For Orlando Magic, it is too early to shift course
The Orlando Magic are facing big questions and major roster flaws as the trade market prepares to open in two weeks. The Magic though should remain patient.
It did not take long for panic alarms to begin ringing among the Orlando Magic fan base. Some for good reasons. Some for panicked reasons.
The Magic’s 7-11 start has been full of frustration. The offense is one of the worst in the league — and that does not create entertaining basketball. The defense has taken some time to come around, but failing to score 95 points most nights to back up a strong defensive effort is growing frustrating.
The team has the 27th worst net rating in the league, a typically more accurate measure of how a team is doing. The Magic’s point differential suggests they should be 5-13, according to Basketball-Reference. The Magic’s record is better than they actually are statistically.
Orlando has some work to do to improve those statistics and become a more serious threat to make the Playoffs.
No one is hiding from that work. The Magic are an imperfect team with numerous fundamental flaws. At some point this season, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan will have to resolve these problems.
He is under as much pressure as anyone. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel voiced what everyone probably knows already — Hennigan’s job is on the line. There is no concrete reporting to suggest this is the case, but the writing also appears on the wall with the massive and drastic changes the Magic made to their roster this past summer.
The results are still mixed. That 7-11 record feels somewhat illusory. The team has achieved its goal of becoming a top-five defense (for now and as of this writing) but does not have the offense to take advantage of it. That miscalculation has put heightened focus on the upcoming trade window — which really opens up Dec. 15.
The Magic face a ton of questions. And everyone seems ready to race to the finish line, demanding action now.
There are conversations on the Internet — both among Magic fans and nationally — about whether the Magic should pack it in and tank. Yes, that conversation is happening in December, as Tom Ziller discussed with Paul Flannery on SBNation:
The Magic have bounced between average and bad, and they’re currently on a downswing. Now Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic are coming off the bench and Mario Hezonja is buried. I get that Frank Vogel is experimenting to find a winning rotation, but this roster is so unbalanced and the best prospects aren’t being put in great positions. I mean, is it worth to be a No. 8 seed with Serge Ibaka and Jeff Green leading the way? Maybe it is. This all just seems awfully backwards.
For all of Orlando’s struggles on the court, the team still does good things. The defense is nearing consistently elite levels. A team is not fifth in the league in defensive rating after one month without some of it being real.
There is something there worth allowing to germinate some.
Purposefully losing to restart the rebuild is simply not in the cards. Nor should it be. The Magic are just two games out of the final Playoff spot (the New York Knicks at 9-9). The schedule bears its teeth the next two weeks, but the Magic responded well with Tuesday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs.
Particularly with the Magic’s obsessions and desire to reach the Playoffs. The Magic are in their longest playoff drought in franchise history. The team has pushed the chips in on this rebuild and need to see how things play out.
Orlando’s goals are still clearly and firmly in front of them. Despite all the struggles through a relatively easy early part of the schedule, the Magic have not lost anything yet.
That leads to the next phase. The more obvious phase.
The Magic have to make a move to improve the roster and provide it the balance that it needs to succeed. The team has some massive holes to fill and will have to be aggressive to fill them. the Playoffs remain an achievable goal. And, yes, jobs appear on the line to achieve it.
That does not mean the Magic need to have a deal in place at midnight Dec. 15. It does not mean the Magic cannot wait things out just a bit and see if this team settles in and begins to carve out some offense. Perhaps the team can still improve with a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer (enough sledgehammering occurred in the summer, after all).
The reality is, the Magic are keeping pace with the pack to achieve their most basic goal — making the Playoffs. There is no reason for panic. Concern? Yes. Panic? No.
Concern? Yes. Panic? No.
Orlando should explore every trade avenue. Fans have fixated on a few players, and all those players deserve a look. The Magic are not in a position to protect any player absolutely. They should be exploring every avenue to get better.
The Magic are not sellers yet. But that can change if they fall off the pace.
But the Magic are not buyers yet either. They may not have the assets to do so. They are merely exploring and looking for ways to make the team better. Perhaps in big ways, perhaps in small ways.
The Magic do have some needs to fill and can and should explore ways to make the team better. But patience is still a virtue. The Magic are not going anywhere at this point.
The next few weeks on this road trip will plot the course for the rest of this season. Orlando will and should continue to explore paths to make the team better.
For now, it is too early to shift course dramatically. That is, unless a great opportunity comes along.