Monday, October 28, 2013

2013-2014 Season Preview: Orlando Magic

"Sometimes, the only way to win, is to lose. Embrace your losses as wins."
Crappy Facebook update, probably
I completely made that quote up, but oddly, if the Orlando Magic let an emo 17 year old run their social media accounts, this update would get dozens of likes. The Dwight Howard Saga of 2012 was unnecessary, immature, and ended up downright weird. We couldn't help but feel for the denizens of the "Tragic Kingdom" as their mega-star turned his broad back on Magic fans and demanded out, and we foresaw years of the franchise toiling in the basement of the Eastern Conference. New GM Rob Hennigan came aboard in June of 2012 and immediately had the inauspicious task of reshaping a franchise abandoned by it's 7 foot center. Things looked bleak.
Yet here we are, just a year later, and the sun is already starting to rise on the Magic. Hennigan traded for Tobias Harris, and Orlando is the only team by far that came out ahead in the massive 4-team trade that sent Howard to Los Angeles, brought in young center Nikola Vucevic, swingman Mo Harkless, Aaron Afflalo, Josh McRoberts, Al Harrington, and Christian Eyenga  plus a gaggle of future 1st and 2nd round picks (seriously, 3 future 1sts and 2 future 2nds) to Orlando. Andrew Bynum skipped town to Cleveland, Dwight is now running with Harden in Houston, and Iguodala headed out to the Warriors, but Orlando waved the wand and now has the foundation for a strong franchise in Vucevic, Harkless, Harris, and No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, Victor Oladipo, and many, many valuable future picks. Will Orlando stink again this season? Hell yes, and with good reason: the 2014 draft is being touted as one of the strongest in recent memory. Hennigan would have every right to tear a rotator cuff patting himself on the back; even as the Magic rack up losses this year, they'll be winning.

Additions: Victor Oladipo, Jason Maxiell, Ronnie Price, Romero Osby

Subtractions: Al Harrington, Beno Udrih, DeQuan Jones

No reason to beat around the bush: Maxiell and Price are joining veteran incumbents Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson to provide a guidance and professionalism for the likes of Oladipo, Harkless, Vucevic, and Harris. Maxiell is the evil twin version of burly Glen Davis, and neither of them matters in this discussion. This season is all about 2nd year coach Jacque Vaughn getting reps for and developing the young players on his roster, all while maintaining a strong, positive vibe as the losses mount up (oh, and mount up they will). As intriguing as Oladipo is, the real prize may be one of the top picks in next year's draft. According to analysts,  as many as 7 "franchise altering" guys may be up for grabs, and Orlando is gonna stink it up enough to be in the mix for the number 1 pick.

Tobias Harris

For a team that says it "owes it to their fans to try and win", the Bucks sure have a funny way of showing it. How else can you explain letting Tobias Harris languish on the bench (11 mpg, 5 ppg) for a season and a half? Orlando shipped JJ Redick and pieces to Milwaukee for Harris and pieces and Harris hit the ground running with the Magic, pouring in 17.3 ppg and snagging 8.5 rpg in 36 mpg with a handful of pretty impressive highlights in 27 games. The 6'8 combo forward attacks the rim and the glass with equal ferocity, and is agile enough rip down a rebound and run a one man break. And he's only 21.

Moe Harkless

Thanks Dwight. It may have hurt watching Howard force his way out of town, but Mo Harkless did what he could to take some of that hurt away last season. He took a few months to settle in (only about 4 ppg in 18 minutes a night through the 1st 31 games), Harkless found his groove in an 11.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg February, and dropped 13.1 ppg while grabbing about 5 boards a night the last 2 months. Like Harris, Harkless is athletic and loves to attack. He'll have to eventually develop some kind of perimeter scoring threat (10% from 3 won't cut it), but screw it, let's enjoy his explosive forays to the hoop while the losses pile up this year.

Nikola Vucevic

Vucevic is another "consolation prize from Philly in the the Howard trade"-turned- possible franchise building block. He's skilled, ferocious on the boards (he had 10 games last season with 17 or more rebounds, including a 20 point, 29 rebound gem in a 2 point loss to Miami), he's active, and he can hit the 17 footer with confidence. at 7', 250 lbs, he won't get pushed around, and at 23, he has room to grow and expand on the 13.1 ppg and 11.9 rpg he threw up nightly last year.

Most Exciting Player To Watch: Victor Oladipo

Orlando stinking last year garnered them the 2nd pick in the draft, where they snagged another piece of their future, dynamic Hoosier guard Victor Oladipo. The guy can flat out play. The "Michael Jordan" comparison is a bit much, but the high energy athlete with an improving shooting stroke fits perfectly with the young core they're building in Orlando. He'll get tons of minutes, and with the Magic experimenting with him at point guard, he'll have the ball in his hands enough to make an impact (relatively; let's not kid ourselves, the Magic will stink again this year). Rookie of the Year his his for the taking.

Prediction: 25 wins

Like that terrible fake Facebook quote, sometimes when you lose you win...the right to draft a really good player ("Be Wack For Wiggins" is very much in effect, yo). While Orlando isn't going to be very good, unlike a team like muddling Milwaukee or the tank-tastic, wretched 76ers, Orlando should actually be fun to watch and should have a bunch of "right there in the 3rd quarter" scrappy, high energy games where they get out-executed in the 4th. You're healing, Orlando. You're healing.


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