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The Problem with Promise

Joe Stafford '18, Contributor

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The 90’s Orlando Magic and the current Dallas Cowboys: what do they have in common? They play different sports and are in different time eras. On what grounds do they have any correlation? Well, I’ll tell you. Potential. One of the most powerful things in sports is the rise of a young team. Potential is what drives any team forward, the light of the future giving hope to hopeless teams and cities. If you have that promise, you need to manage it.

As we’ve seen before, it can all come crashing down. Shaquille O’Neal was drafted in 1992, out of LSU. Deemed a “basketball unicorn”, he propelled the young Magic from the basement of the NBA (21-61) into a playoff contender (41-41) his rookie season. Never before had a team seen such a transformation. The Magic lost a tiebreaker to enter the playoffs Shaq’s rookie year, so they found themselves back in the lottery. By some Godly miracle, they pulled the number one overall pick with the least amount of chances in the lottery. Stunned, general manager Pat Williams had a choice to make. Who were they going to take?

There were really only three options: Chris Webber, Sean Bradley, and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. While Webber seemed like the presumed number one selection to pair with Shaquille O’Neal, Shaq had other thoughts. Shaq had recently worked on a movie with Hardaway and was impressed by his skill set. O’Neal called the Magic front office after the first day of shooting and pleaded with them to take Penny. At first, the Magic seemed to have neglected Shaq’s input and took Webber, the impressive power forward from Michigan, but later traded him to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Hardaway and three future first round picks. While many thought the move to be foolish, Williams saw the potential of a Hardaway-O’Neal tandem. That year the Magic went 50-32 and launched themselves into the NBA spotlight and the 1993-1994 playoffs. They lost in the first round. However, the following season they went all the way to the NBA finals where they were defeated by the Houston Rockets.

We all know what happens next. Shaq leaves for the Lakers, Penny gets overworked and injured, and the Magic lose their spark. Here comes the eerily similar situation with the Cowboys. Dez Bryant, a receiver out of Oklahoma State, was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. His combination of size and speed was hard to overlook, not to mention his natural pass catching ability. He slipped into the late first round and never looked back. His rookie season he finished with 45 receptions for 561 yards and six receiving touchdowns. He helped improve the Cowboys from a 6-10 team to a contender for a playoff spot at 8-8. Sound familiar? Shaq did the exact same thing for his team, finishing with the exact same winning percentage his rookie year.

The Cowboys last loss of the season prevented them from a playoff birth (just like the Magic), but they knew they had a rising star in Bryant. Flash forward to this year, the Cowboys select Ezekiel Elliot, a big-play running back out of Ohio State. Elliot and Bryant created a dynamic duo for the Cowboys when Dez was healthy, leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record. They were slated to make a playoff run resting atop the NFC, but lost in the first round of the playoffs… Just like the Magic their first year with Penny. The Cowboys are considered one of the best young teams we have seen in a while, and Dez and Zeke are two of the main reasons why.

So, why am I writing this article? Because, as we all know, absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the sports world. The Magic were supposed to be the team of the decade, bolstering an all-star roster with their best players being in their young 20’s. The Cowboys are in the same position as the Magic, and they need to make sure they don’t mess with a good thing. But let’s say they do mess up—something does go wrong. Honestly, I would not be surprised if it did. We are, after all, living in Jerry’s World. Dez Bryant would easily be the first player to leave. His gigantic ego will eventually become an on- and off-the-field issue due to the increased roles of Ezekiel Elliot and Terrence Williams, which ultimately leave him disgruntled and wanting to move on. Not to mention, he becomes a unrestricted free agent in 2019. He leaves, signs a gigantic contract with a power team, and more realistically than not, wins a title. That would leave the Cowboys offense with a serious void in playmaking. So, to fill the opening the Cowboys run Zeke ragged, more than they already have.

As a rookie, Elliot finished the year with 322 carries, good for most in the league. If they continue to run him like this, or even increase upon it (which you can expect regardless if Bryant leaves, because Jerry Jones is Jerry Jones), then Zeke is going to be susceptible to a much higher injury rate. Elliot becomes injury prone, leaving the Cowboys with nothing left to do but get rid of him to save face value. They eventually ship him off for a mid round pick or role players and he never regains form. That seems realistic, right? It is at least a plausible scenario. Did that hypothetical Zeke situation remind you of anybody? It should, because it is exactly what happened to Penny Hardaway. This leaves the Cowboys in a state of complete hopelessness and having to start rebuilding once again.

To conclude, Jerry, be mindful and grateful of what you have. It could end with the ink of a pen.

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The Problem with Promise