The Orlando Magic sort of pressed the reset button this offseason. After four straight seasons of not making the playoffs, General Manager Rob Hennigan made a major trade that affected the core of the team and also hired a proven coach. Besides the Cleveland Cavaliers, the hierarchy in the Eastern Conference is hard to predict. There are about 12 teams in the East that will be fighting for those other seven playoff seeds, including the Orlando Magic.
The Magic’s offseason started with a major head coaching change. Scott Skiles stepped down from the Magic head-coaching job, citing that he wasn’t the right person to coach this team. After Larry Bird and the Indiana Pacers shockingly decided to fire Frank Vogel, the Magic signed him to a four-year/$22 million contract. Vogel made the playoffs every season but one (Paul George missed 76 games in 2014-2015) with the Pacers, reaching the Conference Finals in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014. Vogel proved his amazing defensive coaching ability, as the Pacers were a top-10 defense last season with a lineup that included Monta Ellis, Lavoy Allen, and George Hill.
The dynamic of the Magic roster completely changed on the night of the 2016 NBA Draft. The Magic traded the rights to their #11 overall pick Domantas Sabonis, Victor Oladipo, and Ersan Ilyasova to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka. The move was truly a puzzling one, as the front office broke up the promising young backcourt of Oladipo, their second overall pick in 2013, and Elfrid Payton.
In return, the Magic received Ibaka, a great two-way player, as he can rebound, defend, and shoot as well as any power forward in the league. If Ibaka was under contract for longer, the move would have made a little more sense, but that is simply not the case. Ibaka will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and with the way players such as Allen Crabbe are getting paid, Ibaka will be looking for a big-time contract. The Magic decided to trade away a pivotal player of their young core, as well as a chance to add another player to that young core, for a player who may only spend one season in Orlando, even though he has said he wants to play in Orlando “forever.”
The Magic will likely enter the season with a starting lineup of Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka, and Nikola Vucevic. If it’s one thing the Magic should be able to do well, it’s rebound. Vucevic stands at 7’0” with 9.8 rebounds per game in his career, Ibaka is 6’10” with a 7.4 average, and the 6’9” Gordon averaged 6.4 rebounds in his first full NBA season. The Magic also signed 6’9” Bismack Biyombo and his 8.0 rebounds per game this offseason. With the acquisitions of both Biyombo and Jeff Green this offseason, it meant Aaron Gordon will have to adjust to playing the small forward position.
The Magic will have an interesting season. They will roll with a big, athletic, and two-way frontcourt with Ibaka, Biyombo, Vucevic, Gordon and Green all splitting time. The backcourt will consist of Evan Fournier coming off a career-high with 15.4 ppg last season and Elfrid Payton improving his scoring capabilities. The bench of Mario Hezonja, D.J. Augustin, Jodie Meeks, Green, and Biyombo should be serviceable.
The Magic are not at the level of the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors or have the talent level of the New York Knicks or the Chicago Bulls, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be in the thick of things in the East. They should be able to compete with teams like the Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, and Milwaukee Bucks.
Frank Vogel will be one of 10 new coaches this season trying to change the culture of their teams. Vogel is a winning coach and will not accept not making the playoffs. The Magic are headed in the right direction with Vogel, but a season filled with ups-and-downs should be expected. The Magic should be positioned in the playoff race all season, something that hasn’t been said for too long.
Brian McGuire is a contributor to MBO.