30 Teams in 30 Days: Assessing talent, forging new path top goals for Orlando Magic
Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today’s team: Orlando Magic
2016-17 Record: 29-53
Who’s new: Jonathan Isaac (Draft), Jonathon Simmons (free agency), Arron Afflalo (free agency), Shelvin Mack (free agency), Marreese Speights (free agency)
Who’s gone: Jeff Green (signed with Cavs), Jodie Meeks (signed with Wizards), C.J. Watson (waived)
The lowdown: Nothing much has gone right for the Magic after Dwight Howard ran afoul of then-coach Stan Van Gundy and essentially lit a torch to the team. The Magic have had four coaches and haven’t made the playoffs since.
As for Howard, he was a top-five center and maybe a top-10 player at the time he left the franchise in a huff. What’s worse, the Magic haven’t replaced him in any way, shape or fashion. They’ve had no All-Stars since, or any player to build around as a foundation.
Their first-round picks, post-Dwight, pre-2017: Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja have mainly amounted to nothing special, despite the fact all were lottery picks. Orlando finally ran out of patience with Oladipo, sending him to OKC last year for Serge Ibaka (who was then dumped one year later to Toronto), and Oladipo was the best of the bunch.
Also, last summer Orlando gave $17 million a season to Bismack Biyombo, a project big man who, after signing his big contract, remained a project big man. It was one of the worst free agent decisions in the NBA in 2016, and more than one NBA person has remarked that Orlando could have the thinnest rosters, talent-wise, in the NBA entering this season.
No surprise then that Orlando conducted a front office housecleaning this summer, firing GM Rob Hennigan and bringing in Jeff Weltman, the right-hand man in Toronto to Masai Ujiri, and former Bucks GM John Hammond to right the ship.
Expect plenty of movement between now and next summer as Weltman and Hammond revamp the roster and take stock of what little assets they have. As constituted, the Magic lack the talent to push for a playoff spot. Perhaps the franchise would be better off going back into the lottery anyway, because this appears to be a three-year project.
With the sixth pick in the 2017 Draft, Orlando chose the young (19) and athletic (6-foot-10) forward Jonathan Isaac, who has good upside. Isaac brings the raw skills and bounce to play multiple positions on the front line. He looked solid in Summer League, showing a nice feel for the game and touch on the jumper. There’s belief that Isaac is still growing and could approach seven feet.
Maybe the most surprising move was signing Jonathon Simmons to a free agent deal, surprising in that the Magic managed to pry him from the Spurs. He came at a very reasonable price (three years, $18 million) and will make roughly the same over the lifetime of that deal as Biyombo will make in one season. Of course, the Magic aren’t quite sure what they’re getting with Simmons. He was a human pogo-stick for much of his time with the Spurs, showing athletic gifts and grit, but little in terms of basketball fundamentals. But he improved steadily in his contract year and looked impressive in the playoffs, especially against the Warriors when Kawhi Leonard was lost with an injury.
Orlando also brought back Arron Afflalo and signed Shelvin Mack to short-term deals, both of whom are solid veteran backups who still have a spring in their step.
Weltman and Hammond chose to keep the rest of the roster intact for now, but Orlando could be a major player as the season progresses, especially at the trade deadline. Nikola Vucevic has long been rumored to be on the block, and the center could have value to certain teams. It’s uncertain if the Magic could unload Biyombo’s deal, but they might and should try.
The bigger question lies with Gordon. He’s in line for a contract extension soon, and the new regime will weigh whether he’s worth it or maybe it’s time to move on. Gordon came to the Magic with big hopes from the Draft, but aside from finishing runner-up in an exciting slam-dunk competition to Zach LaVine in 2016, Gordon hasn’t shown much.
He’s inconsistent and nobody’s sure whether he’s a power forward or a small forward. His great games are often followed by disappearing stretches. But this is a money year, so the truth about Gordon is bound to emerge very soon.
The Magic’s goal is to keep the payroll flexible while making smarter Draft decisions (they passed on Devin Booker and Myles Turner, for example, in the 2015 Draft) and hoping to make a trade that works in their favor for the future. It’s not an easy job, but if it were, then Weltman and Hammond wouldn’t be here.
Coming Next: New York Knicks
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