30 Teams in 30 Days: Magic add more veterans to mix

Orlando bolsters its frontcourt in hopes of a return to the playoffs

Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, 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 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record — during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule

Today’s team: Orlando Magic

2015-16 record: 35-47

Who’s gone: C Dewayne Dedmon, F Ersan Ilyasova, G Brandon Jennings, F Devyn Marble, G Shabazz Napier, F Andrew Nicholson, G Victor Oladipo, F/CJason Smith

Who’s new: Frank Vogel (coach); C Stephen Zimmerman (via Draft); G D.J. Augustin, F/C Bismack Biyombo, F Jeff Green (via free agency); PF Serge Ibaka, G Jodie Meeks, G C.J. Wilcox (via trade)

The lowdown: The Magic haven’t been winners or found an identity sinceDwight Howard left.

It’s one thing to make a pledge to build with youth, quite another to do it. The Magic went this route after Howard leveraged his way out of town and forced a shakeup, but then decided to cease with the youth-only plan for the time being. This summer they welcomed six veterans, made two huge financial commitments and jettisoned a former first-round pick who originally seemed like a keeper.

It was a busy offseason for GM Rob Hennigan as he transformed the makeup of the team to more of a balance of veterans and youth. Plus, they left themselves an escape should it backfire. Only two players, Biyombo and Evan Fournier, are locked into long-term deals. Everyone else has one-year deals, cheap contracts or are on their rookie deals. Orlando is clearly looking to score in free agency next summer.

But the moves were also head-scratchers. Orlando essentially dumped Tobias Harris last season in a salary shred, only to pay Green roughly the same money (albeit only for one season), and Harris is far better and younger with more upside. Green, Ibaka, Biyombo, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic make for a crowded group at the power positions on the front line. Wasn’t the goal to give Gordon plenty of minutes this season so he can prove himself?

This will be a challenge for Vogel, who was brought in after Scott Skiles threw up his arms and bolted. Vogel was a solid hire and many in the NBA were stunned when he wasn’t brought back by the Indiana Pacers after leading them to the 2016 playoffs despite injuries. So the Magic got a bit lucky there. Vogel gives Orlando the type of proven ability on the bench not seen since Stan Van Gundy steered them to multiple playoff berths and a trip to the 2009 NBA Finals.

He won’t have Oladipo, who was swapped for Ibaka, a dependable veteran on the final year of his contract. Ibaka also cost Orlando a first-round pick in addition to Oladipo. He was once a fierce defender and rebounder, but for some reason his role evolved in OKC and he became more of a 3-point shooter. His rebounding and swat averages have dropped steadily. Maybe he’ll get back to his roots, especially now that he’s playing for money; Orlando could use the help defensively.

Speaking of that, they dug deep to pay for Biyombo, who until six months ago was little more than a curiosity in the NBA. But then he found a spot in Toronto’s rotation and simply soared unexpectedly in the playoffs, especially against the Cavs in the East finals, where shagged rebounds (26 in one game) and blocked or altered shots like a madman. Was that simply a mirage or is he, at 24, the real deal? Orlando is gambling four years and $70 million on the latter. It’s hard to find athletic centers who can impact the game defensively, especially in their prime. Biyombo is a liability offensively, with poor hands and zero confidence, but if he can average double-digits in rebounds and become one of the league’s shot-blocking leaders, the money will have been well spent.

They extended Fournier (five years, $85 million), who’s in his prime and is their best long-range shooter. You wonder, though, if second-year guard Mario Hezonja will improve enough to cut into those minutes. Either way, the shooting guard spot seems set and Orlando added depth with Meeks.

What they didn’t do was address the need at point guard. Elfrid Payton shows flashes but needs more time to develop his ball handling and shooting. Augustin is more of a backup at this stage of his career. The position likely will be a priority next summer, or maybe at the trade deadline if one becomes available.

On the surface, the Magic aren’t drastically better; it will be a chore to make the playoffs and do something if they get there. But they are different. More veterans should make them smarter and sharper defensively.

Yet the reconstruction A.D. — After Dwight — continues for a franchise that hasn’t been the same since he left.

Coming Next: Utah Jazz

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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him onTwitter.

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