Frank Vogel does not have much else to try for Orlando Magic

Frank Vogel continues his Syssiphian efforts to keep the Orlando Magic in the Playoff race. That dream is fading as Vogel runs out of levers to pull.

The Orlando Magic face big questions about themselves again following Saturday’s embarrassing loss to the Dallas Mavericks. For the fourth time this year, the Magic lost a game by 30-plus points. There have been several more instances where the team trailed by 30.

It was embarrassing, as players themselves admitted. Yet, it has occurred far more often than anyone would like to admit. It is the most telling symbol of just how bad this Magic team.

Finally, Orlando’s record is matching their statistical output and results. Orlando is fourth in line for Lottery odds and nearly helping themselves keep that 2019 Los Angeles Lakers pick.

Frank Vogel is still not hearing any of that chatter. And who could blame him? His job is to win games after all. Leave the decisions about roster personnel to the general manager.

Vogel is Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill. While all the evidence points to the need for the Magic to rebuild and begin developing young players, Vogel bangs the drum of rallying and trying to make the Playoffs.

That is, again, saying the right things. The coaching staff and the players should be the last ones willing to pack it in for the season. To establish a culture someone always has to be striving to win. Even if the odds are insurmountable.

The odds are not insurmountable yet, but they are getting closer.

Vogel is trying to pull every lever. Nothing seems to work fully.

Last week, Vogel made yet another lineup change calling on C.J. Watson to start at point guard. Mario Hezonja also filled in for the injured Aaron Gordon. It was the 11th starting lineup the Magic used. Starting C.J. Watson at point guard and returning Gordon to the starting lineup for Monday’s game against the Miami Heat (he is expected back after missing two games with a bone bruise in his foot) would make lineup No. 12 for Orlando.

It is not exactly a sign of stability. And only one of the Magic’s starting lineups has an above-.500 record.

The Magic have spent time and time again searching for a starting lineup that works and trying to figure out a rotation. And nothing seems to work.

Lineups Games (Starts) Mins. Off. Rtg. Def. Rtg. Net Rtg.
Augustin-Fournier-Gordon-Ibaka-Biyombo 23 (15) 196 99.7 110.4 -10.8
Payton-Fournier-Gordon-Ibaka-Vucevic 32 (13) 287 105.5 109.3 -3.9
Payton-Fournier-Green-Ibaka-Vucevic 23 (8) 181 94.2 92.0 2.2
Payton-Watson-Gordon-Ibaka-Vucevic 10 (5) 112 100.5 114.3 -13.8
Augustin-Meeks-Gordon-Ibaka-Biyombo 6 (5) 61 111.1 114.5 -3.4
Payton-Meeks-Gordon-Ibaka-Vucevic 9 (3) 83 117.3 113.4 3.9
Payton-Fournier-Gordon-Ibaka-Biyombo 20 (2) 85 102.9 100.0 2.9
Watson-Fournier-Hezonja-Ibaka-Vucevic 2 (2) 33 102.0 102.6 -0.6
Payton-Fournier-Gordon-Green-Vucevic 12 (1) 34 87.2 121.5 -34.3
Payton-Meeks-Gordon-Ibaka-Biyombo 5 (1) 28 83.6 121.4 -37.8
Payton-Green-Gordon-Ibaka-Vucevic 3 (1) 24 101.9 89.7 12.2

The chart above shows a lot of different lineups that do not seem to work. A few that have played some limited minutes that might, but have clear weaknesses. There does not seem to be anything that works long term or provides good balance between first and second units.

And, more importantly, there does not seem to be a lot more to try.

Vogel has tried going big with Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo together. He has tried getting more shooting with Jodie Meeks and Evan Fournier sharing the floor. He has tried using D.J. Augustin. He had tried using Jeff Green. Nothing seems to stick. And nothing seems to help the bench as much as the starting lineup.

Orlando still has one of the worst net ratings in the league. And these constant lineup shifts and shuffles are as much a sign of the team’s struggles and difficulties as anything else.

The question though remains what more can Vogel do with his lineup? Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel asked poignantly after Saturday’s game what more he could to squeeze a bit more out of this team.

Vogel suggested another lineup shift may be on the way:

“The bench unit the last two games has come in and created big deficits,” Vogel said after the loss to the Mavericks. “We went away from it early tonight, and it didn’t work. Coming back to the starters didn’t work. Maybe that group’s not a good fit, so we have to shuffle the deck again and figure it out again.”

Something for the Magic clearly does not work. If there is a criticism for Vogel, it is something of a stubbornness to stick with his rotation and lineups. About the only thing the Magic have not tried to this point is playing Aaron Gordon at the 4 with Serge Ibaka at the 5.

Perhaps that creates a logjam at center the team is not ready to resolve. Perhaps that is something Orlando tries after the trade deadline with a new roster makeup.

It is clear very little has worked. What has worked, creates weaknesses elsewhere the team seemingly cannot overcome. The Magic and their coach cannot overcome the shortcomings in performance and in roster makeup.

Outside of going way outside the box — and maybe Vogel already did that in trying Jeff Green at shooting guard one game — there is not a whole lot the Magic can do. They have tried a lot of similar looking lineups to try to make things work.

The Magic have never been able to settle on a starting lineup. It is part a problem with the roster construction and part lack of experimentation. Maybe it is part putting trust in the wrong players. Certainly, players not playing to expectation is a huge factor for the Magic this season.

Vogel has run nearly out of options with the way his team is currently constructed. That more than anything is reason enough to make a change.

The poor effort Saturday did not begin with the starters. It is hard to see a major shakeup. But something clearly does not work for the Magic. It was clear long before then.

Vogel though is running out of levers to pull with the roster as currently constructed.

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