Coming off a 23-win season, the Magic sit ready with two first-round picks. Orlando will select fourth and 12th overall in New York on June 26.
No matter what happens in the draft, the Magic aren't going to be good next year. Let's just get that out of the way right now. This team still needs too much. But a core is starting to develop.
Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic are valuable pieces for any young team with a future. Arron Afflalo, meanwhile, is coming off the best year of his career and has an easily movable contract.
The Magic have a future. It just isn't next year. The talent isn't there yet. They still need almost everything.
As long as they focus on some of their biggest needs in the upcoming draft, they should eventually find success down the line. Here's a look at some of those needs:
Someone in the Top Three to be Weirdly Unconventional
The Magic had the third-best odds to win the NBA Lottery. They should have gotten a top-three pick. Darnit, Cleveland!
Once the Cleveland Cavaliers and new general manager David Griffin won the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, Orlando moved down to the No. 4 slot, out of the running for one of the three top prospects in this class. That likely means no Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker in Disney World...unless someone does something shocking.
So, c'mon David Griffin, take Doug McDermott. You know you want him. Let some hope trickle down to Orlando, one of the organizations in the lottery who is actually, you know, there by design and not because a series of nonsensical moves killed parts of the team's present and future.
But realistically, Orlando needs to fill some more practical needs...
A reasonable person could argue that Oladipo was the deserving Rookie of the Year this past season. The Magic guard made the All-Rookie First-Team, was Rookie of the Month twice and stood out as the most NBA-ready defender of his class.
Still, there was one small problem with the positional experiment Orlando tried with Oladipo this past season. After seeing him play the 1 all year, we can now definitively say Oladipo isn't a full-time point guard. He wasn't at Indiana and he isn't now.
As Bill Simmons mentioned in a recent Grantland column, drafting Australian point guard prospect Dante Exum could help that situation:
[Drafting Exum] could ignite Victor Oladipo’s career. He’s not a point guard and he’s too small to defend certain 2-guards … but if he could defend point guards and play 2-guard offensively? Boom! I love the Exum-‘Dipo backcourt.
That plan seems perfectly solid, considering Oladipo's defensive prowess and struggles running an offense. And given Exum's size (he measured at 6'6" with a wingspan just under 6'10"), he should be able to match up against 2s. But there is one small flaw here: Exum is still a project defensively.
Watch Exum guard, and the issues on defense will become a little more apparent.
As Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders noted on Twitter, it would be nice to see him get in a defensive stance every once in a while. Or to add to that, get back in transition. Or stay on his man off the ball.
Exum defends in a completely upright position with his hands at his sides, as if he's more spectator than participant. But all of this could just be a product of his competition and environment.
He's still just 18 years old. Only 18. All these issues are so fixable. There's a perfectly realistic chance Exum becomes a defender with good coaching and proper development. He just isn't there right now.
Though he's not the best athlete in the draft, the Australian has a chance to become effective as a stopper because of his size. That wingspan means he should be able to guard smaller and bigger guys. But he's got to mend his flaws before he can get there, and that could take some time.
Orlando has only been in the cellar for a couple years, winning just 43 games over the past two seasons. So, the Magic could stand to continue building its team from scratch.
Considering Oladipo's struggles running an offense as a rookie, the Magic would be prudent to find a way to move him off the ball in the future. Though it may not be immediately, Exum could be the guy to come in and help. And if Orlando makes that pick, all of a sudden Afflalo becomes an even more movable asset.
Missing out on Exum wouldn't necessarily mean the point guard hunt is over, though. Don't forget about that second first-round pick.
Syracuse's Tyler Ennis could be lingering around at No. 12, and Ennis, a calculated pick-and-roll point guard, has a chance to be one of the more mature young players from this draft class.
Meanwhile, if Marcus Smart slides, the Magic may not have the best-shooting backcourt for years to come, but boy, would that defense with Oladipo and the 6'3" Smart (who has a 6'9" wingspan) be stifling. And speaking of shooting...
Who do the Magic have that can shoot threes at a consistent volume level? Afflalo, and...oh my gosh, is that it?
If Orlando's best player is wearing new colors come November, this will be a problem. The Magic have some nice players with which to move forward, but they need complements.
Essentially, if 24-and-under guys like Vucevic, Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Kyle O'Quinn and Andrew Nicholson are going to help form a core for the future, they need to add some shooters to the mix.
At the No. 4 pick, that doesn't seem like a huge possibility. All the guys in that range (Exum, Smart, Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle) could fit in with the Magic but don't fill that void on the perimeter. Exum even said in his interview at the NBA Combine that shooting isn't exactly his strong point at the moment.
I think what I've really tried to work on was obviously shooting. Everyone can get better at shooting, and that's one thing that me and my trainer are definitely trying to get better at.
So, Orlando might need to use the No. 12 pick to plug that hole. That's where the Magic will have a few options.
Michigan's Nik Stauskas, who sank 44 percent of his threes during his two seasons in Ann Arbor, could be hanging around there. Creighton's Doug McDermott, who put up a 53-45-86 shooting line in what was his least efficient season since his freshman year, is supposed to hear his name called earlier in the night but could realistically slide to 12th.
There are more of them. Duke's Rodney Hood, Michigan State's Gary Harris and UCLA's Zach LaVine can all drain shots from the outside. Some of these guys, like LaVine, may be greater reaches than others, but if Orlando can add a solid perimeter shooter to its core, it should feel far more comfortable progressing with this group.
A Power Forward
I warned you. The Magic basically need everything.
So, how can Orlando land a point guard, a shooter and a big man with only two picks? Well, one of those guys would have to be a shooter in his own right.
It's far from a guarantee the Magic select Exum with the No. 4 pick. If they want a power forward to pair with Vucevic, they could find their guy right there.
Randle is a 6'9", more-perimeter-oriented Zach Randolph lookalike. Vonleh is longer than a Martin Scorsese movie, boasting a 7'4" wingspan, and pulled down 19.4 percent of available rebounds during his freshman season at Indiana. If the Magic want to go big with their first pick, either of those guys would make sense.
But Orlando could get a little creative.
Let's say the Magic do actually take Exum fourth, and as we go through the next seven picks, everyone who they like gets drafted.
Smart is gone. McDermott, nowhere to be found. Stauskas, off the board.
Now, the Magic are stuck deciding between Hood, LaVine and Harris if they want a shooter. Or they have to reach for a big man who can stretch the floor. But what if they don't like any of those remaining guys?
Well, they could always trade down.
In that scenario, Orlando could move the No. 12 pick and trail back into the early 20s, maybe pulling off a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, who select at 22. (Would it be so shocking after all that's happening in Memphis if the Griz wanted to make a splash and trade up for a shooter?)
At that point, the Magic could pick up someone like Michigan State's Adreian Payne, a 6'10" power forward who shot 42 percent from three as a senior. And hey, that gets you some shooting and a reliable defensive big man to play next to Vucevic. And in trading down, you pick up an extra pick or piece for the future.
That's the main thing the Magic need to think about on draft night: the future.
This team isn't going to contend next year no matter what it does in June. It could use at least one more season of accumulating assets and developing talent.
Jameer Nelson's $8 million isn't guaranteed for next year. Neither is Jason Maxiell's $2.5 million. And the Magic have just under $19 million on the roster heading into 2015.
Hopefully, general manager Rob Hennigan realizes what the plan should be in Orlando. So many teams—cough, cough, Cleveland—have this terrible habit of thinking they're ready to contend before that's actually true.
Because of that, they end up giving away current assets and shunning potential ones because they're entering "win now mode," one of the scariest modes toward which a cellar dweller can direct itself. Just look at the moves Cleveland made over the past year, all the draft picks they lost for Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng rentals in a season when they couldn't even make the playoffs.
Orlando has a solid, young nucleus. This group plus cap space could have a nice future.
The Magic have plenty of options. Now, all Hennigan has to do is not jump the gun.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at WashingtonPost.com, RotoWire.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.
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