After spending half a decade among the Eastern Conference's elite, Orlando now find themselves very much at the other end of the ladder.
With the Dwight Howard saga over, the star center having gone to the Lakers, the Magic have been left with their weakest and most inexperienced roster in years. In addition, that roster will be led by rookie coach Jacque Vaughn, who will be feeling his way through his first NBA season in charge.
Given all the changes in personnel in Orlando, training camp represents a pivotal period for the team.
The roster needs to develop some cohesion and chemistry. The Magic's established holdovers must embrace and nurture the wave of youth flooding the roster. The new faces need to get their hands dirty and work tirelessly to raise their games to the NBA level.
Coach Vaughn, meanwhile, has the most difficult task: identifying how to move this team forward.
So how will the Magic fare this season?
Here's a preview and some season predictions, plus an up-to-date tracker of Orlando's preparations for the 2012-13 season.
Update: Oct. 23, 2012 by Stephen Babb
The Orlando Magic cut their roster to 18 players on Tuesday after waiving small forward Christian Eyenga and point guard Armon Johnson according to the Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins.
Though neither absence will significantly impact the team's roster, we're starting to get a better sense of which young prospects will be included on that roster.
Eyenga was acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in the Dwight Howard deal, but the impressive athlete faced an uphill battle thanks to a hamstring injury that kept him out of preseason competition. Johnson was originally drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers but saw his most extensive action in eight games with the New Jersey Nets last season, averaging nearly 15 minutes a game during that stretch.
These cuts were only the tip of the iceberg for Orlando. It's required to cut three more players by Monday, Oct. 29.
---End of Update---
The Magic recently finalized their roster by adding DeQuan Jones and Armon Johnson before training camp. Jones was not selected in the 2012 NBA Draft after spending four seasons with the Miami Hurricanes in the ACC, while Johnson has spent time in Portland and Brooklyn after being a second-round pick in 2010.
The Magic kicked off their preseason in Mexico City with a 85-80 loss at the hands of New Orleans. After leading for much of the game, Orlando were overrun by the Hornets in the final period and outscored 31-14, going down by five.
As expected, Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, J.J. Redick and Glen Davis were played sparingly, as coach Vaughn opted to give the younger players their first real NBA experience.
Mexican native Gustavo Ayon had 12 points, six rebounds and three assists, including some nice pick-and-roll plays with Nelson, while E'Twaun Moore also impressed with 16 points and seven assists off the bench.
Magic "Building Chemistry"
As reported by John Denton on the Magic's official website, the Magic players feel that chemistry is building within the team as they spend their preseason in Mexico City. Speaking before the game against the Hornets, J.J.Redick believed the team was forming a bond while away from home:
I think trips like this help build tight bonds and great chemistry on a team. It’s weird, but a lot of the chemistry that you build throughout a year happens on the road. When we’re in Orlando, you are typically with your wife, family or girlfriend. But on the road you are more isolated with your teammates, especially on trips like this when you go to a different country. It’s been great so far and I think it will be a positive experience for us as a team as the year goes along.
Chemistry, particularly between the old and new faces, will be vital for Orlando this season, given that they no longer have the star-power to compete with the league's elite.
Maurice Harkless will likely miss the Magic's training camp
Unfortunately for coach Vaughn and the Magic, a number of the team's new pieces are currently sidelined with injury, hampering the team's ability to develop an early cohesion on the court.
Unfortunately, the best of the players acquired in the Dwight Howard trade is currently out of action. Afflalo, acquired from Denver, is suffering a strained hamstring, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinal. However, the team is confident that the shooting guard will return in the coming weeks and be available for the season opener.
According to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinal, rookie swingman Maurice Harkless is set to miss Orlando's training camp and is in doubt for the Magic's season opener at home with Denver. The former St. John's star aggravated a sports hernia while playing for the Philadelphia 76ers in the Orlando Pro Summer League.
Harrington will also miss the Magic's training camp as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. Brendan Porath of SBNation reported in July that the former Denver forward had surgery to repair a torn meniscus after the Nuggets' loss to the Lakers in Game 7 of last season's playoffs. However, a subsequent staph infection meant Harrington required further surgery to his knee, preventing him from taking part in Orlando's preseason.
Backup point guard Ish Smith is also sidelined while the team is in Mexico City, as he too continues his recovery from offseason surgery. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel reported that the former Warrior had torn the labrum in his shoulder, adding that Smith would likely return in November.
Magic rookie Andrew Nicholson
1) Jameer Nelson 2) E'Twaun Moore 3) Armon Johnson 4) Ish Smith
Nelson will clearly start for the Magic at the point guard position and will be one of the key leaders of this young team. Orlando must hope that the diminutive Nelson remains healthy, as the team lacks experience behind him. E'Twaun Moore will start the season backing up Nelson, as he showed promise with his 16 points and seven assists in the Magic's first preseason game against New Orleans. Moore will battle it out with Ish Smith and Armon Johnson for minutes when Smith recovers from injury.
1) Arron Afflalo 2) J.J. Redick
The Magic really only have two recognized shooting guards. Afflalo will definitely start for Orlando, providing the team with a nice blend of perimeter shooting and lockdown defense that has been missing in this position for the Magic in recent years. Redick, meanwhile, will continue his sixth-man role, coming off the bench to lead the scoring for the second unit.
1) Hedo Turkoglu 2) Maurice Harkless 3) Quentin Richardson
Turkoglu will unquestionably start for the Magic this season, given his experience in the NBA. However, with Howard gone, Turkoglu will be required to score far more than he did last season. Harkless will be given significant minutes when he returns from injury, as coach Vaughn will want to develop the talented and athletic swingman. Richardson, however, will struggle for minutes, and is unlikely to be part of the Magic's future plans.
1) Andrew Nicholson 2) Al Harrington 3) Kyle O'Quinn
Nicholson will be one of the most ready-for-NBA rookies this season, and will likely take his place in the starting unit. Unquestionably a part of the Magic's future, Nicholson will be given significant minutes in Orlando's frontcourt. Harrington will be used as a scoring option off the bench in a one-two punch with Redick, with O'Quinn battling it out with Harrington for minutes.
1) Glen Davis 2) Gustavo Ayon 3) Nikola Vucevic
Davis will likely start as an undersized center, given his performance at the position when Howard missed time last season. The former Boston big man will use his strength and hustle to outwork his opponents and will be critical in Nicholson's development, playing alongside the rookie. The raw Ayon and Vucevic will backup Davis, leaving the Magic very short on experience in the paint when Davis leaves the floor.
Hedo Turkoglu will need to perform at a high level this season after a disappointing 2011-12
Hedo Turkoglu is undoubtedly the player under the most pressure to perform this season in Orlando. After being a key catalyst in the Magic's surprising run to the NBA Finals in 2009, Turkoglu bolted from town when a huge contract from Toronto was presented.
However, the Turkish forward was brought back to the Magic in 2010, when Otis Smith decided to blow up his roster in December after an indifferent start to the season.
Since his return, Turkoglu's play has been well below the standard he set in 2008-09. During that excellent year, Turkoglu played his point-forward role brilliantly, averaging 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists. However, since his return, the somewhat lackadaisical forward has declined, posting numbers of 10.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game last season.
With the Magic embarking on a path focusing on the development of youth, Turkoglu's time in Orlando is seriously limited. If the once-adored forward holds any hopes of staying in town or finding another substantial NBA contract, then the 2012-13 season must see a turnaround for Turkoglu.
Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu fight Danny Granger for a loose ball in last season's playoffs
Identifying an area for Orlando to improve this season is a tricky task, given that the team is vastly different to what it was last season.
A completely new roster means many of the old problems that Orlando had are no longer relevant. However, one ability that this new team needs to develop this season is resiliency.
In the Howard and Stan Van Gundy era, a major criticism of the the Magic was the team's regular lapses that saw them outworked on the hardwood. This deep team with a star center would unforgivably allow themselves to hit troughs throughout the season in which the overall effort would drop.
Despite regularly being among the Eastern Conference's elite, Orlando lacked resiliency when the going got tough.
The Boston Celtics exposed this most effectively in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, catching the red-hot Magic off-guard. Orlando never recovered.
That lack of resiliency needs to be addressed in a season which will undoubtedly see countless challenges. With a youthful roster, Orlando needs to find a gritty edge and be capable of keeping themselves competitive against their more fancied rivals.
There will be a number of occasions throughout this season in which the challenge will seem insurmountable. All season, the team will hear about the difficulties that face the post-Howard era.
If they want any chance of putting the building blocks in place for a successful rebuild, then a stubborn resiliency must be developed by this team.
Win-Loss Prediction: 23-59
This season is this very first chapter in a long rebuilding process for the Magic. Not only is Orlando very youthful, but the experienced holdovers are far from stars in their own right. Simply put, a rookie coach with an inexperienced and starless roster will struggle to put wins on the board.
However, for Orlando this season will not be judged purely on the win-loss ratio.
Instead, coach Vaughn and his team will be judged on the development of their rookies and their application on the court. Provided the effort and desire is there, fans will remain loyal.
In what will be a long journey, the 2012-13 season marks the first point of transition for this once-elite team.
How The Season Will End
Orlando's season will end on a somewhat positive note. Despite severely struggling up to the All-Star break, the Magic will find some cohesion once the injured players work their way back into the team.
Vaughn will develop a nice chemistry with his younger players. They will buy into his vision, given that he's a fresh face as well.
Although the season will start in doom and gloom, the development of Nicholson and Harkless in particular will be a bright spot, while a few late wins will show that hope still remains in Orlando.
However, once the season concludes and Orlando's path becomes clearer, the futures of the Magic's experienced players will be in genuine doubt.
Points-Per-Game Leader: Glen Davis—18.5 PPG
Davis relished moving to center in Dwight Howard's absence for the Magic's playoff series against Indiana last season. With Howard now gone for good, expect Davis to be a focal point for this new look team.
Despite being undersized, Davis uses his strength and hustle to outwork his opponents, while a solid relationship with Nelson saw "Big Baby" find some easy buckets at the rim on the pick-and-roll. Combined with his solid mid-range game, Davis' tireless work in the paint will see him rewarded on the scoreboard.
Assists-Per-Game Leader: Jameer Nelson—5.1 APG
As the starting point guard, Nelson will likely be the team's leader in assists. However, that number won't be high, given how important Nelson's scoring will be to the team.
Always considered a scoring point guard, Nelson will be relied upon even more this year to light up the scoreboard, given Howard's departure. While he needs to ensure his younger teammates are found at the appropriate moments, Nelson will likely head into this season with a score-first mindset.
Rebounds-Per-Game Leader: Glen Davis—9.2 RPG
Much like his scoring, Davis' rebound numbers are a result of his work-rate. His affection for low-post tussles will ensure that Davis is the leader on the glass for the Magic.
Leading this category will also be made easier by the lack of another robust presence.
Coach Vaughn's relationship with the Magic's experienced holdovers
How Vaughn handles the established players on this team will undoubtedly be the most fascinating storyline in Orlando this season.
With a focus set firmly on rebuilding through youth, players such as Turkoglu, Nelson, Redick, Davis and Richardson will feel that their time in central Florida is ticking.
That being the case, Vaughn may struggle to get on the same page with the team's holdovers, as he strives to give his youth as much time on the court as possible.
By season's end, or by the trade deadline mid-season, it will be clear that at least one, if not more, of those faces will be taking off their Magic uniform for the final time. As Vaughn invests more and more time in players such as Nicholson and Harkless, those who have been around for a number of seasons will begin to feel disillusioned about their futures.
In what will be the first losing season for Orlando since 2006-07, it will be a major surprise if there aren't any rumblings about disharmony between the elder players and the coach throughout the course of this season.