Orlando Magic 2015-16 Season Preview
2014-15 Record: 25-57, No. 5 Southeast Division, No. 13 Eastern Conference
Roster Additions: F Mario Hezonja (No. 5 overall draft pick), G Tyler Harvey (No. 51 overall draft pick), G C.J. Watson, F Jason Smith, G Shabazz Napier, coach Scott Skiles
Roster Subtractions: F Kyle O'Quinn, G Luke Ridnour, G Ben Gordon, F Mo Harkless
2014-2015 Recap: Last season was an evaluation period for the Orlando Magic. The roster had most of the pieces needed to be a contender in the Eastern Conference, and all that was needed was to throw the pieces onto the court and see what stuck. Rookie guard Elfrid Payton started the year slowly before turning on the jets in March and torching Dallas and Portland for back-to-back triple-doubles. He became the first rookie since 1997 to accomplish that feat. Victor Oladipo was not as consistent as he was during his rookie season, though his shooting improved from 41.9 percent to 43.6 percent. Nikola Vucevic was an offensive powerhouse in the middle, averaging 19.3 points and 11 rebounds per contest. Sixth man Evan Fournier put up strong offensive numbers, averaging 12 points per game on 44 percent shooting.
On the other hand, Payton was virtually non-existent as a scoring option, Oladipo averaged three turnovers per contest for the second straight year while dealing with knee issues, Vucevic was invisible on defense, offseason acquisition Ben Gordon was a disembodied spirit in a uniform, and the team struggled with injuries. Rookie Aaron Gordon suffered a foot injury and Channing Frye was never the same after a preseason knee injury. With the team progressing slowly, ownership fired coach Jacque Vaughn and replaced him with assistant James Borrego.
2015-2016 Offseason: After spending big on free agents Frye and Gordon in the previous free agency period, Orlando went for a smaller approach this year. Forward Tobias Harris was re-signed, O'Quinn was essentially traded for Jason Smith with the New York Knicks, Ridnour was sent to Memphis while Napier came from Miami, and Harkless was sent to Portland for draft picks. C.J. Watson was brought on from the Indiana Pacers to give the Magic one of the deepest guard rotations in the NBA. While Orlando was highly interested in Kristaps Porzingas in the draft, getting Hezonja, "The Croatian Kobe Bryant" was a nice consolation prize. Arguably the biggest move was getting coach Scott Skiles, a former Magic player, and previously the coach of the Milwaukee Bucks from 2008 to 2013, where he was consistently a Coach of the Year candidate.
Projected Starting Lineup: Payton, Oladipo, Harris, Gordon/Frye, Vucevic
2015-2016 Outlook: This is a deep and scary team. Multiple options at all points of the court, and some terrific young talent. As stated, Orlando's guard rotation is one of the deepest in the entire NBA, with Payton, Oladipo, Fournier, Watson, and even Napier and Willie Green providing a plethora of options for the Magic at all points of the game. If Payton develops an outside shot, Orlando could have one of the most dangerous guard pairs for a long time to come. Small forward is covered by Harris, who had a third straight strong season with the Magic and was deserving of his new 4-year $64 million contract. New coach Skiles pushed for the Bucks to trade for Harris on draft night in 2011, eventually acquiring him from the Charlotte Bobcats. Familiarity will only help Harris to keep improving. Aaron Gordon is dealing with a jaw injury, but is cleared to practice, and will look to overcome his rookie season injury woes. The truly scary fact about this team is that Vucevic is the oldest starter at 24 years old. There is a full-on youth movement in Orlando, and it looks to drive the team out of the Southeast Division cellar.
Final Prediction: Orlando might still play in the Eastern Conference, but they do play in the strongest division in the East. Atlanta and Washington should fall back towards the pack, and Orlando has the talent to overtake Charlotte and match up with interstate rival Miami. My bold prediction: no team will jump up more games than Orlando. 46-36, 3rd Place in Southeast Division.