Orlando Magic's May 2 playoff game against Indiana.
It’s easy to write off the Orlando Magic. Real easy.
They lost Dwight Howard, who is arguably the best center in the league. He gave them 20 points per game. He gave them 14 rebounds per game. He gave them championship hopes.
But now that he’s gone, well, the magic seems to be gone, too.
It didn’t help that the team looked like it was trying to get even worse after the trade, and made what looked to be some poor personnel decisions.
The Magic got rid of Ryan Anderson who scored 16 points per game and grabbed just under eight rebounds per game for them last season. Though, granted he played pretty poorly in the playoffs. His scoring and rebounding was nearly half of what it was in the regular season.
But they weren’t trying to get first-round draft pick bad, apparently.
They gave their point guard Jameer Nelson a rather large salary. He’s getting paid $25.2 million over the next three years. Perhaps too large for an aging player who’s often injured.
Are the Magic going to be a good team this season? Absolutely not.
But fear not, Orlando fans, for as the title of this article explicitly suggests, there is reason to be optimistic for the future.
Arron Afflalo challenges Kobe Bryant in Game 5 of Denver's 2012 playoff series against the Lakers.
Afflalo’s a high-energy player and works hard on the defensive end. He averaged 15 points per game last season for Denver and he’s a 46 percent career shooter.
He helped Denver get to the playoffs last season and forced seven games on the Lakers before being eliminated.
He’s a solid two-guard who’s an asset on both ends of the floor.
Vucevic is a second-year player out of USC who made a dramatic improvement from his sophomore to junior year. His freshman year, he played just 11 minutes per game and averaged less than three points per game.
He saw much more playing time his next year with 32 minutes per game and scored 10 points per game with nine rebounds. Then, in his third and final year at USC he averaged a double-double (17-10) and was drafted 16th overall by the 76ers in the 2011 draft.
He only played 15 minutes and scored five points per game for Philadelphia before the Magic got him. But if his NBA career is anything like his college career, Orlando can expect to see much more out of the forward in the future.
Moore is another new Magic player who was productive in college but didn’t see much time on the floor in his rookie year. Moore played just eight minutes per game his first season in Boston before going to Orlando.
He went from 13 points per game in his freshman year at Purdue to 18 in his senior year and shot 44 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc in his last year.
He scored 16 points and had seven assists in 28 minutes in Orlando’s first preseason game against the Hornets.
Like Vucevic, he’ll give the Magic more as he sees more minutes and will serve as a solid two-guard off the bench.
Ayon is another quality player at the forward position for Orlando who looks like he’ll be an asset on the defensive end. The 6’10’’ 250-pound second-year player averaged 0.9 blocks a game in 20 minutes last season with the Hornets.
Andrew Nicholson in 2012 NBA Rookie photo shoot.
Nicholson was Orlando’s first round draft pick out of St. Bonaventure University. He averaged 19 points and eight rebounds in his last two college seasons.
He played well in Summer League, averaging 13 points and seven rebounds per game and was named to the 2012 AirTran Airways All-Summer League first team. And in Orlando’s preseason loss to Philadelphia, Nicholson scored 14 points in 21 minutes.
Looks like he’ll be a solid backup forward.
Harkless is 19 years old and came into the NBA after just one year at St. John’s University. But in that year, he averaged 15 points on 45 percent shooting, eight rebounds per game, 1.4 blocks per game and 1.6 steals.
He’s recovering from offseason surgery and probably won’t be back until November. But when he does return, he can do a lot for Orlando and he’s yet another Magic forward who should prove to be valuable in the future.
O'Quinn is in his first year out of Norfolk, where he averaged about 16 points per game in his last two seasons. He was a fantastic shot blocker, with 3.6 a game in his junior year and 2.6 his senior year.
He didn’t play much for Orlando in their two preseason games, but he did have four points and four rebounds in seven minutes in the team’s most recent game against the 76ers. And in Summer League, he averaged 6.2 rebounds per game, 8.8 points per game and had four blocks in five games.
If O’Quinn does get to play more, he should be a very valuable defensive player.
Jacque Vaughn talks to his then head coach Greg Popvich in a 2008 game against the Lakers.
The Magic are clearly a team that’s building for the future. They have a roster, a new general manager and a new head coach.
Jacque Vaughn, 37, is replacing Stan Van Gundy as head coach despite the Magic having a franchise-best winning percentage of .654 under Van Gundy.
Van Gundy arrived in Orlando two years after Dwight Howard. The Magic had had two sub .500 seasons under Brian Hill before Van Gundy’s arrival, when they went 52-30.
But, you know, if you’re rebuilding, you’re rebuilding. And new coaches are a part of that process (not that that quite explains why they’d keep Nelson).
Vaughn is young and doesn’t have much coaching experience other than serving as assistant coach in San Antonio for two years.
Vaughn played 12 years in the NBA, retiring in 2009 with the Spurs. He was a pretty unremarkable player, averaging 4.5 career points per game and not much else, typically coming off the bench.
But, again, he played and coached under Gregg Popovich, who has four NBA Championships, a .605 win percentage, and 15 playoff appearances over 16 seasons with San Antonio.
Plus he played under Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan in Utah when the team won two consecutive Western Conference Championships.
You’d think he’d have learned a thing or two under those guys.
So maybe having Vaughn replace Van Gundy wasn't such a bad move.
Glen Davis in Game 4 of the 2012 NBA playoffs against Indiana.
Finally, let’s not forget that Orlando still has Glen “Big Baby” Davis! OK, so he hasn’t been as productive in the league as he probably should be.
His best season came in his last year in Boston (2010-11) when he averaged 11.7 points per game and 5.5 rebounds. Otherwise, he averages a career eight points per game and just over four rebounds. Disappointing for a player who averaged 18 points per game and 10 rebounds in his last two years at LSU.
But Davis stepped it up when Howard was out with back problems in last year’s playoffs and averaged 19 points and nine rebounds in the five games the Magic played against Indiana. Not that it did much good, as those five games would be all the Magic played in the postseason. Orlando lost four out of five and were eliminated after round one.
But Davis showed how productive he could really be. He had six double-doubles in March, including two 16-rebound games and eight games when he scored more than 15 points.
And more importantly, Davis showed how productive he can be without Superman.
Howard played just two games in March, when Davis got hot. And only one of Davis’ double-doubles came in a game in which Dwight Howard played.
Is Big Baby a replacement for Dwight Howard? No, but he’s certainly more productive without him on the floor, and that is a good thing for the Magic who look like they’ve lost it all.