Pop quiz: What do you get when take the game’s best center and turn him into a bunch of role players?
If you guessed the Orlando Magic — congratulations. You win a trip to Disney World!
Not really, but if you do happen to visit Orlando anytime soon, Mickey Mouse is probably your best option. Dwight Howard is gone.
Not that the Magic were exactly world-beaters with Howard. But they were good. And for the past two seasons, they gave fans a reason to care, even if for no reason other than they were living a Dwightmare.
Now, Howard is in L.A. and the Magic must try to climb from the basketball ashes once again. Along with Howard, former coach Stan Van Gundy and reigning Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson have moved on.
But hey, at least Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson return. Then again, is it necessarily a good thing when your best remaining frontcourt player goes by the nickname “Big Baby”?
Well, that’s actually beside the point.
More problematic is the fact the Magic don’t really have a top scoring option. It’s more like a bunch of guys who might be able to hit open shots. Some have proven more reliable than others, and others will get opportunities they’ve never previously been afforded.
Trying to make sense of it all is Jacque Vaughn, a first-time head coach at any level.
Not exactly a recipe for good times. But the Magic risked losing Howard for nothing (via free agency), probably held onto him a little too long, then got what they could. It’s the best they could do.
The good news? The Dwightmare has officially ended. The bad? The sequel doesn’t look nearly as exciting. Nor will it be as successful.
Last season: 37-29, lost to Indiana in first round of playoffs.
Coach: Jacque Vaughn (first year).
Top returnees: PF Glen Davis, PG Jameer Nelson, SF Hedo Turkoglu.
Key additions: SG Arron Aflalo, C Gustavo Ayon, C Nikola Vucevic, PF Al Harrington.
X-Factor: Moe Harkless and Andrew Nicholson. When the Magic finally moved all the parts, they ended up with two players who they especially hope can be key pieces to their future. After all, Harkless and Nicholson are two rookies who emerged from the first round of the draft. Both are viewed as guys who possess promising upsides, with Nicholson projected by several scouting websites to go in the top 15. Instead, the Magic nabbed him at No. 19 overall. Harkless was drafted four spots earlier by Philadelphia, arriving in Orlando as part of the Howard deal. If those two can earn immediate minutes, all this talk of endless possibilities by Magic brass may at least be a little believable.
Strengths: Davis has finally arrived as a decent all-around player. He’s not a superstar, but he can kill you if forgotten. Afflalo is one of the league’s best backcourt defenders and J.J. Redick one of its best shooters. If only the Magic could put those guys in one body. Also, Nelson and Harrington are capable of erupting, and Vucevic is a second-year center who’s coming off an underrated season in Philly.
Weaknesses: Good luck trying to make sense of all this. We have no idea if these guys can play together, play well consistently, or how they’ll respond to Vaughn’s coaching. Other than that, things are great. Now, there’s a chance it comes together, much like Denver did after trading Carmelo Anthony. But the odds here seem less likely, simply because there’s not a guy here who the Magic can point to and say, “That’s our man.”
Outlook: Predicting the Magic to finish anywhere better than one of the East’s three worst teams is probably a reach. You don’t lose a guy like Howard, come out on the worst possible end of a four-team trade, and bounce Miami from the playoffs. Of course, no one is expecting anything close to that. The best Magic fans can hope for is a competitive team that plays hard and pulls a few surprises on their way to the lottery. That much is probably doable.