Orlando Magic roundtable: NBA bloggers evaluate the team

One of my favorite features on ESPN.com is the website’s “5-on-5” roundtables, in which people who follow the NBA closely sound off on various issues.

So why not adapt that to the Orlando Magic with training camp set to begin Tuesday?

With a tip of the hat to the folks in Bristol, I’ve asked four people who have followed the team year-in, year-out to give their opinions on the Magic’s offseason, the Magic’s month ahead and the upcoming regular season.

Our panelists are:

• Andrew Melnick, the NBA editor at SB Nation Tampa Bay,

• Eddy Rivera, the editor-in-chief of Magic Basketball,

• Philip Rossman-Reich, the editor of Orlando Magic Daily and

• Brian Serra, the founder of Magic Basketball Online.

So, here they go:

1. How do you grade the Magic’s offseason?

Melnick: It is difficult to give the Magic any kind of high mark in an offseason when they lost the third-best player in the league and one of the five best coaches. Plus, they lost their second-best player, Ryan Anderson. I don’t hate the haul they got in return — you have to bottom out before you can return to the top in the NBA. However, it would have been nice if the Magic could have rid themselves of one of their other bad contracts as well. I’m not a fan of bringing back Jameer Nelson for that kind of money. Aside from the questionable Nelson deal, I do like what I’m seeing from new general manager Rob Hennigan. I think they’ve upgraded there, but that isn’t enough to overcome their gigantic losses. They have to get an F.

Rivera: Incomplete. I realize we live in a time where rapid reactions and instant analyses reign supreme in the sports world. But I don't think it's fair to judge the Magic's offseason right now, especially at the beginning of a rebuilding phase. Only after a few years can we look back at this offseason and give a fair critique.

Rossman-Reich: Incomplete. It would be too easy to give the Magic a failing grade for this offseason. They were going to lose the Dwight Howard trade no matter what; that is what happens when you deal away a top-five player. The summer and that deal are about the assets that were collected and what they turn into in the next deal. Until that next deal, it is hard to judge this offseason. If we look at this season in isolation, and not as part of some overarching plan, the Magic certainly are in a D to F range. If we look at the assets and future cap flexibility of this current team, it might raise the grade to a C or C-.

Serra: Not applicable. There is no way to accurately measure the offseason of a team that was forced to trade away a top-five player in the world. Three years from now, if the team is still in “Bobcats Territory,” then it gets an F. If measurable progress is made, then it becomes closer to a B. Trying to immediately prescribe a grade is purely emotional and speculative. With that being said, it will never, ever, ever be an A.

2. What’s the most pressing issue the Magic have to address during the preseason?

Melnick: I don’t think the Magic have addressed one of their biggest needs from last season: backup point guard. They brought Nelson back to be the starter and re-signed Ish Smith, but that clearly won’t cut it. The Magic are bringing several other guards into training camp, but none of them are true ball-handlers.

Rivera: For a rebuilding team, I don't think there's issues to address in the short-term. I think there's goals to be set for the long-term. A few come to mind: (a) lose as much as possible (i.e. tanking) to accumulate high draft picks, (b) trade any expendable players for assets and (c) concentrate on player (and coach) development. 

Rossman-Reich: The Magic will need to really buy into the team concept on both ends of the floor this preseason. Without Howard or a consistent offensive option, Orlando has lost the safety net to clean up mistakes on both ends of the floor. Defensively, the team will have to work together to cover each other and work harder individually. Offensively, the team needs to find a way to generate points consistently and work together to do so without that go-to scorer. This is the best bet for this team to find an identity. Otherwise it might just drift into the cellar.

Serra: Stability. This is a core group of players who spent their last two years in a pure state of chaos. Clearly established roles and a clear path forward for roster spots 1-15 will be pivotal to getting off to a competitive start. Winning breeds contentment, losing breeds contempt.

3. The Magic’s preseason will be a success if . . .

Melnick: . . . nobody gets hurt. Really, that’s the key to every preseason. Of course, things are a little different this season because of all of the young players the Magic have on the roster. The preseason will be about helping the young players adjust to being a professional and playing more often, especially for the rookies (Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn).

Rivera: . . . everyone stays healthy.

Rossman-Reich: . . . there are no further injuries. It is no secret that the Magic will be shopping just about any player. So the injury setbacks to a veteran like Al Harrington and a rookie like Moe Harkless temporarily take guys off the market. Harrington is an interesting trade asset because he could contribute to a winning team in a deadline deal. Without knowing what Harkless can provide, it also might be more difficult to shop Hedo Turkoglu on a pure "on-floor product" perspective. The Magic need to be evaluating what they have. Any additional injuries would hurt that process.

Serra: . . . the team remains healthy. Which may prove to be quite difficult, since three role players are already injured. With Smith, Harkless and Harrington already sidelined for most or all of camp, will the rest of the injury-prone team be able to survive two-a-days?  I’d expect to see coach Jacque Vaughn use the injuries to experiment with potential rotations and explore the way different players mesh together.

4. What is Vaughn’s toughest task in the month ahead?

Melnick: Vaughn’s toughest task is going to be simply making his team competitive night-in and night-out. The Magic built their entire team around Howard and will be a completely different team system-wise this season. There is no true go-to guy, and although there are a few veterans (Arron Afflalo, Harrington, Nelson, J.J. Redick and Turkoglu), the team is very inexperienced.

Rivera: The best coaches in the NBA, like Gregg Popovich, establish an identity and culture that is then filtered down to the players. Sometimes they'll also adapt their coaching philosophies to the personnel on the roster. For Vaughn (a Popovich disciple), starting in training camp, his task will be to begin putting his stamp on the team.

Rossman-Reich: Vaughn will have to get his team to buy in and establish a "play hard" mentality despite the adversity and losses on the floor. In many of my answers in this Q & A, I have talked more about the franchise a few years down the road rather than the franchise this year. I imagine that kind of talk has to be frustrating for a professional athlete with only a finite amount of time in the league. Vaughn's biggest task will be establishing habits and keeping his team focused on playing hard this season no matter the potential result of any individual game.

Serra: Turkoglu. What to do, what to do? An aging 33-year-old small forward who continues to slow down and who belongs on a contender, not a rebuild. However, the team is desperate for ball-handling and as Stan Van Gundy loved to point out, 6-10 guys with ball skills are hard to come by. In order to be competitive for a playoff spot they need him to provide valuable minutes, which typically require heavy doses of “ball.” In reality, though, Hedo frustrates. Vaughn will have to manage this tradeoff carefully to ensure his vision becomes authoritative.

5. How many wins do you expect for the Magic during the 2012-13 regular season?

Melnick: I expect about 20 wins for the Magic. I think the Magic do have veterans who will help keep the team in games, but overall, the talent just isn’t there. And that’s OK. As I mentioned above, NBA teams have to bottom out when they lose a superstar to free agency or a trade. Bottoming out helped Cleveland land Kyrie Irving, who appears to be developing into a big-time point guard. Heck, bottoming out at the end of Tracy McGrady’s tenure (although he was still on the team and not playing due to injury) helped the Magic land Howard in the first place. 

Rivera: Twenty wins or so. Orlando will struggle to score, struggle to play defense, and struggle to win games. And the organization will be better for it in the long-term, assuming they land a franchise player along the way.

Rossman-Reich: I believe the Magic will win 27 games this year. I have to agree with Redick that this team is not as bad as it looks. There are several veterans who will know how to contribute in enlarged roles and should keep the team focused. This should be a fun team to watch and it should play hard every night. Having said that, the defense is a huge question mark and should be inconsistent all year (think early 2000s bad). Without a consistent offensive option, this team may sputter at times and may struggle to put the ball in the hoop.

Serra: Thirty-eight. When Dwight (remember him?) went out at the end of last season the team went 5-10, including losing the final four playoff games to Indiana. Nine of those 10 losses were to playoff teams with an undersized Big Baby at center and a vanished Ryan Anderson. Slide Baby in for Anderson at power forward (push), Afflalo in for Jason Richardson (upgrade) and Gustavo Ayón in for Davis at center (push) and you have a team that can at least compete for the final playoff spot. Fans may fear mediocrity, but maintaining the culture of striving for excellence can never be sacrificed.

Josh Robbins covers the Orlando Magic and the NBA for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him via e-mail at jbrobbins@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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