The Orlando Magic finally bit the bullet and traded Dwight Howard over the summer. The question is, what is the real plan for all those pieces? Magic GM Rob Hennigan came from the Thunder and is supposedly of the Sam Presti school of slowly building through the draft. That's interesting, since the Magic have more than a few veterans on the team and if you build from the draft, the idea is to bottom out and reap the benefits of the lottery. Assuming you can draft well in the lottery, that is.
30-year old point guard Jameer Nelson is locked into point guard until a younger prospect can come around. While Ish Smith is an adequate backup, he's not likely to be groomed as a starter. Just what you do with 32-year old Al Harrington and 33-year old Hedo Turkoglu is a much more interesting question.
Figure the Magic should have an eye on peaking 4-6 years out. Which means you need to be emphasizing players... call it 26 and under. That puts 27 year olds Gustavo Ayon and J.J. Reddick in a border area. More so Reddick, since a power forward/center is likely to have a longer playing life than a guard.
The way this squad is set up now, and this could potentially change by trade deadline, Afflalo and Big Baby are set up to the elder statesmen of the team going forward. The hope will be that either Vucevic or Ayon develops at center and Harkless will blossom at small forward. Then they'll need a younger point guard in a couple years and fill in the bench through thrifty free agent deals and possibly upgrade the starters through the draft and maybe trading.
That's the Thunder example, though Hennigan will likely have slightly deeper pockets in Orlando than Presti does in Oklahoma City.
What will the rotation look like? If the Magic are really trying to win and make a run at the final playoff spot in the East, which would be a mistake, it should look something like this:
C: Nikola Vucevic /Gustavo Ayon > Kyle O'Quinn
PF: Big Baby Davis / Al Harrington > Josh McRoberts >Andrew Nicholson > Justin Harper
SF: Hedo Turkoglu / Al Harrington > Moe Harkless > Quentin Richardson > Christian Eyenga
SG: Arron Afflalo > J.J. Reddick > E'Twaun Moore
PG: Jameer Nelson > Ish Smith > E'Twaun Moore
The biggest question is what to do with Al Harrington. Harrington may well be the best scorer on this team. He's generally used at a power forward, but with this roster I'd consider plugging him in at small forward and greenlighting him to pull the trigger. You probably don't start Harrington over Big Baby, who I expect to be one of the building block pieces, at least until a bigger and better young prospect avails himself. If Harrington backs up the 4, he's taking away development minutes. If you move him over to small forward and you want to develop Harkless, or possibly Eyenga, then Turkoglu needs to move firmly over to the bench.
Hence the issue of win now or develop players. Developing a young small forward would seem to be a priority, since there's nobody remotely established at that position on the roster.
Center is something where we'll just have to see how it develops. Vucevic is probably the lone true center on the roster and did show flashes of potential while spot-starting in Philly last year. Ayon certainly has his fans. This position is the biggest question mark on the team. Everyone is young enough that you're just not sure what you're going to get.
From a depth perspective, the backcourt is Orlando's strength. Afflalo is a well-regarded, well-rounded up and coming shooting guard. J.J. Reddick would start for other teams. Jameer Nelson gets different reactions from different pundits, but he's an established starter. Ish Smith is perfectly adequate as a backup and will occasionally put up some points.
In the front court, once you get past Big Baby and Harrington, they're either really young or on the downside of their career.
Can the Magic make the playoffs? Well, they're in the East and the only team that has ZERO chance in the East would be the Bobcats. For the Magic to make the playoffs, and it would likely be the 8th seed were that to happen, a number of things would have to happen. First, a legitimate starter would need to emerge at center. Second, Al Harrington is going to have to play big minutes and light it up. Third, one more player in the front court rotation will need to emerge. Could be Ayon. Could be McRoberts getting minutes again. Maybe Turkoglu corrects his problems of the last few years.
But, being an 8 seed on a rebuilding team is just about the worst place you can be. Long term, you probably need to at least shut down Turkoglu and maybe even Harrington. Develop your youth. Look at revisiting the playoffs in a couple years. In a perfect world, Harkless immediately and legitimately beats out everyone for the starting small forward slot and you can start cruising, saving your money for the eventual free agent replacement for Nelson.
The Magic does have a relatively well-balanced roster, if a bit big on PF/C types where they need someone to emerge. If they come out of the gate hot, they may take a playoff chase more seriously. If they start out cold, youth movement starts quickly and look for Harrington to become an eminently tradable asset.
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