Cohen 8-Ball: Magic's Key Storylines for 2013-14
August 25, 2013
#1 Opening Night Starting Lineup
Josh Cohen’s Analysis: There is about a month left until training camp opens and at that time Jacque Vaughn will start his lineup inspections. There are naturally plenty of options for he and his staff to evaluate and consider.
For one, the Magic’s starters on Oct. 29 in Indiana may resemble more of the same from last season. If it is decided that Victor Oladipo will begin the season as a reserve and if Glen Davis is healthy, it’s not impractical for Orlando to feature a starting cast similar to last year.
On the other hand, if Oladipo looks fruitful in the preseason and if Big Baby is still bothered by his foot ailment, it’s not far-fetched for the Magic to look radically different on opening night.
#2 Development of Young Talent
Cohen’s Analysis: Ever since last summer’s blockbuster Dwight Howard trade it’s been apparent that the Magic are working towards success with patience. Rather than acquire established players, Orlando has instead stockpiled on a plethora of promising young talent.
Even more so than last season when the Magic were in the infantile stages of a renovation, this year there will be even greater attention on the development of all the youngsters including Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Victor Oladipo.
Drastic improvement doesn’t occur overnight, however. Throughout this season, there will be plenty of ups and downs. But this season will be a tremendous opportunity for all these players to build chemistry and gain more experience before Orlando becomes a legit contender in the years ahead.
#3 Trade Deadline Activity?
Cohen’s Analysis: It’s impractical to forecast the landscape of the league six months or so before the trade deadline. Usually, though, every team is in discussions by early February as some strive to add talent for a playoff push while others attempt to clear cap space and/or focus on upcoming draft options.
Last season we saw how the Magic were able to swing a deal and land Tobias Harris, who flourished in the two months in Orlando following the trade. At the moment, it’s cloudy and indeterminate if the Magic will decide to again shake up the roster midseason, but considering how far more significant next year’s draft and free agency class will be, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if a big move were eventually made.
#4 Playoff Push or Draft Hype?
Cohen’s Analysis: Not many expect the Magic to challenge for a playoff spot this season. However, it’s not impossible either.
While it may be most advantageous for Orlando to rack up another high draft pick next June, it wouldn’t be too shabby either if the Magic’s current crop of talent exceeded expectations.
If Vucevic meshes his rebounding and pick-and-pop capacities with stellar defense and if Oladipo doesn’t take long transforming into a dependable pro, for instance, we could see the Magic become a playoff threat in a generally scrawny Eastern Conference.
If the rebuild continues as assumed, however, much of the late season discussions will be about the impending draft class of 2014, which is widely considered to be the best in years.
#5 The Lottery & Draft
Cohen’s Analysis: Like it was in 2003 when ping pong balls determined the landing spots for eventual superstars like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, many believe this year will have a similar tone of significance.
Scouts around the league are adamant that there will be at least four or five perennial NBA All-Stars from this particular draft class. As a result, we are noticing several teams such as Philadelphia, Utah and Milwaukee this offseason better position themselves for a more rewarding draft pick next June.
As one NBA executive described it, “the 2014 draft will likely determine who the elite teams will be in the late years of this decade.”
#6 Free Agency
Cohen’s Analysis: In addition to the stockpiling of young talent and potentially rewarding future draft picks, one of the incentives of last summer’s Howard trade was not taking back any cap-shattering contracts.
By next summer, the Magic will have a plethora of salary cap space to target any of the elite free agents that may be available. And while it’s certainly possible for Orlando to not rush the process and instead continue to save cash for a later time, the option to load up on established and accomplished talent will be there.
The Magic have always thrived when they have had sufficient cap space. In 2000, for instance, Orlando acquired Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill with the money it had saved and in 2007 it landed Rashard Lewis, who eventually helped the Magic reach the NBA Finals.
#7 Individual Accolades?
Cohen’s Analysis: Some are favoring Victor Oladipo to be the league’s top rookie this season. Some are also already listing Maurice Harkless as a popular choice for the Most Improved Award. And depending who starts and who comes off the bench, it’s possible for Orlando to have a Sixth Man of the Year candidate as well.
Also, after finishing second in the league last year in rebounds per game (11.9), will Nikola Vucevic make a push to be the leader in that category this season?
#8 The Future of the Competition
Cohen’s Analysis: With superstars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony likely to be free agents next summer, with aging veterans such as Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the verge of retirement and with a ton of mystery surrounding the health of guys like Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo, there is a very good chance the landscape of the league will be far different by the time next summer is complete.
This is striking for the Magic because if Miami is no longer a powerhouse, if Chicago begins a rewind, if Brooklyn has a very limited window, if New York suddenly is starless, it opens up even more promise for Orlando to become one of the elite teams in the East sooner rather than later.