The Orlando Magic are a team in flux, and have been since the 2013 offseason when they shipped disgruntled center Dwight Howard out of town, and attempted to rebuild through stock piling assets and young prospects. Unfortunately, the results had been less than satisfactory, and by 2015 promising players with undetermined potential such as Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson, and Kyle O’ Quinn had been shuffled in and out of the Magic Kingdom.
The constant turnover and roster dysfunction has shown. Orlando has had no more than 35 wins in the 4 years since their “rebuild” while also not substantially developing any of the youth they have had on their roster. The losses kept stacking up and management had enough. Much maligned GM Rob Hennigan felt the pressure coming for his job, and decided to shake things up in the 2016 offseason to speed up the path to contention.
The Magic started yet another roster remodel in June with a draft day trade that sent Oladipo, Ersan Illyasova, and just drafted forward Donatas Sabonis to the Thunder for Serge Ibaka. Later in free agency they added four veteran rotational pieces in D.J. Augustin, Jeff Green, Jodie Meeks, and Bismarck Biyombo; in total, the Magic shelled out a combined $45.8 million dollars on those four acquisitions alone. Unfortunately the ambitious, yet, shortsighted plan backfired, as uninspired play to start the season combined with a massive logjam of mediocre talent in the front-court showcased the mismatched pieces that Orlando had managed to assemble.
By the midway point of the season the Magic were already a disjointed mess and willing to concede that the execution of their offseason goals were a failure. Orlando dangled many of their veterans at the trade deadline but couldn’t even get that right as they overvalued them and scared away interested teams that could have helped. Finally, they managed to send Ibaka to the Raptors for a surprising low return in Terrance Ross and the Raptors 2017 first round pick. Since then the Magic have seemed content to stumble to the finish line, head into the offseason, and reevaluate from there.
The Magic have three players whose contracts expire by this offseason (Jeff Green, Jodie Meeks, Damian Rudez) with nine players locked up under contract through next season. Barring any crazy offseason trades it appears as if the Magic are with this roster for the long haul. That’s not so much a good thing as much as it is a sign that the Magic may have erred in the amount of long term contracts that they tossed out this past offseason. However there is hope, and it is in some core young players that they have; namely Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, and Terrence Ross.
Aaron Gordon struggled at the start of the year as he was miscast as a small forward when the Magic tried to play Serge Ibaka and Bismarck Biyombo in the starting lineup. His jump shot isn’t reliable as of yet, and as a mobile big guy he had problems staying in front of quicker perimeter players on defense. However, since Ibaka has been gone Gordon has again been a revelation, as his scoring his gone up from 9.6 ppg in February to 16.4 ppg, his rebounding has improved from 4.0 rpg to 7.2 rpg, and his assists have risen to a season high average of 2.4 apg. He’s played more aggressive as of late and seems more assertive; especially with his play off the dribble and increased confidence in his driving game, and his recent play has showcased that.
Elfrid Payton has also has a up and down year, struggling early and even giving up the starting spot to D.J Augustin at the beginning of the year. Just like Gordon, it wasn’t until after that All-Star break that Payton took off and really elevated his play. In the first 16 games after the break Payton averaged 13 points, 8.3 assists, and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 50% from the field. He even put in FIVE triple doubles in that span, highlighted by a 22 point, 14 rebound 14 assist game in a win against Chicago.
He still has his struggles, but Payton is only 23. While his jump shot hasn’t developed as much as people would like, his rebounding and playmaking have again raised glimmers of hope in his overall game.
Terrence Ross is the oldest of this trio at 26 but also one of the most ready to take on a significant role. Ross has been a productive inconsistent player off the bench for Toronto over the last 5 seasons. Ross has an opportunity to be a starter and assume a major role for the first time in his career, it will be interesting to see what happens. Ross is an uber athlete who has made strides in his ball handling and ability to penetrate and get to the rim while remaining a very solid outside shooter. He has the ability to be a solid starter and to potentially grab a substantial role in Orlando. The key for him is to put his immense talents together, something he has struggled with his entire career.
The Orlando Magic head into the 2017 offseason seemingly adrift of direction in what appears to be a yearly ritual. Who will they target in the draft? (The Magic currently have a 10% chance of getting the top pick and will most assuredly be in the top 5) Will the Magic hold a fire sale to offload some of there veterans? Will Hennigan still have a job by the time the next season rolls around? Will Gordon, Payton and Ross get a chance to lead this team? We will soon see. For now, let’s hope that management learns from its previous mistakes and sets a proper course of action to make the Magic relevant once again.
POSITION THAT NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED IMMEDIATELY: Small Forward
FRONT OFFICE LEADERSHIP: Unstable
LIKELIHOOD OF SUBSTANTIAL FRONT OFFICE MOVES: Not Likely