With training camp around the corner, the Orlando Magic have a ton of work to do to dig their way out of the cellar of the Eastern Conference.
In Jacque Vaughn's inaugural campaign as head coach, he had his guys headed in the right direction through a quarter of the season. Orlando was sitting pretty as a big surprise at 12-13, but then the wheels fell off, and they crawled to a 20-62 record.
In a league that will now see more tanks than an aquarium, Orlando doesn't jump out as a prime contender to mail it in for Andrew Wiggins. The Magic will turn over the majority of their roster and plug away with their young talent, who look to become more of a cohesive unit.
The solace to be found in the 2012-13 season lies with Nikola Vucevic. Who would have thought that Orlando would come out of the Dwight Howard trade with the most productive center?
With pretty much the same roster as last season, Orlando will be hoping for better health and for their youngsters to develop. They will look to avoid a repeat of the long swoon that they had last year and move their way up the ranks in the east.
Magic 2012-13 Results
- 20-62 record (.244)
- Last in Southeast Division
- Last in Eastern Conference
- No playoffs
Key Stats: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The strong point of last year's Magic was their rebounding. They were 12th in the league at just under 43 per game. Anchored by Vucevic and now healthy Glen Davis, this young bunch should be able to rally around their rebounding and use it to fuel them on both ends of the floor.
As for the bad, the Magic have to get better at shooting from distance this season. Orlando shot just under 33 percent from three-point range last year, which was second to last in the league. What makes it worse is that the Magic shot almost 19 per game from deep, which was good for 18th in the NBA.
Their rebounding coupled with their lack of free throws and tons of errant threes bring about thoughts that they are a little on the (dare I say it) soft side.
The ugliest stat is that Orlando was last in the league at forcing turnovers last season. They lacked tenacity anywhere on the defensive end of the floor.
Luckily, tenacity is the middle name of Victor Oladipo, who was drafted No. 2 overall. His biggest possible impact is on defense because Orlando has no imposing presences out on the wings.
Since I just threw the "s" word at Vucevic and Davis, Oladipo will need to be a leader from Day 1 and set an example. If he can't usher in a newfound ferocity on defense, Orlando is in for another long year.
Biggest Storylines Entering Training Camp
Dealing Dwight Howard was like exchanging a quarter for five nickels. It is unknown just how great the players in Orlando can be.
The most important thing that the Magic need to figure out is whether they have the players who can anchor the next great Orlando team. Who will stand out and prove to be a star?
The Magic are loaded with young talent, especially in the frontcourt. Coach Vaughn has to throw these guys in the woods and see who comes out on the other side. Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Oladipo all have the ability to be the main guy on this team.
If they all take a step forward, then a storm will be brewing in Central Florida.
Other guys like Andrew Nicholson and Maurice Harkless made serious noise last season. They need to show that they have matured and that they can be viable contributors to helping this team get back to the promised land.
It is obvious that Orlando is not going to contend for a title this year. Heck, even the playoffs would be a huge aspiration. What will follow this team all year is whether or not Harris, Oladipo, Vucevic and Harkless can become legitimate stars.
In 2013-14, we will get a much better idea if these nickels can one day become quarters.
Key Additions and Losses
Key Additions: Jason Maxiell, PF (two years, $5 million remaining); Ronnie Price, PG (two years, $2.6 million remaining); Victor Oladipo, SG (four years, $21.5 million remaining)
Key Losses: Beno Udrih, PG (one year, $1.3 million remaining with New York Knicks)
Biggest Addition: Victor Oladipo
The Jason Maxiell acquisition will help bring some spunk to the front line and will give the young guys a solid mentor.
That's well and good, but we all know the big addition is Oladipo.
Maxiell and Ronnie Price were the only free-agency acquisitions for Orlando. Neither will have a huge impact. Oladipo was heralded as the most NBA-ready prospect coming out of the draft and will have to be a major contributor from Day 1.
Orlando expects Oladipo to be a star and a foundational player for this group going forward. The former Indiana star needs to get his team on board with his style of play. The Magic landed themselves a stud at the top of the draft, and it should be a joy to watch him play in Orlando this year.
Biggest Loss: Beno Udrih
To be honest, Orlando won't be missing anyone from last year's team.
The loss of Udrih will go completely unnoticed. Also on his way out will likely be Hedo Turkoglu, who is still negotiating with management for a buyout.
The not-so-devastating loss of Udrih was quickly solved with the acquisition of Price. This team will go nowhere with middling veterans leading the charge. The Magic are much better off giving the young players their chances to shine.
*Depth chart includes players with non-guaranteed contracts or training camp invites
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Oladipo vs. Arron Afflalo
Orlando did not spend the second pick in the draft on Oladipo to watch him become a glorified sixth man.
He is going to be this team's future at shooting guard. Oladipo has been used at point guard as well and Rob Hennigan imagines him as somewhat of a combo guard, which could also mean bad news for Jameer Nelson.
Afflalo is this team's best scorer, but he is not the future of this team. This is a classic case of old vs. new. He will have Oladipo breathing down his neck from day one and it will be very interesting to see how the minutes shake out in the early going.
If Oladipo shows up from day one looking like a grizzled veteran devoid of typical nuances that plague rookies, he could push Afflalo right out the door.
Battling for a Roster Spot: Osby vs. Eric vs. Jones vs. Harris vs Joseph
Second-round pick Romero Osby out of Oklahoma is believed to have a stranglehold on that final roster spot, but early reports out of Magic camp are that he will be joined at training camp by these other four gentlemen.
Another spot could be opened up if and when Hedo Turkoglu's buyout is ever negotiated. That would leave room for another body in the frontcourt where Solomon Jones may possibly establish himself due to his track record.
The team has been working on a contract with Osby for some time now, and his diverse talents on the wing appeals to their roster makeup. Barring something unforeseen, look for him to outplay the competition and grab that final spot.
Biggest X-Factor: Tobias Harris
It is hard to think of a team's most talented player as their x-factor, but that is exactly what Tobias Harris is.
After Harris unceremoniously came to Orlando last season in the J.J. Redick deal, he lit the world on fire. Once an afterthought, the then 20-year-old tore it up to the tune of 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 blocks per game. Harris immediately made Milwaukee management slap their foreheads in disgust.
To throw salt in the wounds, Harris administered an absolute beating of his former team in late April in the form of 30 points and 19 rebounds (see above video).
The problem is that while Harris was doing his best LeBron James impersonations, Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo were admiring from the bench while wearing some fine suits. When they step back on the floor, will Harris be as effective without having the ball in his hands as much?
He has proved to be the most talented player on the roster, but he did do his damage over a 27-game sample size. He had free reign to do whatever he pleased since Orlando was tanking, and his campaign was mostly a 27-game "show me what you got" ordeal.
Best-case Scenario: The injured veterans return as the great secondary players that they are, in full understanding that Harris is the star of this team. They continue to help him get better and further his development. Harris averages 18 points and seven rebounds with very good peripherals, establishing himself as a legitimate budding young star in the NBA.
Worst-case Scenario: Afflalo and Davis aren't ready to hand over the keys to the car. They intend to drive instead of riding shotgun to Harris, and the youngster's development is put on hold. Harris becomes more of an afterthought with less opportunities on offense, showing only glimpses of the player he was last season. Harkless' intensity eats into some of Harris' minutes. Harris averages 10 points and four rebounds, failing to re-establish his star potential with the veterans beside him.
Magic Best-Case Scenario for 2013-14
The veterans fit in seamlessly with the younger players. Oladipo leaves no doubt as to why he was the No. 2 pick in the draft, and the team is blessed with reasonably good health to the veterans.
Orlando tops out at 38 wins, getting dangerously close to stealing a playoff berth. Their newly-found defensive effort led by Oladipo ascends them up the standings. They establish themselves as an up-and-coming team that everyone overlooked.
Magic Worst-Case Scenario for 2013-14
Harris, Harkless and Vucevic fail to improve from last season. Oladipo looks a bit out of his element on offense somewhat like fellow No. 2 pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did last year in Charlotte. Understanding how bad mediocrity is in the NBA, management ships Afflalo, Davis and Nelson out of town to initiate the tanking.
Orlando limps to 21 wins and crosses their fingers at the NBA draft lottery in hopes of landing Andrew Wiggins.
As they stand, Orlando has a surprising amount of young talent mixed with some good established younger veterans to support them.
They are too good to mail in the season and have a repeat performance as the worst team in the east. Although, I would be shocked if Afflalo, Nelson and Davis finish the season on the roster. When management sees them heading towards 35-40 wins, they will call of the dogs because it is the height of stupidity to win that amount of games the year before one of the best drafts in decades.
I do think Harris will establish himself and prove that last year was no fluke, and Oladipo and Vucevic will do some damage right alongside him. That being said, the three are not experienced enough to carry them too far.
Prediction: 29-52, last in the Southeast
Orlando is too good even if they trade the veterans to finish at the bottom of the barrel behind the likes of Utah and Philadelphia. They will improve due to the fact that their young guys have some experience now, and have played together due to the big roster turnover.
Despite another season under 30 wins, this will be a fun team to watch. Oladipo and Harris are must-see entertainment, and the roster is on its way out of rebuilding mode.
It will be another year devoid of many wins, but not without some truly exciting basketball to entertain the fans of Central Florida.