The premise of losing a superstar is a fickle situation that most organizations dread. The decision to trade a player or try to re-sign him presents general mangers and owners with a fine line between moving on and saving face. Winning this battle is rare as losing is all too common. Denver looks to have lost its Carmelo Anthony battle. The returns haven’t been great and the drafting has been worse. Orlando is still in rebuilding mode, but they haven’t “lost” in the post-Dwight Howard rebuild era yet.
Next season will be Year 4 of the post-Howard life, and it’s time to start looking at where Orlando really is as a franchise. The Magic have a team of young, athletic players, but it’s tough to define who they are as a team. First, it’s important to recap what they got for Howard, then look at what they have now and what this offseason might look like.
The return netted some pieces important in the rebuilding process. The obvious win is Vucevic, who has been improving every year and is still just 24 years old. In the 2014-2015 season, he averaged 19.3 points and 10.9 rebounds. Harkless is just 22 and has shown he can be a decent role player in Orlando, although this past year was a rough one for him.
McRoberts is gone, Harrington is gone and Afflalo was traded to Denver for Evan Fournier, who can be an effective backup guard.
In all, not the best return for a guy who played in the Western Conference Finals as the second-best player on the Rockets. On the other hand, he was going to leave anyway, so any return is a good return. And when you look at how the other teams made out in that blockbuster trade, the Magic really did well for themselves.
What They Have Now
The Magic have taken an interesting approach to their recent drafts. They have elected to go for hyper-athletic players and examine how they work together. Orlando has truly embraced the best player available mentality.
The aforementioned Vucevic is locked up through the 2018-2019 season. Outside of him they have Channing Frye and his horrible contract, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Fournier and several non-guaranteed contracts, including Ben Gordon (trade bait?), Luke Ridnour, Dewayne Dedmon and Devyn Marble. Kyle O’Quinn will be a restricted free agent this summer, and the Magic also face a big decision this offseason regarding restricted free agent Tobias Harris.
Of those players, four figure to be building blocks (five if we include Harris), a few can be role players and the rest are probably roster fillers who can help contribute on a short-term basis.
Oladipo, Payton, Gordon and Vucevic are the building blocks on this roster, and Harris as well if he’s back on a new deal. Let’s take a look at these players and what they bring to the table.
Oladipo and Payton pose an interesting backcourt for Orlando. Oladipo is a menace on defense (that was his M.O. coming out of college) and has shown the ability to be an explosive scorer. Payton has a ton of potential as an all-around guard. However, the problem remains that neither of them can shoot it all that well. Oladipo isn’t bad (just under 34 percent from three this season), but Payton really struggles to shoot from the outside, which makes life easier on the defense. Zach Lowe covered the backcourt at length over at Grantland.
Generally, defense becomes tricky when your big man offers such little rim protection. Having good rim protection is what makes good defenses really click – Golden State with Andrew Bogut, Houston with Dwight Howard, Cleveland with Timofey Mozgov (the Cavaliers’ defense turned around after the acquisition) and Memphis with Marc Gasol. Without that, Orlando is going to have some problems on that end.
Typically, when a center doesn’t protect the rim, he stretches the floor. While Vucevic doesn’t have range out to the three-point line, he’s proven adept at the mid-range game:
But again, the issue for Vucevic is rim protection. Among players who had opponents attempt at least five shots per game at the rim against them, he ranked near the bottom of the league in blocks, per SportVU. He blocked just 54 shots, an alarming number for a center. To make matters worse, he allowed opponents to shoot 53.7 percent at the rim, one of the worst marks in the league. Vucevic has a lot of value because of his rebounding and ability to score both inside and from mid-range, but he needs to improve defensively.
Orlando spent the No. 4 pick in last year’s draft on the high-flying youngster from Arizona. To say Gordon struggled to get acclimated to the NBA game is an understatement. In his rookie campaign, Gordon shot 44.7 percent from the field and played in just 47 games because of a foot injury. He finished up averaging 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds as a rookie.
Gordon has work to do both in regards to adjusting to the NBA game and finding a comfort level in terms of a position. Being a tweener between small and power forward isn’t always conducive to success, though it’s not always conducive to failure either, especially considering the way the league is trending. Worst case, he ends up like fellow Arizona tweener, Derrick Williams.
Harris hits restricted free agency this summer and puts the Magic in an interesting position after failing to agree on a long-term contract before the season. According to the Orlando Sentinel in April, Magic GM Rob Hennigan intends to match any offer for Harris this summer, although that could change.
Harris has exploded since arriving in Orlando from Milwaukee. (Don’t worry, he and new Magic head coach Scott Skiles are supposedly fine after some tumultuous times in Milwaukee. This season, Harris mostly played small forward after playing a lot of power forward in 2013-14. Skiles is going to have to decide where to play Harris if he returns to Orlando.
After averaging 17.1 points and 6.3 rebounds on the year, Harris is in line for a payday. The concern is if he continues to get minutes at small forward, he’s only a 32.1 percent shooter from three-point land in his career. That’s not exactly ideal considering the lack of shooting in the backcourt.
The Knicks have been a popular destination mentioned for Harris, and he’ll surely explore elsewhere as well. In the end, his future is in the hands of Hennigan and the Magic.
The Magic named Skiles their new head coach last Friday afternoon. He’s known for his defensive acumen and turning around young teams, and you can bet Orlando will improve under its new head coach, especially on the defensive end. The question with Skiles, of course, is how long will the marriage last?
But even if it’s not a long run with Skiles, his tenure could still be a success if he gets the Magic from Point A to Point B and leaves them in position to make another leap to contention with a new coach.
Orlando has gone best player available in recent drafts, a strategy that has netted them with an interesting talent collection. That mindset has to change this year. Orlando has a definitive need in someone who can stretch the floor, and they should have options with the fifth pick.
In his latest mock draft, ESPN’s Chad Ford has the Magic taking Kristaps Porzingis from Latvia. Ford has high praise for Porzingis, as he says he could be the best player on the Magic in the future. Other outlets have Justise Winslow from Duke going to Orlando, which would be a solid pick but may not be quite as good a fit as Porzingis.
Porzingis is a relative unknown in America, at least compared to Winslow. However, DraftExpress does a fantastic job breaking down prospects and has covered Porzingis at length. Danny Chau at Grantland also just wrote a lengthy feature on Porzingis.
Orlando is coming into a crucial offseason in its rebuilding process. If they can add to the pieces already in place, they may be able to make some noise in the lesser Eastern Conference.