I recently spent three weeks in the Orlando area. It’s an area where my parents recently relocated to, and it’s an area that I’m considering relocating to myself. Knowing this I made the decision not too long ago to start keeping regular tabs on the Orlando Magic. Well, I’ve been familiar with the NBA franchise in Central Florida for a long time. Back when Starter jackets and hats were popular in the mid 1990’s I had a Magic jacket and a Magic hat. Shaquille O’Neal was one of my favorite players and I remember rooting pretty hard for the Magic against the Houston Rockets in the 1995 NBA Finals. So, yes 13 year old me was a bit of Magic fan but once Shaq bounced for the bright lights of Los Angeles, I could care less about the Magic.
I still don’t really, but if I’m going to be a resident of the Magic Kingdom one day soon I might as well familiarize myself with the local team. Looking at the Orlando Magic as is, I have no real clue what to make of the Magic-less Kingdom that is the Orlando Magic franchise. Why I’m confused is that the word is about to come down that the head coach of the team Jacque Vaughn is due to be fired. The Magic are 15-34 this season, and Vaughn has a career record of 58 wins and 155 losses (as of January 30, 2015), so it’s not like he’s some potential coaching Hall of Famer but it’s hard for me to see the debacle in Orlando as his fault.
Orlando was left in this position when they misplayed the Dwight Howard situation. Howard, the franchise center that eventually filled the void left when Shaquille left town, wanted to leave town himself for what he deemed were bigger and more profitable pastures. His prefered destination was the Brooklyn Nets, as Dwight saw himself highly marketable in the New York City market. Howard and the Magic deserve equal blame for not making that move happen, but after numerous games of who will blink first, the Magic eventually dealt Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012.
As NBA fans know, Dwight’s year in L.A. was a disaster, and that’s how he got to Houston but I can’t help but feel if the Magic pulled the trigger on the Nets deal and picked up some of the draft picks that eventually got dealt to the Boston Celtics, when the Nets acquired Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, then the future in Orlando would be a bit brighter. The Magic, a team that should have been focused on a full rebuild, sought more of a “now” return and ended up making a short-sighted deal. The Magic received a lot of players in the Howard deal that also involved the Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia 76’ers, but the only one that has stuck and made any noticeable impact has been Montenegrin center Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic is a fine building block piece but there is little upside around him right now.
Vucevic is having a fine season, and some were pushing him for a spot in the NBA All Star Game. However, Vucevic will not be in New York City for All Star weekend. Well not unless there are some injuries or drop outs on the roster. Only time will tell there, but clearly Nikola is having a good season. Nikola does have some help though. It’s looking like 2nd year player Victor Oladipo is turning the corner and becoming a solid NBA player. The kid who came out of Indiana University as the second coming of Dwyane Wade, is finally becoming a night in and night out player for the Magic.
A lot of that has to do with the fact the organization finally realizes that Oladipo is not a point guard. The Magic tried too hard to turn the 6’4″ guard into a ball handler. He’s not that. He can slash to the basket, has good finishing skills at the rim, but he can’t run an offense. The Magic are hoping rookie Elfrid Payton can take on the role of running an offense. Payton has promise, as does fellow rookie Aaron Gordon but who knows what they can be. This team really needed one of those rookies to come in and make a big impact and neither has done that. In fairness to them, only a small handful of their peers in the 2014 NBA Draft have made an impact but the Magic could get more out of Gordon and Payton.
The Magic do have one player that I really like. Problem is, that player might be the next to leave town for what he’ll perceive as bigger and greener pastures. That player? Small forward Tobias Harris. The Islip, New York native and former Mr. New York Basketball winner when he was in high school, can play both forward spots, and while he isn’t dynamic he does do a bit of everything. He has become more of a scorer out of necessity with this Magic team but he rebounds and assists just as well. He’d be a good player to build around, but it’s hard to build around a guy that already has his gaze elsewhere. You see, Tobias wants to come back home.
The New York Knicks have a lot of cap space, and they do have a space on the roster for a man of his skills. Now, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson might have his eyes on bigger names, like making a run at Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016, but a guy like Harris seems like a perfect fit on and off the court. Harris knows this, so it won’t shock me at all if/when he bolts Orlando but when/if he does it’ll just be another blow to the Magic Less Kingdom.
My biggest issue with Orlando isn’t the fact head coach Jacque Vaughn is about to be fired because he couldn’t win with a team that wasn’t designed to win, but my issue is with the architect of the team that wasn’t designed to win. The NBA is a 30 team league. 16 of those teams make the NBA playoffs (8 from the Eastern Conference and 8 from the Western Conference). So, it’s not like every team is going to make the postseason, but I think the fan base would like to see a plan that’ll eventually get the Orlando Magic back there. The NBA draft is a crapshoot and it’s one that the Magic haven’t done that well in, in recent seasons.
Free agency, however? That’s one you should nail. Not all players work out but you should sign free agents with a plan in mind. Orlando’s General Manager Rob Hennigan failed pretty bad in that area this past offseason. We here at 7Poundbag aren’t experts. We’re just men and women who like sports and have no issues sharing our opinions and before the current NBA season, one of our contributors (DJ) blogged his 5 worst free agent signings. Number one and two on his list: Channing Frye and Ben Gordon were both signed by the Orlando Magic. So far, the man has been absolutely correct in his prognosticating.
We also did an NBA Season Preview on this site, and as part of an NBA Roundtable I was asked the question who was the least valuable player in the Southeast Division. My answer? Channing Frye. I think deep down DJ and I both like Channing Frye but both of us saw the 6’10” power forward as a big mistake signing for the Magic. Frye has been injury prone through out his career, and he doesn’t hold much value outside of his three point shooting. He’s also someone who can be hard to motivate on a bad team. To sign that guy, with that kind of makeup to a 4 year $32 million deal screams YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING!! A guy like Frye would have been better served signing to a team that can be a contender, given reduced minutes, and the basic premise of being a gunner on the corner. Imagine Frye signing a 3 year $15 million deal for a Memphis or a Golden State? He’d be far more valuable there.
Also, we both had issues with the Ben Gordon signing. The 6’1″ guard had a good start to his NBA career with the Chicago Bulls several seasons ago. Then another dumb general manager, Joe Dumars of the Detroit Pistons, signed him to a 5 year $55 million deal. Gordon took that money and went into a sharp decline. It got so bad that towards the end of that deal the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) who he was traded to paid him to stay home. Knowing Gordon is toxic and overrated, Hennigan decides to give THAT guy a 2 year $9 million deal.
Both Frye and Gordon have contributed nothing. The Magic have a young team. You know what they need? Veteran players that could mold them into winners. They didn’t need two shaky character guys who are both one trick ponies. As a General Manager, Hennigan should have known the makeup of his team. You know what I would have done if I were Henningan?
I’d have targeted Paul Pierce. Now Pierce would have likely spurned Orlando because they haven’t had much success in recent years, and he does have a good thing going with the Washington Wizards, but a guy like Pierce is what the Magic need. They need a guy that can teach work ethic, how to win, how to get better. Instead it looks like the Magic are going to rely on a head coach to impart that knowledge, but they really need a guy on the roster, in the locker room to get some of those young guys off their asses and working.
There isn’t much Magic in the City Beautiful. Looking at the roster, the Magic are probably neck and neck with the Philadelphia 76’ers for the bleakest NBA future, and that’s a shame really. Philadelphia is trying to lose, and hit pay dirt through the draft and they might eventually, but I have no clue what is going on in Orlando. What I do know is that they need to fire the General Manager. He hasn’t done a good job. They need to hold on to a player like Harris and they need to pray that Oladipo, Payton, and Gordon come good. If they don’t then the Magic will be out of the Magic Kingdom for a long long long time.
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