2015-2016 Record: 35-47
Once possessing a focused core and organizational plan of attack, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan has seemingly thrown that away in a series of moves that have made most NBA pundits scratch their heads in puzzlement.
Coming into last season, a nucleus of Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Victor Oladipo, Mario Hezonja, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic was presumed to be a potential challenger to the young guns of the Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves for future league supremacy.
Whether it was impatience or dissatisfaction with the current plan, the Magic almost completely overhauled their roster, first dealing combo forward and former Buck Tobias Harris to the Pistons for a one-year rental of Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova, who was then dealt in the offseason to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In this deal with OKC, the Magic also gave up the #11 pick in this year’s draft (who would turn out to be Domantas Sabonis) and 2013 #2 pick Victor Oladipo for power forward Serge Ibaka. With the cap space available from trading Harris, the Magic doubled down on bigs, signing former Raptor center Bismack Biyombo and journeyman forward Jeff Green, the latter on just a one-year deal.
This crowded frontcourt will push former #3 pick Aaron Gordon to small forward, and his own shooting limitations (29.6 percent three-point shooting last year) combined with point guard Elfrid Payton’s own struggles (32.6 percent on just 1.4 attempts per game) will severely bog down the Magic’s halfcourt offense as it stands now. As I mentioned last week, the Bucks should be applauding the shooting struggles of Orlando, considering they were one of the worst teams at defending the three-ball last season.
If either or both of Payton and Gordon improve their shooting – after all, they’re still just 20 and 22 years old respectively – the Magic will have resolved their most pressing issue, but the conundrum of distributing minutes fairly to so many worthy players in the frontcourt will be a tough task for new head coach Frank Vogel.
All this being said, the Magic are undoubtedly a more talented team overall than they were last year, and if it all goes right, it could signify a culture shift for the entire league, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe asserts.
"That would make the Magic huge and mobile — especially when they have Gordon, Ibaka, and Biyombo on the floor together. Those three can switch on defense, pound the glass on offense, and form a six-armed rim-protecting hydra to fix Orlando’s glaring weakness. The Magic are plotting a counter-revolution. “In today’s small-ball NBA, we think we can beat the [expletive] out of teams in the paint,” Vogel said."
The Magic will have a tough road in front of them, and should be considered a long shot, but if everything clicks, the Bucks and the rest of the league should take care not to overlook them.
Next: Miami Heat