They’re still going to be young. And they’re still going to get beaten. A lot.
But the Orlando Magic, who will open training camp Tuesday, are far better off now than they were a year ago as a team with a first-year coach, a first-year general manager and a roster which was noteworthy only because of the absence of Dwight Howard.
No one is criticizing GM Rob Hennigan for parting with Howard and J.J. Redick, both of whom are no longer members of the teams to which they were traded. Those deals enabled the Magic to land center Nikola Vucevic, one of the top vote-getters for the NBA’s Most Improved Player, and a pair of versatile budding stars in guard/forward Maurice Harkless and forward Tobias Harris.
And after drafting Victor Oladipo with the second overall pick three months ago, it didn’t take long for many experts to weigh in with the opinion that the Magic have the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year in the guard out of Indiana.
Keep in mind, however, that even with Damian Lillard earning those honors last season, the Portland Trail Blazers were still almost a 50-loss team and finished with a worse winning percentage than in the shortened 2011-12 season. So Jacque Vaughn can make Oladipo a starter from day one and watch him be everything that Lillard and Kyrie Irving were as rookies, and chances are it won’t elevate the Magic anywhere near playoff contention.
This was a team which ranked 27th in points scored and 25th in points allowed. Harris showed glimpses of being a go-to guy on offense during the final month of the season, but that was partly because of injuries to some of the few core veteran players. The Magic also lack a defensive stopper, as no one ranked among the top 150 players in the category of points allowed per 100 possessions.
Aside from point guard Jameer Nelson, who has been with one team for his entire career longer than anyone currently active in the NBA other than Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, the Magic will again be counting primarily on players in their early 20s. Unless guard Doron Lamb, forward Andrew Nicholson or center Kyle O’Quinn can mature and develop as quickly and as well as Vucevic and Harris did, another bunch of tough lessons seem likely to ensue.
G Beno Udrih (signed with New York), F Al Harrington (signed with Washington), F DeQuan Jones (reportedly invited to Sacramento’s camp).
F Jason Maxiell — A role player with the Detroit Pistons for eight seasons, Maxiell blocked 95 shots a year ago, which was more than anyone on the Magic had and the most of his career. At 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, he represents the opposite body type of Vucevic. But like Vucevic, he has a fluid jump shot and runs the floor well. His relative lack of height is not a concern to the Magic because of his wingspan, which has been measured at 7-3. If the Magic continue to rank in the lower half of the league in missed shots, there should be plenty of offensive rebounds for him to grab. He’s only a 56.6-percent shooter from the free-throw line for his career, although his average was better than that in 2012-13.
G Ronnie Price — A 6-2 combo guard who played most recently in Portland, Price is known for being athletic and a strong, aggressive defender. In some respects, he’s an older version of Oladipo. But at this stage of his career (he turned 30 in June), it would not be reasonable to expect him to all of a sudden become a dependable 3-point shooter. The Magic are the first Eastern Conference team for which he has played. During his time in Sacramento, Utah, Phoenix and Portland, he shot better than 40 percent from the floor just twice.
G Victor Oladipo — If the Magic are going to win back the portion of the fan base that has grown disenchanted in the years since the team’s back-to-back Eastern Conference finals appearances, he could be why. A bright and charismatic presence on and off the court, Oladipo showed during the Orlando Summer League the same sort of infectious energy and work ethic he did in college that made a believer out of Hoosiers coach Tom Crean. It’s not just by accident that the NBA is having the Magic open their regular season at Indiana. He could be on the cusp of breaking out on a national scale, although there are bound to be nights over the course of 82 games when he’ll look overmatched. His aggressiveness on defense was high on the list of items which caught the eye of Hennigan and the scouting department, but depending on how tightly games are officiated, that trait could land him on the bench in early foul trouble.
F Romero Osby — The second-round pick out of Oklahoma, Osby wasn’t even assured of being invited to camp until less than a week ago. While he is every bit as physically and emotionally mature as Oladipo, it’s a little different when you’re selected 51st overall. Osby averaged 16 points and seven rebounds as a senior and got the opportunity to showcase his skills with the Magic’s summer league entry. But at 6-8 and 232 pounds, he’s considered not lengthy enough to be a typical power forward and not speedy enough pivot to be a small forward.
Where will Oladipo play, point guard or shooting guard?
The line which the Magic braintrust has repeated since draft night is that it really doesn’t matter because there are so few true point guards or shooting guards in today’s game. With Nelson and Arron Afflalo still around, it’s not as if Oladipo is in a sink-or-swim situation at either position. He can be prone to turnovers, but that pretty much comes with the territory for any rookie guard. Nelson missed a total of 26 games last season, and Afflalo is expected to be brought back slowly from a serious hamstring injury six months ago. So wherever Oladipo ends up, he should get close to the 31 minutes a game Redick was averaging before the Magic traded him to Milwaukee.
Does Glen Davis fit into their plans?
Hard to say. Davis has not been on the court since fracturing his left foot in late January, and then he had a setback with that injury in July. Hennigan was non-committal when asked recently about the timetable for the return of Davis, who averaged 15.1 points and 7.3 rebounds in 33 starts. With the signing of Maxiell and with Harris due to spend most of his time at power forward, the Magic are clearly covering their bases in case Davis — who won a championship ring as a rookie with the Boston Celtics in 2008 — grows tired of being part of a sub-.500 team and asks to be traded to a winner.
What is Hedo Turkoglu still doing on their roster?
It’s complicated. All indications at the end of last season pointed toward the Magic buying out the final year of Turkoglu’s contract, which is worth $12 million with $6 million of that guaranteed. After all, he became persona non grata when the league suspended him 20 games for violating its anti-drug policy. Reports have said the 34-year-old forward already has a team lined up in his native Turkey, and the decision by the Magic to invite Osby to camp instead of retaining his rights while letting him play overseas could be the final piece to this puzzle.