The Orlando Magic fell apart when the Dwight Howard era ended, seemingly doomed to years of mediocrity in the wake of his trade to the Lakers. But the Magic, perhaps more than any other team in rebuild mode, are in excellent shape to be in the postseason after just one more year in basketball purgatory.
While trying to trade Hedo Turkoglu’s expiring contract would be simultaneously difficult and alluring if you could find someone to do it, the Magic should take the long view and ride out this season with exactly what they have. Next summer, the team has options on half of its roster with only around $27 million definitively committed to players beyond the upcoming season.
They’ll undoubtedly pick up the options on Moe Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris. But the options on Jameer Nelson, Kyle O’Quinn and Doron Lamb are another matter and could clear around $10 million from the team’s payroll. With more than $20 million to spend thanks to Turkoglu coming off the books, they could significantly upgrade at point guard, be it through the draft, free agent or a trade.
Next season is really a development year for Orlando’s young players while the franchise hopes to tank as much as Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento, Charlotte and Milwaukee, all of whom are vying for the No. 1 pick next season and the chance to draft future superstar Andrew Wiggins out of Kansas. Only one team will be that fortunate, but if Orlando can repeat their feat of this season in which they landed the No. 2 draft pick, they could pick up a player like the talented young Jabari Parker or point guard Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State who decided to stay in college another year rather than enter this year’s NBA Draft.
But even with tanking in mind, it would take Jacque Vaughn purposely mismanaging the team just to avoid surpassing what they did last season. They can develop the young guys as their primary focus, but between Tobias Harris, Vucevic, Nicholson, Harkless and No. 2 overall draft pick Victor Oladipo, Orlando has a nice complement of young talent that could win 35 games this season and end up tenth in the draft order. It’s actually a safe bet when you consider the fact that Glen Davis will be back in the lineup and they have some decent veterans in Al Harrington and Aaron Afflalo.
In any case, Hennigan’s vision for the team has promise despite the difficulties ahead. From what they can do with their money next season to the potential for their draft picks, this organization made out a lot better than Los Angeles did on the Dwight Howard trade.
With a brand new arena, tropical weather, young talent and a solid fan base to offer, Orlando is going to be in contention for a solid free agent, someone like a Greivis Vasquez, Eric Bledsoe Reggie Jackson or DeMarcus Cousins, but doesn’t necessarily have the established star talent to make a Kobe Bryant, Rudy Gay or Paul George join up.
But it may not matter. With Vaughn proving to be a strong coach and the right players developing, a small move in the right place is all this team needs to be playing in May of 2015. Things looked bleak upon Hennigan’s arrival, but the period of Magic fan purgatory will soon come to an end thanks to his thinking and the addition of the right acquisition.