After five straight losing season, the Orlando Magic begin anew in 2017-18 with general manager John Hammond taking over the reins to help bring the franchise back to prominence in the Eastern Conference.
Head coach Frank Vogel is entering his second season leading the team on the court. His 29-53 record in 2016-17 was his worst single-season mark in seven years as a head coach with the Magic and Indiana Pacers.
The Magic continue to build around a core of promising young talent, which now includes 2017 first-round draftee Jonathan Isaac, that must learn to win together if they want to earn the franchise's first playoff berth since 2012.
2017-18 Season Details
Season Opener: Wednesday, Oct. 18 vs. Miami Heat (7 p.m. ET)
Championship Odds: 1,000-1 (via OddsShark)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Brooklyn Nets: Oct. 20, Oct. 24, Jan. 1, March 28
It can be easy to lose track of Orlando's ineptitude because the Brooklyn Nets are a trainwreck, but the Magic posted the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference last season.
Granted, the Magic were still nine games better than the Nets. But the bigger issue remains their inability to build any kind of forward momentum in this seemingly neverending rebuild, with just one 30-win season over the last five years.
"Elfrid Payton, the young point guard whom they built their offense around following Oladipo's departure, still can't shoot. Nikola Vucevic, their most talented offensive player, still doesn't play much defense, a glaring problem for any center. Aaron Gordon, their most promising prospect, has spent most of the season playing out of position, and he has not taken the leap forward many expected in his third season."
Isaac is the latest promising player to join Orlando's mix, though he is more renowned for his defense than his ability to score.
Even with those roster problems, the Magic still look light-years ahead of the Nets. Brooklyn's core currently consists of D'Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jeremy Lin.
Neither team is going to compete for a title, barring some miracle run that not even the most optimistic Hollywood screenwriter could come up with, but the Magic have no reason to still be on the same level as the Nets.
Being able to beat the NBA's worst team at least gives the Magic something resembling forward momentum.
Miami Heat: Oct. 18, Dec. 26, Dec. 30, Feb. 5
Aside from the Florida connection, there aren't many similarities between the Magic and Miami Heat. Orlando is trying to establish itself as a playoff contender. Miami was the NBA's marquee franchise for four years when it had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Now, three years after the breakup of the Big Three, the Heat have set a template by which the Magic should aspire to follow. They have a good core centered around Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside that carried them to a 41-41 record last season, including 30 wins in their last 41 games.
There are differences between the two clubs. The Heat are often aggressive in trades and free agency. The Magic don't shy away from free agency, but paying Bismack Biyombo $72 million over four years isn't exactly a smart use of funds.
Biyombo has never been much of an offensive player. His six points per game last season represented a career high. His calling card has been defense, though that took a hit last year with a career-low 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes and his 2.1 defensive win shares was his lowest since 2013-14, per Basketball Reference.
There are a lot of reasons the Magic have been near the bottom of the Eastern Conference for most of this decade. They are still looking up at the Heat after all these years, trying to figure out how to stay relevant even with significant roster turnover.
The Magic are essentially bringing back the same roster that ended last season. Isaac, who was drafted sixth overall, was their big offseason addition.
While Isaac displays tremendous potential on defense, he's basically the same player as Aaron Gordon. Until there is any evidence that players like Gordon, Payton and Isaac, who does have more leash because this is his first season, will take steps forward, the Magic will remain stuck in neutral.
One thing working in favor of the Magic getting over that 30-win hump for just the second time since 2012-13 is the Eastern Conference's lack of depth. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will be the class of the conference, with the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors behind them.
Beyond that top four, though, no one else really jumps out. The Chicago Bulls have gone into rebuilding mode after trading Jimmy Butler. The Philadelphia 76ers look fun on paper, but Joel Embiid's health will always be a question mark. Teams like the Nets and New York Knicks are still disasters.
The Magic won't be a factor in the playoff race, but maybe this will be the year they start to show some promise. It's gotta happen one of these years, right?