Rebuilding In Orlando
(The Sports Network) The Orlando Magic didn't just miss the playoffs for the first time in seven years last season, they fell further off the map than the island from "Lost."
Not that it wasn't entirely unexpected. The Magic's run of postseason appearances immediately became in jeopardy when Dwight Howard was finally traded in a four-team deal in August of 2012, and while last season showed Orlando certainly got a nice package of players in return, it is going to take time to return to contending status.
Minus Howard, and eventually traded veteran guard J.J. Redick, the Magic slipped to 20-62 for their lowest winning percentage (.244) since going 18-64 (.220) in their inaugural season as an NBA franchise in 1989-90.
Of course, in a string of continued bad luck the Magic did not select first in the draft after getting leapfrogged by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but also caught a break when the Cavs made the selection of forward Anthony Bennett first overall. That allowed the Magic to still get high-energy guard Victor Oladipo from Indiana at No. 2.
Orlando figures to have nowhere to go but up and will spend the 2013-14 season getting the pieces in place for the future.
"Our goal right now is to get better everyday, to bond as a team, to develop and create an identity for ourselves so we can move forward and hopefully make the playoffs," said veteran guard Jameer Nelson.
Who's In/Who's Out
Key Additions: Victor Oladipo, Jason Maxiell, Ronnie Price
Key Losses: Beno Udrih, Al Harrington, DeQuan Jones
If there is one thing working in the Magic's favour it is the balance of the roster. While Vaughn should duplicate his game plan from the end of last season by playing his youngsters early and often, he does have a core of vets in Nelson and Glen Davis, as well as offseason additions Jason Maxiell and Ronnie Price, to police his youngsters.
"It's great because a lot of the coaching goes on in the locker room as well," said Vaughn. "There's only a certain amount of time I spend with the guys on the floor and in film session. There's a lot of time they're away from me, so having veterans have a voice that is preaching the same message is important."
Still The Champs
Mid-Low Playoff Seed
Youth Making Strides
It Could Be Worse
We Want Wiggins
Vaughn will also have the benefit of a versatile roster as he tries to put together a solid foundation for the future. He noted that the only "position" he sees on the floor is center. It is likely the coach will be mixing and matching at the other four spots throughout the season.
The Not So Good
While there are some nice pieces to build around in Orlando, winning is still a ways away for this group.
The Magic were a terrible defensive team last season finishing last in forced turnovers and in the bottom-10 in defensive efficiency, opponent's scoring and opponent field goal percentage.
They should be a little better this season but nowhere near league-average. With such a young rotation there is bound to be more than a few mental lapses on both ends of the court.
They key for head coach Jacque Vaughn and his young nucleus will be to not get too frustrated, take your lumps and learn from them.
Because there will be plenty of lumps.
What To Expect
The goal for the Magic is to return to a point where they are consistent contenders. Following the loss of a franchise player like Howard, general manager Rob Hennigan knows that has to be done by building from the ground up.
"The goal is sustainability and that's what we're building towards," said Hennigan. "We feel really confident in the vision that we have. We feel real confident in the steps we have to take to get there and now it's just a matter of staying true to those steps."
Orlando will see a lot of roster juggling this season and in no way is Hennigan done making moves. That is just another challenge for Vaughn and his players as they try to grow as a unit, though energy and hunger should not be a problem thanks to youth.
Staying out of the basement yet again is another story.