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2013-14 Orlando Magic Preview
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NBA Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Orlando Magic didn't just miss the playoffs for the first time in seven years last season, they fell further off the map than the island from "Lost."
Not that it wasn't entirely unexpected. The Magic's run of postseason appearances immediately became in jeopardy when Dwight Howard was finally traded in a four-team deal in August of 2012, and while last season showed Orlando certainly got a nice package of players in return, it is going to take time to return to contending status.
Minus Howard, and eventually traded veteran guard J.J. Redick, the Magic slipped to 20-62 for their lowest winning percentage (.244) since going 18-64 (.220) in their inaugural season as an NBA franchise in 1989-90.
Of course, in a string of continued bad luck the Magic did not select first in the draft after getting leapfrogged by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but also caught a break when the Cavs made the selection of forward Anthony Bennett first overall. That allowed the Magic to still get high-energy guard Victor Oladipo from Indiana at No. 2.
Orlando figures to have nowhere to go but up and will spend the 2013-14 season getting the pieces in place for the future.
"Our goal right now is to get better everyday, to bond as a team, to develop and create an identity for ourselves so we can move forward and hopefully make the playoffs," said veteran guard Jameer Nelson.
Nelson is entering his 10th NBA season, all with the Magic. The rest of the likely starting five -- Arron Afflalo, Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic -- have a combined 11 years of experience, six of that from Afflalo.
Yes, Nelson and head coach Jacque Vaughn will spend a lot of time sipping lemonade on the porch talking about the old days. They are the AOL to the rest of the roster's Google Chrome, VHS to Blu-ray, Julia Roberts to Jennifer Lawrence.
But if it is one thing working in the Magic's favor it is the balance of the roster. While Vaughn should duplicate his game plan from the end of last season by playing his youngsters early and often, he does have a core of vets in Nelson and Glen Davis, as well as offseason additions Jason Maxiell and Ronnie Price, to police his youngsters.
"It's great because a lot of the coaching goes on in the locker room as well," said Vaughn. "There's only a certain amount of time I spend with the guys on the floor and in film session. There's a lot of time they're away from me, so having veterans have a voice that is preaching the same message is important."
Vaughn will also have the benefit of a versatile roster as he tries to put together a solid foundation for the future. He noted that the only "position" he sees on the floor is center. It is likely the coach will be mixing and matching at the other four spots throughout the season.
Thirteen-year vet Hedo Turkoglu was still on the roster as of press time, but general manager Rob Hennigan said during Media Day that the club is still working on buying the veteran out.
When that move goes down, it will likely be the first of a few that Orlando pulls off this season with an eye towards returning to contention.
2012-13 Results: 20-62, 5th in Southeast Division; Missed playoffs
ADDITIONS: F Jason Maxiell, G Ronnie Price, G Victor Oladipo, F Romero Osby
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Jameer Nelson SG- Arron Afflalo SF- Maurice Harkless PF- Tobias Harris C- Nikola Vucevic
KEY RESERVES: F Glen Davis, G Victor Oladipo, F Andrew Nicholson, C/F Jason Maxiell, G E'Twaun Moore, G Ronnie Price
FRONTCOURT: Orlando picked up two of its expected starters up front in last season's Howard deal, getting both Vucevic and Harkless.
Vucevic is the most exciting of the group and he immediately stepped in as a bona fide glass cleaner. In his second season after being selected 16th overall in 2011 by the Sixers, the 6-foot-10 center was second in the NBA in rebounding -- behind only Howard -- with 11.9 per game to go along with 13.1 points per night.
Vucevic notched 46 double-doubles and broke Shaquille O'Neal's previous single-game franchise rebounding record when he pulled down 29 on Dec. 31. Shaq had set the original mark of 28 during the 1993-94 season.
Needless to say it was an impressive season for Vucevic, who finished fourth in the league in Most Improved Player balloting, and the next step for the big man is to become more of an offensive force down low.
"I think the way I finished out last year is a great way for me to keep playing, just being aggressive, being confident, just do what I do best and believe in myself," noted Vucevic, who said he worked on his low-post moves and just attacking more during the offseason.
Harkless was another Magic player who showed improvement down the stretch given more time on the floor. His points per game went up to 11.5 in February and 13.1 in March and April.
The 20-year-old Harkless finished strong after being slowed early in training camp due to a sports hernia and said he put on 10 pounds of muscle ahead of this season. That should make him more explosive and aid in defending the opposing team's top scoring threat.
Glen Davis began last season as the starting power forward, but missed half the campaign due to an injured left shoulder and later a fractured left foot.
Davis' late-season foot injury opened up minutes for Harris, who the Magic acquired from Milwaukee on Feb. 21 in the deal that included Redick. The 21- year-old saw his minutes per game increase from 11.6 to 36.1 following the trade and he averaged 17.3 points per game in 27 contests with the Magic.
Like Harkless, Harris added size to allow him to compete at both forward positions.
"I'm a team guy, so whatever is going to be the best situation for us as a team, that's the position I'll be playing," said Harris. "If they want to put me at point guard, I'll play point guard. Whatever's the best for our team."
BACKCOURT: With the loss of Howard, Nelson picked up more of the scoring slack and averaged the second-highest point total of his career in a season at 14.7 ppg. But he also got his teammates involved with a personal-best 7.4 assists per game, tying for seventh in the league.
Nelson is without a doubt the leader of this team, but at the age of 31 he is also a prime candidate to be dealt at some point this season. Trade rumors really heated up when the Magic spent the second overall pick in the draft on guard Oladipo and had him play some point guard during the summer league.
"That's my goal, to be here as long as I can. Like I said in past years, I love it here and I definitely would like to stay. I understand things happen and it's a business. Right now, I'm here and my job is to help lead and to help get these guys where we need them to be as a team and as an organization," said Nelson, who has two years left on his contract.
Afflalo could also be on the move by season's end, though he is just 27 and continues to improve each season.
Another player the Magic got last year in the four-team deal for Howard, Afflalo set career highs across the board in points (16.5), rebounds (3.7), assists (3.2) and minutes (36.0) per game, but his shooting percentage did fall off.
Afflalo is another player Vaughn can count on to lead in the locker room, but the former UCLA product must improve as a general on the floor and in the clutch.
BENCH: Though he could be a starter by season's end, Oladipo will bring a ton of energy off the bench early. The 21-year-old has garnered praise for his work ethic and should see time at both guard spots.
An excellent defender, the Indiana product will need to learn to pace himself at the next level, but will also be counted on to set the tone.
Said Vaughn of his first-round pick, "I think our past has shown we put guys on the floor. That's the greatest way for them to learn this game at this level. He'll have his chance to be on the floor but he'll earn those minutes at the same time."
The Magic should be deep up front if Davis can stay healthy. He averaged 15.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game when healthy, but could also find himself with a different team by season's end.
Maxiell will offer insurance and the 260-pounder can fill in for Davis both on the floor and in the locker room. Vaughn also said of Maxiell that he can aid the club with what the head coach labeled "rim protection."
Price, a perennial reserve, will help Nelson guide the young guards and will also assist backup guard E'Twaun Moore, who got off to a strong start in 2012-13 before struggling for most of the season while shifting back and forth from starter to reserve.
Second-year 23-year-old forward Andrew Nicholson didn't offer a whole lot as a rookie last year, but worked on his long-range shooting to add another dimension to his game.
COACHING: Last season's struggles had to be a dip in cold water for Vaughn, who became the Magic's 10th head coach last season after spending the previous two campaigns as an assistant with the talented San Antonio Spurs.
Vaughn was forced to use 27 different starting lineups last season -- second most in the NBA -- and will likely try a host of different combinations this season.
A player-friendly coach, Vaughn said he wants to focus on each player as an individual to get the most out of each player and he'll have to be patient with the young guys.
"For me, I'll stay the course. The leadership starts with how I approach practice, how my demeanor is, my work and my ability to stay hungry as an individual. Hopefully I lead that way," Vaughn said.
OUTLOOK: The goal for the Magic is to return to a point where they are consistent contenders. Following the loss of a franchise player like Howard, general manager Rob Hennigan knows that has to be done by building from the ground up.
"The goal is sustainability and that's what we're building towards," said Hennigan. "We feel really confident in the vision that we have. We feel real confident in the steps we have to take to get there and now it's just a matter of staying true to those steps."
Orlando will see a lot of roster juggling this season and in no way is Hennigan done making moves. That is just another challenge for Vaughn and his players as they try to grow as a unit, though energy and hunger should not be a problem thanks to youth.
Staying out of the basement yet again is another story.
10/15 13:07:01 ET
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