The beginning of the next NBA season is only a few months away and with it comes inevitable change and the possibility for some teams to hopefully either make the playoffs or dethrone the current upper echelon of the defending champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers and winner up Golden State Warriors. So, to help fill the void post-Olympics many media outlets have begun to give their opinions on both how the off-season has went and how these new look teams might fair in the upcoming season. As one of the Orlando Magic writers at The Hardwood Nation I would like to share my views on the Magic’s moves thus far and without being a “homer” of course, attempt to defend some of these changes against naysayers who think it’s business as usual in central Florida.
I think the most important change that has occurred for the Magic after last year’s season was the appointment of Frank Vogel as head coach following Scott Skiles’ resignation. I, like many others thought that Skiles was the right man for the job, apparently for possibly a number of different reasons this turned out not to be true. Setting out to find yet another head coach, Rob Hennigan and the Magic front office were hoping the third time might be the charm. The separation of the Indiana Pacers and then coach Frank Vogel cleared the way for what the Magic saw as their best option to both lead their group of young players and still instill defense as the priority going forward. Vogel has had great success in Indiana while starting out with a relatively similar situation to what he finds himself in now.
Surrounded by young players with both length and athleticism I’m sure many are wondering if he can find yet another diamond in the rough like he did with Paul George and those defensive minded teams he had with the Pacers that at a time pushed the then champion Miami Heat to the brink of elimination. With recent draft picks Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon, ceilings are unknown but the sky is the limit so it will be interesting to see if Vogel will be able to mold and harness these talents into viable productive players.
“While we were conducting our search, it became very evident that Frank (Vogel) is a terrific fit for our organization,” said Hennigan. “He is a strong, hard-working and experienced leader, who will continue to instill smart, physical, unselfish and defensive-minded basketball in our group. We welcome him into the Magic family, as we move forward in a positive direction.”
In conjunction with being on the same page with management and teaching the young core, Vogel brings an attention to defense with his coaching presence. Something the Magic front office has long seen as the most important identity they can try to have on the court. In turn, on top of the new hiring they have brought in new players who can have positive influences on the defensive side of the ball. The Magic acquired Serge Ibaka through a draft night trade that would send Victor Oladipo, their first round draft pick and a future pick for the power forward from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Many speculated that the Magic perhaps gave up too much for the big man who was once known for just his blocking capabilities but now is capable of also stretching the floor with his three-point shot and ability to help all around and not just on the defensive side.
Yes, with it came with the loss of a fan favorite player who excited the crowds here in Orlando. Victor Oladipo was a lot of things, somethings he wasn’t were a consistent jump shooter and the perfect shooting guard to pair up with the starting point guard Elfrid Payton. With similar playing styles it seemed at some point the front office would have to make a choice between Payton, the point guard from Louisiana that Orlando traded for on draft night two years ago, and Oladipo who contributed to the log jam at the shooting guard position. At many points the previous season Evan Fournier proved to be the better consistent shooter and system player for the team over Oladipo and even took over his spot in the starting lineup for much of the season. So, on top of filling a huge void on the defensive end with Ibaka, the Magic might have also made a positive move in addition by subtraction by getting rid Oladipo and making more defined roles for both Fournier and Payton.
On top of these other major offseason additions, the Magic also signed Bismack Biyombo, the free agent who spent last season with the Toronto Raptors. He brings a defensive tenacity that only strengthens the other moves made and makes Orlando a much tougher team in the paint. Another question that seemed to be needed to be answered was the lack of veteran leadership on the team. With the signings of Jeff Green, D.J. Augustin and Jodie Meeks it seems they have found that veteran presence, the voice that was severely lacking.
While others might see this offseason as a step back or even merely as a stand still, I saw it as a great improvement. Now I know we aren’t going to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals and challenge King James or anything outlandish like that but I don’t think it’s crazy to think the Magic could see a 10-15 game win increase next season and be in the playoff hunt. Overall I give the Orlando Magic a B+ grade on their offseason and hope the best for them going forward.