Cohen: Assessing Orlando's Playoff Chances

By Josh Cohen
September 6, 2012

ORLANDO -- Immediately after the Dwight Howard trade, cynics awakened and pledged that the Orlando Magic would not be a playoff team this upcoming season.

Sure, it may be rational to insinuate that without a defined superstar, it will be difficult to contend for one of the final few postseason spots in the East.

However, if you really examine the Magic and the rest of the conference, it may not be fanciful to believe Orlando could surprise some people and qualify for the playoffs this year.

First off, Orlando is loaded with quality role players. It doesn’t feature a star, but sometimes depth is enough to sneak into the playoffs. Just ask the Denver Nuggets, who have advanced to the playoffs in two straight seasons after trading Carmelo Anthony.

Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick are veterans with plenty to prove. A season after immense controversy and distraction, the Magic’s returnees want to ascertain their value with Howard no longer in the picture.

Arron Afflalo is about to blossom. For the last couple of years in Denver, Afflalo had spurts of excellence and now with the opportunity to be much more of a difference maker, there are high expectations for him to flourish.

Assuming he is healthy, Al Harrington has always been extremely valuable because of his versatility. As a result of his length and shooting aptitude, Al can stretch the floor and play either forward position.

And then there are the rookies, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn. It remains to be seen how rapidly they each develop, but scouts are salivating over each of their potential.

But let’s forget the roster for a second and focus on the competition.

Here is what we can all guarantee:

1) The Heat, Celtics, Bulls and Pacers are already training for the postseason. They each have championship aspirations – though Derrick Rose’s injury may deny Chicago from being legitimate contenders and Indiana’s deficiency of a justifiable star may crush its hopes.

2) After re-signing Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez and with the acquisition of Joe Johnson, the Nets are in position to reach the playoffs. One would expect their cross-town rivals, the Knicks, to also advance. However, as we witnessed for a large portion of last season, NY tends to disappear. Without Jeremy Lin and with an injury-prone Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks may not necessarily be a guarantee for a playoff spot.

3) Everyone is raving about the 76ers, who landed Andrew Bynum in the four-team blockbuster trade. However, if you really review Philly, it is not as strong as everyone claims it to be. Subtract Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Elton Brand, Nikola Vucevic and First Round draft pick Harkless and replace with Bynum, Nick Young and Jason Richardson and what do you really get? A borderline playoff team.

Let’s assume for a moment that the Heat, Celtics, Bulls, Pacers, Nets, Knicks and Sixers all reach the playoffs. That still leaves one postseason spot available.

Like the Magic, the Hawks are in a rebuilding stage after trading Johnson. They did add the always-effervescent Lou Williams in free agency, but at some point, one would expect Atlanta to trade Josh Smith, which would essentially eliminate their playoff chances.

Then there is the rest of the field: Bucks, Pistons, Raptors, Cavaliers, Wizards and Bobcats.

They all seem to gradually be improving, but in no way are any guaranteed to be in the playoffs this season.

Milwaukee is mighty in the backcourt with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, but lack any sort of inside presence. Detroit, on the other hand, seems to be in the opposite direction with a generally strong frontcourt highlighted by Greg Monroe but minus the scoring attack on the perimeter.

One would assume Toronto to be better after acquiring Kyle Lowry and confirming the arrival of Jonas Valanciunas. But it seems every year nagging injuries to Andrea Bargnani rebuff the Raps from reaching the playoffs.

The development of Cleveland’s supporting cast – mainly Tristan Thompson – will determine whether the Cavs can bounce back. But as of right now, it’s a one-man band in Cleveland with Kyrie Irving the lead singer.

The trade that delivered Nene to Washington at the deadline last season and further deals like obtaining Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza should help John Wall progress. But, it just seems every year that something goes array in the nation’s capital with the Wizards.

And as far as the Bobcats, it would be hard to believe that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or a steadily declining Ben Gordon will somehow restore confidence in Charlotte.

Listen, the Magic are not going to be picked by most to make the playoffs next season. But upon further review, this suggestion may not be nearly as implausible as some have proclaimed it to be.

While philosophy will determine whether it’s more beneficial to be a No. 8 playoff seed or a draft lottery team, remember, Orlando’s flexibility will permit it from recovering in a multitude of ways.

If the Magic fail to reach the playoffs, they can utilize a high draft pick next June. If they were to qualify for the postseason, salary cap space can only uplift them to the next level.

Only time will tell how this will turn out. Needless to say, it’s kind of fun being an underdog.

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