Orlando Magic Following OKC Thunder Blueprint in Post-Dwight Howard Era

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIMarch 14, 2013

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 20:  Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Orlando Magic at American Airlines Center on February 20, 2013 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Orlando Magic have struggled mightily following the departure of Dwight Howard. D12’s 39-point outburst against his former team was a rude reminder of their successful past. Nevertheless, fans can take solace in the fact that Orlando is following the Oklahoma City Thunder’s blueprint to rebuild.

At 18-47, Orlando is stuck in the NBA basement. The only team with a worse record is the Charlotte Bobcats at 14-50. Although their record puts them nowhere near the playoff picture, it has put Orlando in great draft position for 2013.

Unfortunately, the 2013 NBA draft may not feature a potential franchise player like Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. In fact, it looks to be one of the weakest drafts in some time. However, the Magic will be in a position to stockpile yet another young talent with at least a top-five pick.

As it stands, the Magic are continuing to collect young, talented players. None are superstars, but there are some solid pieces in place.

First off, even though Orlando couldn’t land a first-round pick in return for sharpshooting guard J.J. Redick at this year’s trade deadline, it did manage to land the underrated 20-year-old Tobias Harris.

Since being traded to Orlando, Harris has averaged 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds in 10 games played. He had a 27-point, 10-rebound game against Houston, and a 17-point, 15-rebound effort against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Bill Simmons of Grantland.com listed Harris’s four-year, $9.25 million contract as one of the best bargains in the NBA. In that same article, another noteworthy member of the Magic made the cut.

With a four-year, $10.6 million contract, breakout big man Nikola Vucevic was also on Simmons’ list of NBA bargains. Not only that, but Simmons went on to write, “Orlando somehow winning the Dwight Howard three-way trade might have supplanted ‘USA 4, USSR 3’ as the biggest sports upset of all time.” (Note that the Howard deal was between four teams, not three).

Vucevic has been phenomenal for Orlando this season. He’s averaging a comfortable double-double of 12.2 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. In two games against the mighty Miami Heat, Vucevic has totaled a whopping 50 rebounds, including a franchise-record 29 boards on Dec. 31.

Vucevic and Harris are two solid pieces that Orlando could either build around or package in a trade for a superstar talent. That said, those two pieces alone are not the only positives.

The only players with guaranteed contracts or team options past the 2013-14 season are Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Vucevic and Harris, according to ShamSports. In other words, Orlando has a lot of cap flexibility moving forward.

Having young pieces, cap space and draft picks has been a proven method of rebuilding that OKC GM Sam Presti utilized so well. The reason that blueprint worked, though, is because Presti didn’t lock himself into bad contracts. That’s something that Orlando became infamous for in the past (see: Rashard Lewis, Jason Richardson).

If Orlando can avoid locking itself in on bad contracts, they will be in great shape. But the bare bones Presti method is hitting home runs consistently in the draft, which is easier said than done.

Only time will tell if scouts in Orlando have done their homework.