The Orlando Magic made quite a few changes to their roster during this offseason. Will it be enough to become a .500-plus team after winning only a total of 43 games over the course of the last two campaigns? What are the early win-loss predictions for the franchise?
With the first tipoff of 2014-15 approaching quickly, some Magic fans are hoping for a winning season, while others speculate about the advantages of yet another draft-lottery position. However, does a team with so much talent still need to add more, or isn't it time to take on a winning mentality now?
When general manager Rob Hennigan acquired the veterans, many eyebrows took a decided shift upward. Why would he bring them in, when his team finally had promising youngsters at each position? Most basketball enthusiasts expected a squad filled with rookies and players in their early 20s after Jameer Nelson, the iconic playmaker, got waived.
But the additions actually make sense.
Both Frye and Gordon offer a lot of experience—as did Nelson. The difference is that the point guard had a contract for $8 million, of which $2 million was guaranteed, while Gordon will cost the Magic $5 million. Arguably, this is too much for what many perceive to be a washed-out player who never was an All-Star and put up 99 points during 279 minutes last season.
Hennigan will hope for Gordon to revitalize his career.
Even if he doesn't, he still can teach the younger athletes a lot. And if his production isn't what is expected of him, he won't take away too much playing time, so Orlando really would only have wasted cap space of $5 million.
And the one thing this franchise can currently allow to waste is cap space.
Frye, on the other hand, doesn't only bring height; he also brings deadly outside shooting. The combination of both is thrilling for fans and management alike. Justin Willard of GotBuckets discussed the value of size in a shooter, and compared to Nelson's 6'0"—an optimistic assumption—Frye's 6'11" are a decided advantage.
Is it worth spending $32 million for the 31-year-old over the next four years?
Let's put it this way: Before this acquisition, the franchise was in a rare situation in this league. It would have had to pay a surcharge to its players for having a payroll of less than 90 percent of the salary cap.
Ensuring Frye's services for an approximate $8 million per year seems like a reasonable investment in that light. He is a sharp-shooting big man, which makes him a wanted commodity in a league keen on stretch 4s. His ability to open up the floor improves the efficiency of his teammates, opening lanes to cut to the basket or giving space to bang bodies inside one-on-one.
In a less heralded move, Hennigan brought Willie Green to Florida.
The veteran is not likely to see a lot of minutes but is a great asset for this young team. His acquisition is a clever and inexpensive way to ensure his positive locker room presence and experience.
Where to start? With so many young talents, the future looks bright for the Orlando Magic.
Victor Oladipo enters his second year in the league and is expected to build on his strong showing that saw him finish second in the Rookie of the Year race. He certainly has a great work ethic and plays relentless defense, two things of which coaches cannot get enough. If head coach Jacque Vaughn decides to play him at the 2 instead of the 1, the youngster can indeed blossom next season.
The main question, however, is whether Coach Vaughn will trust rookie Elfrid Payton with point guard duties rather than play Oladipo out of position once more. Well, maybe the question isn't "whether" but rather "when."
The young athlete with the crazy hair seems bound to become a driving force for the Magic eventually. With so much depending on him to produce and let Oladipo switch to his more natural position, fans will hope for sooner rather than later.
That brings us to the other rookies: Aaron Gordon and Roy Devyn Marble.
Expectations for Gordon were high among fans when he was taken with the No. 4 pick, but the NBA Summer League showed us all that he is still far away from being an efficient NBA player. He has a lot of potential, without a doubt. But this season, expect No. 10 pick Payton to outshine his fellow rookie.
As for Marble, he has shown good shooting touch and sound decisions during his outings in the Orlando Summer League. Still, it is something different to play second-stringers than to face top-level competition.
The verdict on him is still out, but he will probably be buried in the depth chart anyway. The Magic may well opt to send him to the NBA Development League first, and it seems like the best choice for both parties.
Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless are both fine players at the small forward position. Harris was more stable in his production last season, while Harkless needs to bounce back from a mediocre campaign. Once he is part of a more consistent rotation, he seems bound to do just that.
Nikola Vucevic averaged double-doubles during the past two seasons. What more do we need to know about the 23-year-old? The one thing he needs to improve is his defensive presence. But with Kyle O'Quinn and Dewayne Dedmon, the team has two options for exactly that purpose. Both have room and potential to improve on the offensive end, at the very least to the extent where they are not a liability.
Andrew Nicholson had a disappointing showing throughout 2013-14. He will have to improve his outside shot and at the same time not be afraid to take the ball inside, otherwise he is not going to see the floor a whole lot. With the addition of the rookie Gordon as well as the veteran Frye and the emergence of O'Quinn and Dedmon, Nicholson's minutes are in jeopardy.
That leaves Evan Fournier.
The Frenchman, who joined Orlando via the Arron Afflalo trade, is a wild card at this moment. Nominally a shooting guard, his size allows him to fill in at the 3, while his ball-handling skills—combined with the Magic's need—may earn him some time at the 1 as well.
The weak Eastern Conference made it possible for teams with a losing record to participate in the playoffs the last couple of years. That may be the only reason why Orlando fans may start dreaming about the postseason.
Don't be fooled; wins are hard to come by for the—overall—inexperienced team, and it is highly unlikely that Orlando will qualify for a playoff berth. There are a couple of powerhouses that will rack up a lot of wins, including some in the Southeast Division.
The Miami Heat and the Washington Wizards will compete for the division title. Actually, add the Charlotte Hornets into that fray. The Southeast Division looks to be the most competitive in the entire East, possibly earning four playoff spots again if the Atlanta Hawks can live up to their potential. It is highly unlikely the Orlando Magic can beat the odds and squeeze in as well.
Outside of Orlando's division, the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers—all of a sudden a title contender thanks to the return of LeBron James and the pending acquisition of Kevin Love—are set to fight for the top spots in the East.
So despite the weakness of the Eastern Conference in general, the Magic will have a hard time fighting for a playoff appearance. Stranger things may have happened, but the chances are slim.
What to Expect
As explained above, there is only so much the team can do. The competition for a playoff spot is rough, and inexperience will lead to some unnecessary losses.
But what about Orlando's overall win-loss record?
A lot depends on the rotation for which Coach Vaughn settles. That is, even more depends on whether he actually settles on one. The past season saw him switching back and forth between various lineups, making questionable substitutions and never really allowing players like Harkless to get into a flow.
If Orlando's management wants to win now instead of focusing on developing players, Vaughn will have to come up with a productive rotation based on consistency.
Another important factor is the development of the rookies.
While Marble will hardly be a corner piece of the team come 2014-15, Gordon and Payton could lift it considerably—at least in the long run. The former is still some time away from being a productive player and unlikely to produce before the end of the season. The latter can become a driving force for Orlando during his rookie campaign.
If Coach Vaughn is brave enough to put Payton in the starting lineup early in the season, potentially even at the very start, the dividends could pay well. The 20-year-old's development will benefit from getting consistent minutes.
In turn, the whole team will.
Judging from the Orlando Summer League, the rookie point guard will struggle early on while adjusting to the NBA. This will happen regardless of whether he will be trusted with a starting role or not. Admittedly, as a starter he will face more pressure than if being brought on in garbage time.
On the other hand, the value of minutes is directly proportional to their meaningfulness. Entering a game with three minutes to play and 20 points down basically is the equivalence of a practice scrimmage.
Assuming that Vaughn allows the rookie to make his share of mistakes, the team will reap the rewards late this season already. Orlando does not appear to be playoff-bound in any case, so getting into a good position for 2015-16 seems the way to go.
While fans may be patient and understand the need for their young squad to develop, the Magic will have to show they are sincere about improving.
The Final Verdict
With several struggling teams in the Eastern Conference, expect some easy wins for an otherwise still often overwhelmed Orlando Magic squad. The franchise has a great future if it can keep its players together, but currently they all have a lot to learn.
If Ben Gordon can return to form—and that's a big "if"—he will be a decisive factor in the Magic's attempt to reach the postseason. Other factors are Payton's development, Vucevic's defensive improvement and Harkless' resurgence.
As should be plain to see, there are just too many things that have to fall into place this season to consider Orlando a playoff candidate, despite the weak conference.
After struggling for the first half of 2014-15, the team will come together and improve if it can keep spirits high despite yet another losing season.
Prediction: 33-49, 10th place in the East
You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.
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