Biggest Needs for Orlando Magic During 2014 Offseason
There aren't many quick fixes for a team on its way to a bottom-five finish.
So unless the Orlando Magic can somehow convince LeBron James to move a few hours north, they'll need to take smaller steps to get back to title contention.
It really wasn't too long ago when the Magic were there. They were in the playoffs in 2012 and the NBA Finals in 2009.
But their infamous parting of the ways with Dwight Howard sent them spiraling. And while this season's 23-59 record looks bad, Magic fans do have a few reasons to be excited about the future.
The young core of Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo is promising, and management can add more pieces with two first-round picks this summer.
The development of all those players—with a few veteran additions here or there—could have Orlando back in the postseason in a few short years.
As you'd expect from one of the worst teams in the NBA, Orlando hasn't been stellar defensively. They rank in the bottom half of the league, giving up 104.6 points per 100 possessions.
They haven't been terrible either though, thanks to solid defensive players on the perimeter like Oladipo and Arron Afflalo.
Things break down around the rim because of a lack of great interior defense.
Orlando is 21st in the league in blocks per game at 4.3, and really only has one rim protector in Kyle O'Quinn.
The 6'10" O'Quinn averages 1.3 blocks, but plays just 16.9 minutes. Vucevic and Harris get the majority of the playing time up front because of their offensive abilities, but they don't defend as well as O'Quinn.
Orlando allows 3.8 more points per 100 possessions when O'Quinn is on the bench. So what they need is for Vucevic and Harris to get better defensively, O'Quinn to get better offensively or perhaps an entirely different player.
Someone like Joel Embiid would fit the bill and could be available on draft night, depending on how the lottery plays out.
Of his offensive potential, CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyel declared Embiid, "...the best prospect at center in nearly a decade." He later added, "This kid could average, easily, 20-and-12 as a rookie."
And he's no slouch on defense either. In fact, that's what most pundits rave about with Embiid, including Bleacher Report's own Jonathan Wasserman:
Embiid has the ability to shrink the size of the rim he's defending thanks to those long, aggressive and disruptive arms that are constantly in motion.
Even if he's not blocking shots, he's changing or challenging them.
Whether or not the Magic have an opportunity to select Embiid obviously remains to be seen, but his game on both ends of the floor would make him a solid complement to either Vucevic or Harris in a three-man rotation up front.
Basketball, in general, is slowly moving away from the rim, as three-point shooting is valued more than ever.
Orlando's current roster is struggling to keep pace with this new trend of high-powered, corner three-oriented offenses popping up all over the league.
They're 21st in the NBA in threes made per game at 6.9, and only Afflalo and Jameer Nelson average more than one make.
Nelson, who leads the team with two makes per game, isn't even in the top 100 in terms of percentage. The team as a whole shoots 35.1 percent, ranking them 23rd.
If they had one or two more reliable three-point shooters like Afflalo—who's shooting 42.2 percent and making 1.8 threes a game—suddenly interior scorers like Harris and Vucevic would find themselves operating with a lot more room inside.
Defenses are less likely to collapse on someone going to the rim if there are two or three capable shooters waiting to be fed on the perimeter.
Orlando can address this need in a couple ways. There are always shooters available in the free-agent market each summer. And if the Magic's second first-round pick falls somewhere around the end of the lottery, they might be able to snag a sharpshooter like Doug McDermott or Nik Stauskas.
Development from the Young Core
The Magic are in pretty good shape in that a lot of needs other teams have are already filled in Orlando. The guys in place simply need time to develop.
Vucevic is just 23 years old, and Harris and Oladipo are 21. All three have been productive this season, but they definitely have things they can work on.
As laid out in the slide on rim protection, Harris and Vucevic can improve defensively.
Vucevic is averaging less than one block per game at the center position. Harris is posting a defensive rating of 107, meaning he allows 107 points per 100 possessions.
Oladipo can improve as a shooter. He's shooting just 32 percent from three-point range, but there's a precedent for long-range improvement for him.
At Indiana, Oladipo shot just 20.8 percent from distance as a sophomore. He bumped that all the way up to 44.1 percent as a junior.
If he puts in the time this summer, he can improve his consistency from NBA range as well.
Really, that's what it will take for all three: time and effort. A good offseason program for each focused on individual weaknesses would do more to take care of team needs than signing mid-level free agents.
Point Guard of the Future
Nelson has pretty much become an institution in Orlando. He's spent all 10 of his NBA seasons with the Magic, and has started 557 of his 652 career games.
And while both Nelson and Orlando have been loyal to each other for a decade, I don't think there are many fans or writers who would argue the team can't upgrade at point guard.
Nelson is 32 years old, and his career averages of 12.6 points and 5.4 assists aren't blowing anyone away.
A younger option, with the potential to be a superstar, could be available when the Magic are on the clock come draft night.
Dante Exum has already been compared to Magic legend Penny Hardaway, and Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling—who spent time with Exum in his native Australia—asked which teams he'd like to play for:
... Exum has two in mind: the Lakers and Orlando Magic...
... he envisions helping his close friend Victor Oladipo—they met at Indiana during Exum's recruiting visit when he was contemplating college—with point guard duties.
On the potential of playing in Orlando, Exum said:
They’re having some point guard problems and they’re trying to get Victor Oladipo into the point guard. Also, having a good relationship with Victor, I think that would be a good fit. He could kind of mentor me a bit coming into the point guard.
Just imagine the size and athleticism of that backcourt. Exum is a 6'6" point guard with 6'9" wingspan, according to DraftExpress. Oladipo goes 6'5" and 6'9". Both are extremely explosive and can play either guard position.
Small Forward of the Future
Another position where the Magic don't really have an up-and-coming youngster in place is small forward.
Afflalo has spent some time there, but he's more of a shooting guard. And Maurice Harkless, who some thought might be that guy, has actually taken a slight step back this season.
So again, we look to the draft for filling this need.
At the top, there are a couple guys who could be franchise players at the position in Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
But Orlando will have to make a choice between needs during the draft. Obviously, they can't have all the top prospects, and may need to go after some mid-level free agents for the needs they can't fill on draft night.
If they use their top overall pick on a point guard like Exum or perhaps even Marcus Smart, they could still find a solid 3 in the middle of the first round with their second pick.
Rodney Hood might be available, or perhaps even UCLA's 6'9" point guard Kyle Anderson, who could play the 1 or the 3.
Whatever route they choose to take, the Magic will be able to fill some needs on draft night.
And as the guys selected there grow and develop with the solid young players already in place, Orlando will be well on its way back to playoff contention.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.