacramento Kings. The front-office job was offered in the wake of his dismissal his as interim Kings coach. Gentry took over as Kings coach from Luke Walton after Sacramento’s 6-11 start, with the Kings closing 30-52 and missing the playoffs for an NBA-record 16th consecutive season. Gentry was a Heat assistant coach from 1991 to 1995, serving as Heat interim coach at the end of 1994-95 before Pat Riley took over.
SETTING THE RECORD: Former Heat center Amar’e Stoudemire appeared on ESPN’s First Take to clarify that his departure as a Brooklyn Nets developmental coach was not because of reported differences with Kyrie Irving. Instead, Stoudemire, 39, said his observance his of not working on the Jewish sabbath proved too limiting. “Not working on Friday night and Saturdays is difficult for anyone to grow in the coaching space because coaching is such a grind,” said Stoudemire, who converted to Judaism in 2020, four years after the completion of his one-season Heat tenure. “It requires you to be there full-time. And for me, I was unable to grow in that space, so I did not want to continue coaching. And, on the flip side, the Nets organization wants people who can be there full-time, and I totally understand that.”
ALLEN’S PILGRIMAGE: Former Heat guard Ray Allen recently participated in the PeacePlayers Initiative in Jerusalem, promoting understanding and friendship between young Israeli and Palestinian athletes. The event was hosted by America’s Voices in Israel together with the Arison Family Foundation. “There’s something fascinating, the idea of being here – just being connected to the Holy Land,” Allen told the Jerusalem Post. “I’ve heard it several times this week – people ask me why I’m here, as if only Jewish people travel to Israel.” He stressed, “There’s a common bond you can share with someone through basketball, regardless of what language you speak.”
500. Consecutive sellouts for the Heat at AmericanAirlines/FTX Arena, counting regular season and playoffs. The streak began April 23, 2010, three months before the Big Three collaboration of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. It is the fifth-longest such streak in NBA history, second among active streaks to the Dallas Mavericks’ 868. (Such streaks do not include the COVID-restricted 2020-21 season.)