As a fan of the Orlando Magic, there will be much to look forward to during the upcoming season. The franchise's worst days are behind them.
The team is now a full year removed from the Dwight Howard trade shook up the foundation of the entire city and franchise, but ownership can take solace in the fact that they undoubtedly won that deal. In the trade, the Philadelphia 76ers landed Andrew Bynum, the Denver Nuggets wound up with Andre Iguodala and the Los Angeles Lakers of course got Howard.
All three will be lacing up elsewhere this season while Orlando still sits comfortably with Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Arron Afflalo and a pair of future first-rounders. General manager Rob Hennigan will also have boatloads of money freed up after this year. The Magic will be paying $28 million to players not currently on the roster, including a ghastly $22 million to Gilbert Arenas.
Aside from all that, the slowly regenerating roster will see an uptick in production on the floor this season. Obviously, the Magic are still a very young team, so there will be a fair share of hiccups.
The 2013-14 campaign will ultimately be a positive one in Central Florida, although there will be some big hurdles the bunch will have to clear in order to get there.
How Healthy is Glen Davis?
Surprisingly enough, Orlando was one of the surprise stories last year during the first quarter of the season.
A team forgotten and perceived to be stuck in a post-Dwight wasteland came roaring out of the gates. They found themselves at an eye-opening 12-13 after 25 games.
What happened next, you ask? Glen Davis got hurt. As Big Baby limped, so did his teammates—all the way to an 8-49 record the rest of the way.
Davis' recovery from offseason foot surgery is coming along slowly but surely. We recently found out that he is on track to be cleared to resume basketball activities at the end of this month, just in time for training camp.
The one positive is that Orlando is deep at power forward with Maurice Harkless seeing some minutes there, along with newly acquired free agent Jason Maxiell and young star Tobias Harris.
The Magic can afford to bring Davis along slowly to ensure that he can get back to full strength and stay healthy throughout an 82-game slate. We saw last year how important he is to this team. When he is in the lineup alongside Vucevic, they form one of the most talented and best rebounding front lines in basketball.
All signs are positive right now, but foot injuries are always worth keeping an eye on for big men.
Can They Improve From Three-Point Range?
Orlando was next to last in the NBA last season in three-point percentage at just under 33 percent. There were also twelve teams that attempted more shots from deep, so Magic shooters will have to improve their accuracy if they're going to launch that many.
Afflalo averaged a career high 16.5 points per game last year but had an uncharacteristically putrid year from long range. He connected on just 30 percent from deep after shooting over 40 percent in each of the previous four seasons.
Tobias Harris showed some promise from the outside after coming over in the J.J. Redick trade, but he will have to improve upon the 31 percent he shot last season. Jameer Nelson also had his worst season shooting threes in six years at just 34 percent.
Much of that decline can be attributed to the loss of Howard. Defenses can no longer collapse the paint and leave outside shooters open. Head coach Jacque Vaughn will need to conjure up a way to get Vucevic to play off of his shooters to get the most out of everyone.
No. 2 draft pick Victor Oladipo did shoot 44 percent from deep last season at Indiana, but it is doubtful he will repeat that.
Outside shooting was this team's biggest weakness last season. The veterans Afflalo and Nelson have to step up in that facet to take pressure off of the youngsters. If they are able to do that and set the tone, more threes will likely follow throughout the roster.
Figuring out How to Use Oladipo
There was speculation that drafting Oladipo would signal a trade of Afflalo, but that did not unfurl. Oladipo's role on this team is slightly uncertain at the moment, which is slightly disconcerting.
During summer league, Oladipo was used strictly at point guard with mixed results. While he has the size and quickness to be an elite defensive point guard, his ball-handling and playmaking abilities are very questionable.
Orlando would be better off keeping Oladipo at his natural shooting guard position, where he can do what he does best, such as lock down perimeter threats, hit spot-up jumpers and get out and wreak havoc on the fast break.
There is no question Oladipo will see big minutes, possibly at both positions, but Vaughn has to be careful with how he uses his new weapon. Stunting Oladipo's growth would be a big step back for this franchise.
He was seen as the most NBA-ready prospect as well as the safest pick in the draft, but if he is mishandled, it could derail his career pretty quickly. If there were more veterans on the roster, he would have a much easier transition at point guard. But if he plays there, he will have to contend with little help on the perimeter and inexperience down low in the post.
Keeping him at shooting guard is the team's best option, but management must see something in workouts that we haven't seen. It is a high-risk move to use him as a combo guard, but if it works, it will speed up the rebuilding process by giving them a possible superstar in the backcourt around which to build.