Starting Five: PG Jameer Nelson, SG Aaron Afflalo, SF Moe Harkless, PF Glenn Davis, C Nikola Vucevic
Key bench players: SG/PG Victor Oladipo, SF/PF Tobias Harris, PF Andrew Nicholson, C Kyle O’Quinn, PG E’Twaun Moore
Notable offseason additions: Victor Oladipo (2nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft)
Notable offseason subtractions: C Al Harrington, SF Hedo Turkoglu
FACT OR FICTION: One year removed from Dwight Howard’s departure from Orlando, it is clear that the Magic got the worst of the four-team, blockbuster trade of the 2012-2013 season.
“This deal stinks for the Magic. It’s great for the Lakers, though. Some things never change.”—Sports Illustrated
“The Magic traded the best player in a four-team swap and got the worst package. Amazing.”—SBNation
“They got the short end of the deal.”—ESPN
“Out of the four teams in this blockbuster, the Magic far and away come out the losers here…”—The Great Mambino
Those are obviously quotes from the Dwight Howard trade a year ago, including one from our very own KOBEsh on this blog. Now one year removed from the Dwightmare, it is clear that GM Rob Henningan was the winner in that transaction. The biggest moving pieces in the four team trade undoubtedly were Dwight Howard (who left the Lakers much worse off than the Magic), Andre Iguodala (who is now playing for Golden State), and Andrew Bynum (who not only doesn’t play for the Sixers anymore but also didn’t play a single game last year). Not only have the Magic acquired a core of young and talented players in that trade (as well as Tobias “Looks-like-a-chump-plays-like-a-champ” Harris in the lopsided JJ Redick deal), but they also will have a first round pick the following two years thanks to the Sixers and the Lakers. It is clear that Rob Henningan’s Sam Presti based rebuilding model is working. Slowly it surely, the plan is clearly in place in Orlando.
Finishing off last season with the worst record in the NBA on paper, the Magic never looked like the train wreck that was the Bobcats. In fact they came out of the gates roaring with a surprising 12-15 start putting to bed any doubt that Dwight Howard’s shadow will linger over the franchise for years to come. In fact, there a lot of positives about the Magic’s play last season. Rookies Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless made strides throughout the season finishing with 13.1/11.9/1.9 and 8.2/4.4/.7 a game respectably and have become great rotation players that would see major minutes on any team in the NBA, not just the Magic. 21 year old Tobias Harris emerged as a dynamic scorer for the Magic who filled up the stat sheet (11/5.2/1.3) and recorded two 30 points games after the All-Star break. And now with the addition of 2nd overall 2013 draft pick Victor Oladipo out of Indiana, the Magic have the makings of a legit playoff team in years to come, albeit not this season.
This year the Magic have a lot of work ahead of them. Of course they will still lose the majority of their games securing a high first round pick in next year’s draft, but as weird as it sounds, winning is not the goal for Orlando. The major takeaway after the 2013-2014 season wraps up will be the growth of this young team. Oladipo is poised to see major minutes as he is considered the most NBA ready player in the draft as well as an early Rookie of the Year candidate. And Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic will continue to see major playing time as the former continues his off season growth in his handling, jump shooting and defensive tenacity, and the latter will continue his stride towards one of the elite rebounders in the league. With the veteran leadership of Jameer Nelson, Aaron Afflalo and Glenn Davis, the sky is the limit for these young talented players as long as head coach Jacque Vaughn can strike the right balance that he was criticized for late in the 2012-2013 season.
But therein lays the problem for the Magic. In the offseason the rumor has been that Oladipo will be used as a point guard with the veteran guidance of Nelson. Jameer is no longer the All-Star play marker he once was, but rotating Oladipo and Nelson puts a ceiling over Oladipo’s growth. In college he was a natural shooting guard with elite defense and play making ability, with his slashing speed and fast break acumen was a nightmare for teams. Reworking his game as a point guard/facilitator doesn’t play to his strengths. The best bet would be to keep Nelson at the 1 and let Oladipo work his magic at the 2 with his outside-inside game. That paired with the 11th best rebounding in the NBA inside presence of Vucevic and Davis, the Magic could really be a defensive problem for teams. And as long as Afflalo doesn’t take any more steps back in his game, the rotation between Harris and he could showcase some clutch scoring as well as the Magic-of-Old 3-point shooting.
This all being said, the Magic are only into their second year of their massive overhaul of the franchise. They will still finish close to last place in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference, probably in the bottom three. But a full season of valuable starting experience for this young team is crucial to their future. Besides Afflalo, Nelson, and Davis, none of the key players on the roster are older than 24. Is this team going to be the next Oklahoma City? Probably not. But the future looks bright in Orlando. With roughly $25 million in cap space freeing up next year, Rob Hennigan can finally shed the taint of Otis “I-shit-the-bed-literally-and-metaphorically” Smith and bring the Magic back to NBA relevance.
Best Case Scenario: The Magic get their young core players plenty of playing time but still lose enough games that secures an early draft pick in the 2014 draft. Oladipo emerges as a legit star and wins Rookie of the Year, giving the Magic a piece to build around through the draft and free agency.
Absolute Apocalypse: The Magic win close to 30 games, Oladipo is a bust and Dwight Howard wins a title in Houston.
Expected Outcome: 5th in the Southeast Division, 14th in the Eastern Conference.
Do you smell what MAMBINO is cooking? Check out the rest (so far) of our 2013-2014 NBA Season Preview series: