After jettisoning Dwight Howard in August 2012, the Orlando Magic fully embraced a rebuilding plan, starting over with two young prospects in Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless and a veteran contributor in Arron Afflalo.
After a surprisingly strong 12-13 start which had some folks around the NBA wondering if they could make the playoffs, the Magic floundered to the finish, losing 49 of their final 57 games. Along the way, they lost Glen Davis to two injuries – one which would ultimately end his season – and dealt J.J. Redick and two others to the Milwaukee Bucks for a package including Tobias Harris.
A three-game skid to end the season, coupled with Charlotte’s three-game winning streak, gave Orlando the league’s worst record and a 25 percent chance to win the lottery. But the Cleveland Cavaliers leapfrogged the Magic to snag the top pick, leaving Orlando to take Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo – who was atop their draft board anyway.
The Magic worked on the fringes of the free agency period, adding eight-year veterans Jason Maxiell and Ronnie Price to shore up their depth and strengthen their locker room. Neither player figures to be part of Orlando’s long-term plans – the second year on each player’s contract is non-guaranteed – but each will add something to the Magic’s locker room dynamic.
With a core of talented youngsters on rookie deals and some salary cap space opening up in the next few seasons, the Magic are on their way toward returning to respectability. Nevertheless, the coming season will likely be another rough one for the league’s only pinstriped club.
Here are five things to watch as Orlando continues its rebuilding project in 2013-14.
1. Where will Victor Oladipo play? The Magic used a valuable draft pick on Oladipo, but he figures to spend much of his rookie season playing behind two of the team’s well-respected veterans. It will be interesting to see how coach Jacque Vaughn accommodates him.
The Magic played Oladipo exclusively at point guard in the Orlando Pro Summer League, and although he stuffed the stat sheet with averages of 19 points, 4.3 rebounds, five assists and three steals, he still has a long way to go if he is going to play that position other than in an emergency.
As a lead guard, Oladipo can create for himself off the dribble but struggles to generate open looks for teammates. He also is turnover-prone, as his 4.8 average in the OPSL demonstrated. He is just 21 and entering his rookie season, so there’s certainly potential for improvement. But he has to work on his handle and floor vision before the Magic can seriously rely on him at the point.
Orlando’s point-guard situation is arguably the most dire in the league. Jameer Nelson is still a solid starter, but 6-footers historically do not age well. Behind Nelson are Oladipo, E’Twaun Moore, Doron Lamb and Price, none of whom inspire much confidence.
Oladipo is a more natural fit at shooting guard, where he won’t have to shoulder as much playmaking responsibility. I expect the Magic will try to involve him offensively by catching in space so he can get into the lane for a foul or a shot with just a few quick dribbles. He proved to be a foul magnet in Summer League, averaging 10 free throws per game, and the hope is that he can boost his efficiency by converting his chances at the stripe.
To get Oladipo the minutes he needs, Orlando will have to shift Afflalo, the presumptive starter at shooting guard, to small forward for extended stretches. Afflalo’s a gamer and certainly will do whatever Vaughn asks, but his defensive deficiencies at the three-spot – where he gives up several inches to most players – are tough for Orlando to mask because they lack an interior defensive presence.
2. How will Glen Davis and Tobias Harris coexist? After being acquired from Milwaukee. Harris gave Magic fans something to cheer about. In his 27-game audition, the 20-year-old Harris averaged 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.3 combined blocks and steals playing primarily at power forward, although he did shift to small forward in some configurations.