Blazersedge contributor Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 20-62, No. 5 in Southeast Division, No. 15 in Eastern Conference
Roster additions: Jason Maxiell, Ronnie Price, Victor Oladipo (Rookie, 2nd overall)
Roster subtractions: Al Harrington, DeQuan Jones, Josh McRoberts, J.J. Redick, Beno Udrih
Apparently the Orlando Magic got the memo a year early regarding the 2014 draft, dumping Dwight Howard prior to the 2012-2013 season for Arron Afflalo, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, some spare parts and several future picks.
At the time, many fans thought new Orlando GM Rob Hennigan accepted a weak package for his dominant, perennial All-Star big man. Then Vucevic went on to average almost 12 rebounds a game to go along with 13.1 points, and Harkless showed plenty of promise in his rookie season. When looking back a year later on how the trade went for the other teams involved, it appears Orlando came out on top. Now they have plenty of young, promising talent but still a lot of inexperience. They should still lose enough games to put them in the thick of the race for a top pick in the 2014 draft. On top of that, the Magic have only $26.7 million committed in salaries through 2015. That's some pretty crafty maneuvering on Hennigan's part, eh?
Second overall pick Victor Oladipo was added to the mix this past spring and should have no problem picking up time in the back court off the bench, as coach Jacque Vaughn expects to play him at both guard positions. Incumbent starting guards Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson are known commodities, so expect Vaughn to curb their minutes at some point to afford playing time to Oladipo and shooting guard E'Twaun Moore, a third-year player who has shown promise but needs to add consistency to his game. Oladipo should come into the league capable of playing solid, if not good defense. He'll have to improve as a passer and ball handler if he's going to man the point guard position, but he did shoot 44.1 percent from three-point range his junior season at Indiana (albeit on about 2 attempts per game). The Magic are hoping that Oladipo can help spread the floor, as they were terrible as a team from behind the arc last season.
Tobias Harris came to the Magic near the trade deadline last year when Hennigan traded J.J. Redick and filler for him, Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih. Harris' stats skyrocketed with his increased playing time following the trade, averaging 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds for the Magic. He is now firmly in the team's long-term plans, somewhat surprising because he was considered a throw-in to the deal by many after only averaging 11.6 minutes and 4.9 points per game for the Bucks prior to the transaction. Harkless will push him for playing time at small forward, and the Magic are hoping the competition lends itself to the continued development of both players.
Vucevic came into his own last year on the offensive side of the ball and on the glass, but he needs to improve his defense if he wants to eventually be recognized as an elite center. Second year player Kyle O'Quinn will challenge Vucevic for minutes down low, but don't expect him to steal too many. Vucevic is a cornerstone of Orlando's future, along with Harris and Oladipo. If he continues to progress on both sides of the ball - at 22, he certainly has tons of upside -- expect Vucevic to be at least a borderline-star by season's end.
Second year power Forward Andrew Nicholson played well in limited time last year, and he'll have a lot of opportunity to earn more minutes, as he'll really only compete with veterans Glen Davis and Jason Maxiell for minutes. By the end of the season, he'll most likely nab the starting four position and the bulk of the minutes.
Defensively, the Magic were not very good last year. Rebounding the ball on defense was a strong point of theirs (No. 9 in the NBA), but they need to force more turnovers, patrol the paint better and improve at defending opponent's shot attempts. The addition of Oladipo and the natural progression of the rest of the young players should allow this defense to climb out of the depths of the league eventually, even if it doesn't immediately happen. If this young core sticks together and stays relatively injury-free, they have enough talent and athleticism to at least be a serviceable defensive team in the future. Oladipo's defensive ability immediately boosts their perimeter defense, regardless of his rookie status.
Afflalo, Nelson, Maxiell and Davis are pretty much the veteran core of this team. They may all start the season with steady minutes and production (with the exception of an injured Davis), but don't expect that to last. Hennigan would almost definitely pull the trigger on a deal involving any one of these players if it involved bringing in more young talent and/or draft picks. Vaughn also will play around with different lineups, putting many players on the court at a variety of positions in order to determine where each player is most effective. Expect to see a lot of shuffling around through the rotation, as many of these players are versatile enough to put in productive minutes at multiple positions.
While the Magic have a solid, young core in Oladipo, Vucevic, Harkless and Harris, Hennigan still has multiple future picks to play with and has both eyes toward the 2014 draft. If the Magic start winning enough games early on, expect the second-year GM to jettison a veteran or two in order to ensure this team ends up in a better position in this spring's draft lottery. They may hover above the cellar of the Eastern Conference at times early on, but Hennigan and Vaughn will be sure to maximize their young guys' playing time and development while piling on the losses and planning for the 2014 draft.