The Process: Where are the Orlando Magic at now?

The Orlando Magic are now headed into their fifth season of their post-Dwight Howard rebuild. Where are they at now? What is the next step in the process?

When the Orlando Magic hired general manager Rob Hennigan in 2012, Hennigan repeatedly referred to “The Process” of rebuilding the organization.

Mind you, Hennigan was not referring to starting from scratch or Sam Hinkie’s process (Hennigan predated Hinkie anyway). Hennigan still had hope of being able to convince franchise cornerstone Dwight Howard to stay with the team.

At the time, Hennigan was referring to changing the club’s culture.

The goal was to stop trying to plug guys in that did not fit the kind of mentality the organization wanted. When the Magic lost Howard, it was about building organically. And the franchise was now more focused than ever on building a culture that would win for a long time.

Now what kind of culture was that exactly? High IQ, high motor basketball players that are in the gym early, leave late and embrace their fellow teammates like brothers.

In the August 2012, Orlando’s course suddenly became much more clear.

Orlando traded Dwight Howard away for a handful of prospects and picks and thus the rebuild of the roster, in addition to the culture, began.

Now, logic would dictate this process was going to take a long time. The team had to install a new coach with a new system and belief on what success was, a mostly new roster and a new emphasis on what’s important from players.

It is now 2016.

The Magic are four years removed from the beginning of the process. And it feels like there has not been much accomplished.

Out are coaches Jacque Vaughn and Scott Skiles. Jacque Vaughn seemed like the right fit for a culture rebuild. But his coaching skills were not up to par. Scott Skiles seemed like an odd hire from the get-go and seemed like a complete deviation from mission statement of the long-term development process.

Now the Magic find themselves on their fourth coach in three seasons, including interim coach James Borrego.

The sudden upheavals in the Magic’s process have not saved valuable personnel either.

Former franchise cornerstone Victor Oladipo is also out. The second pick in the 2013 Draft, the Magic hoped for Victor Oladipo to become the franchise’s centerpiece. Fan reaction to his trade certainly showed he was considered the organization’s face and brightest star.

Also out: promising young players Maurice Harkless, Kyle O’Quinn, Andrew Nicholson, Dewayne Dedmon and Tobias Harris. All of whom were young pieces the Magic attempted to build around but did not stick with. Each of these players have signed lucrative contracts and their future in the NBA is fairly unquestioned.

What do we take from this turnover of players that are clearly viable NBA guys? What does it say about the Magic and where they are right now?

Hennigan and his staff clearly know how to find legitimate NBA talent throughout the draft. But the development staff and the coaching staffs have not done the job they needed to get the most from this talent.

The pieces never fit together.

The Magic have used almost all the assets Hennigan started his tenure with. The only remaining “home grown” talent left on the team are Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier. (The Magic did not draft Nikola Vucevic or Evan Fournier, but they have had them since their sophomore years and they largely grew into rotation players with the Magic.)

The talent level of both groups is arguable, but it is clear this offseason represents an alteration in the process. The Magic continued to let their young nucleus wither down into a core, and the Magic added talented and experienced vets to their team.

Veterans that from an age standpoint should be starting their prime right about now. And will be ending their prime right about the time the rest of the young nucleus hits their prime.

This all sounds good in theory. The Magic should be competitive right now with the additions of Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo, while the young nucleus finds themselves.  But if the young nucleus does not progress the way the Magic expect them to, this “jump start” could backfire big time.

It is hard to say where the Magic could go to build this team further or rebuild it should this season falter.

Many experts have pointed out the Magic cannot continue to punt cap space into the next offseason. They are not wrong.

At some point, their younger players are not going to be playing on a rookie contract anymore. Once those contracts are up the Magic will have to either pay their guys or move on. The Magic have missed the sweet spot for their cap flexibility. Now their options are more limited.

Where do the Magic go from here? The Magic need to either: a) Swing a trade that lands them a younger superstar that immediately makes the team a viable threat in the East or b) Continue the developmental path and hope that one of Payton, Fournier, Gordon, or Hezonja become a bona fide NBA superstar.

It is quite difficult to pull off a blockbuster deal for a superstar. With that in mind it is more likely that the Magic continue with plan B.

This is where the Magic are in the process.

That is what makes this season so critical for the Magic. The Magic need this season to be a jumping off point for Gordon, Payton and Fournier. Hezonja gets a bit more leeway since it is only his second season, though a downtick in production would be extremely alarming.

Even with all the veterans added in and the Playoff expectations forced upon them, the Magic’s future still depends on those players Hennigan drafted developing into solid NBA contributors.

This season will certainly bring a ton of intrigue for the Magic and their fans. The offseason moves Orlando made certainly indicate this season will be a direct referendum on the process.

If the Magic make a leap forward, the process will have proven its worth. If the Magic stay mired in mediocrity (or worse), the end of Hennigan’s process seems assured.

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