Reshaped Magic ready to make another run at playoffs
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) It's become almost a ritual in Orlando in recent years: The Magic tip off the season with the goal of ending their postseason drought after a dramatic offseason of changes.
They hope they got it right this time.
After coach Scott Skiles walked away after going 35-47 in his only season in Orlando the team parted ways with emerging star guard Victor Oladipo. Now veteran coach Frank Vogel with his defense-first focus has been brought in to lead the Magic to the playoffs for the first time since Dwight Howard left town in 2012.
Vogel isn't being asked to work miracles with his philosophy alone. Magic general manager Rob Hennigan went out this offseason and brought in reinforcements.
''I think we addressed some needs that we needed to address in the offseason, particularly rim protection and physicality up front,'' said Hennigan, who is on his third coach since taking over in 2012. ''So we are going to rely on defense and our versatility and depth.''
Power forward Serge Ibaka came over in a draft-night trade that sent Oladipo and a first-round draft pick to Oklahoma City. The Magic also made moves in free agency, signing center Bismack Biyombo to give the team a defensive interior presence.
But there are legitimate questions about whether the Magic have done enough to make a push for the playoffs. There are concerns about consistent scoring after trading Oladipo, who was their second-leading scorer behind center Nikola Vucevic. Shooting guard Evan Fournier will have to be a more effective scorer to help fill the void.
The Magic have also shifted third-year player Aaron Gordon from power forward to small forward, who will have to become a better perimeter shooter.
Here are some other things to watch for with the Orlando Magic this season:
BIG 3: When Magic talk about their Big 3 they're talking big men: Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. During the preseason Ibaka and Vucevic were the starters, but Biyombo's shot-blocking ability could send Vucevic to the bench. Vucevic, who was the team's leading scorer last season with 18.2 points per game, is much more of a polished finisher around the rim than Biyombo.
SHOOTING STAR: Evan Fournier seemed to turn a corner as a consistent scorer toward the end of last season. But Fournier, who signed a five-year, $85 million contract extension this summer to remain with the team, will have to be an even bigger scorer for the Magic this season.
WHAT'S THE POINT? There is no player on the Magic's roster who has faced more scrutiny than third-year point guard Elfrid Payton. Everything from his ability to hit open jumpers to his ball handling has been questioned. Payton averaged 10.7 points, 6.4 assists and 2.4 turnovers per game last year. A capable penetrator, Payton shot 44 percent from the field last season but converted just under 33 percent from 3-point range.
FRANKLY SPEAKING: New Magic coach Frank Vogel brings huge defensive expectations to Orlando with him. In Indiana, his Pacers were consistently among the top defensive teams. The lack of consistent offense was his shortcoming. This Magic team has a chance to be fairly strong defensively this season, but scoring the basketball could be a problem that follows Vogel. He doesn't have proven go-to scorer or shooter on the roster, which could bogue down the offense.
SECOND PLATOON: The Magic's second unit could be their best scoring option. The reserve unit that consists of a combination of guards C.J. Watson, D.J. Augustin and C.J. Wilcox along with small forwards Jeff Green and Mario Hezonja , sharp-shooting big-man Damjan Rudez and Bismack Biyombo in the post could be fun to watch.