Orlando Magic season preview
The NBA season will be here before you know it and FanSided is here to get you ready. In the lead up to Opening Night, we’ll be previewing two teams each day, reviewing roster changes, discussing important players and challenges, and hearing the perspective of our FanSided site experts. Let’s get ready for basketball!
Inputs: Serge Ibaka (F, acquired via trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder), Bismack Biyombo (C, signed for four years, $68 million), D.J. Augustin (G, signed for four years, $29 million), Jeff Green (F signed for one year, $15 million), Jodie Meeks (G, acquired via trade with the Detroit Pistons), C.J. Wilcox (G, acquired via trade with the Los Angeles Clippers), Stephen Zimmerman (C, NBA Draft Pick No. 41).
Outputs: Victor Oladipo (G, traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder), Dewayne Dedmon (C, signed with the San Antonio Spurs), Brandon Jennings (G, signed with the New York Knicks), Ersan Ilyasova (F, traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder), Jason Smith (F, signed with the Washington Wizards), Andrew Nicholson (F, signed with the Washington Wizards), Devyn Marble (G, traded to the Los Angeles Clippers), Shabazz Napier (G, traded to the Portland Trail Blazers).
Retained: Evan Fournier (G, signed for five years, $85 million)
Most Important Player
The Orlando Magic were a bundle of constant change throughout the offseason. The team has seven new players on the roster and the second largest turnover of any roster in the league. For a team that has missed the playoffs the last four years — the longest drought in the franchise’s 27-year history — it was a bold and risky move to make a short-term gain. The Magic’s methodical rebuild in the wake of the Dwight Howard trade is decidedly over.
The Magic’s moves have puzzled a lot of observers. The Magic traded youth for cap room and veteran players seemingly on the decline and took some risks with some big money. Orlando’s success this year though still relies on the core of players the team has drafted in the last three years specifically. The Magic need contributions from Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja.
And for this whole experiment to work for Rob Hennigan this year, the Magic need Aaron Gordon to develop into something more than anything. Gordon is still a bundle of potential without a position. He has played half his minutes between the two forward spots. Most still believe he is best as a power forward. The Magic though will start him at small forward. And that brings with it a whole new list of demands and skills for him to develop.
Gordon averaged 9.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last year, but after the All-Star Break, he posted 12.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game as he got more playing time and starter’s minutes more consistently. There is hope Gordon can take a leap.
Already, Gordon is a solid perimeter defender. The move to small forward should benefit him there most where he will guard the best perimeter player more often. That is a NBA-ready skill that he has. Other than that though, it is hard to define exactly what Gordon does well. And the former fourth overall pick in the draft has to begin paying some dividends for the Magic.
The starting lineup has a complete lack of shooting and Gordon is another poor shooter added to the perimeter — 29.6 percent from beyond the arc.
For the Magic’s offense and lineup to work, Gordon needs to be better attacking off the dribble or become a three-point threat. The athleticism that wowed everyone in the dunk contest in Toronto last year has to get put to good use for the Magic to succeed.
Most Important Addition
Of all the changes the Orlando Magic — and there were plenty — the biggest one might be the one that kicked off the summer and happened on the bench.
Scott Skiles’ surprise resignation might very well have been a blessing in disguise for a still relatively young team and a team trying to burst through its ceiling. Skiles did a good job overall. He added accountability to a young team that had tanked (essentially) for three years. The Magic improved by 10 wins on the 2015 efforts in 2016.
But the “Skiles effect” was put into overdrive in his lone season in Orlando. The Magic got off to a hot 19-13 start and then cratered in January and February. The Magic won just two of their 14 games in January and fell out of the playoff race. Young players got passed over for veterans, and the Magic dumped Tobias Harris for cap room despite his youth and very friendly contract.
It may not have been such, but it was a move that smelled of Skiles’ demand to win now over any kind of talent development.
Frank Vogel though promises to bring the accountability along with the success Skiles never experienced both in developing young talent and trusting them. Vogel’s six years in Indiana were characterized by elite defenses. Not strong defense, elite defenses. And it kept the Pacers in the playoff race even when they were down key players and even as Roy Hibbert began to fall off.
If his philosophy on the defensive end sinks in, he has plenty of defensive talent to create a stifling defense with the talent on this roster. And that should always get a team in the playoff conversation.
Of course, he does not have a Paul George to rely on.
With so many new players, Vogel’s tone is the most important addition to the team. The Magic have finally forced an identity onto their roster. And that big upgrade on the bench over Skiles will loom large to the team’s success or failure.
What does success look like for the Orlando Magic?
Playoffs, plain and simple.
The Orlando Magic are trying to make the playoffs in 2017. They gave up a lot of future assets in the last year with the hopes of getting competitive for the playoffs. After two failed seasons saying they would compete for and make the playoffs, Orlando gave up on the long-term rebuild and pushed their chips in for veterans and free agents just to get in.
That plan can and may deserve criticism. The organization is under a lot of pressure to deliver and get back to relevance after four straight sub-.500 wins. The Magic are currently under their longest playoff drought in franchise history. And the lottery did them no favors during their four-year rebuild.
The Magic’s decision to commit to defense more fully with their roster additions and coaching hire certainly give them a chance. But they are thinking short-term now. They are not going to worry as much about what happens three years down the road (although the team maintained some flexibility with some of the young players they kept). The entire season will be about the playoffs.
If that means having to win 38 games to make it, that is as successful as having to win 45 games to make it. Going 41-41 and missing the playoffs will present some progress and might satisfy ownership. But it certainly would not be considered a success — especially with a decision on Serge Ibaka’s future looming in the offseason.
The Magic have something of a mismatched roster and it is hard to sort through everything. They are still a mystery to just about everyone.
The goal and the measure of success though is very clear for this team.
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