Orlando Magic Season Preview: Trying to Finish the Endless Rebuilding Era

Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton

It seems that the Orlando Magic have been rebuilding since Dwight Howard left the team four years ago. This season, with Serge Ibaka arriving alongside Bismack Biyombo and Jeff Green, joining the likes of Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton, the goal has to be about more than improving on the win column.

Well, improving the win column from 35 last season should put them in playoff vicinity. They’ve won more games each season since Howard left the team while tearing down the foundations with him in 2012. However, they didn’t feel like a team good enough to make the playoffs last season, and were very soon out of the running compared to others who fought on a bit longer. The whole notion of the Magic being building and young has to end. Maybe it has.

The Magic made on significant transaction, trading Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis while acquiring Serge Ibaka. Maybe they figured it was time to make a crowded, defense-oriented frontcourt, and figured they have enough talent in the backcourt. It did seem like Payton, Oladipo and Fournier was a tad too much. Fournier stepped up big time last year, and it looks like the Magic are counting on the Frenchman to be their main scorer from the backcourt and the wings.

Adding Biyombo makes the frontcourt especially crowded, along with Nikola Vucevic, who has averaged 18.8 points per game over the last two seasons, but the Magic want to see a more balanced frontcourt, with a bit more emphasis on stopping players attacking the rim. I’m assuming we won’t see too much of Biyombo and Ibaka on the floor together, although it’s going to be difficult keeping a player making $72 million over four years like Biyombo on the bench for long. Ibaka seems like a one-year rental, nothing more.

Payton did take a small step forward last season, but probably not enough. His outside shooting has to go up a bit further for the Magic to improve as a basketball team. Jeff Green signed on for one season, and you never know what you’ll get with him. Mario Hezonja isn’t going to start, but he could make a difference off the bench, although the 2-3 positions are a bit crowded. Aaron Gordon improved last season, but he remains a bit one dimensional, which should have the Magic thinking about picking up his team option for 2017-2018.

Best Case Scenario

Playoffs. The Magic signed veterans with playoff experience and different levels of success to blend in with the yough of Payton and Gordon, while Vucevic and Fournier have been quite productive to suggest they’re part of this franchise’s present and future. From 1994 through 2012, the Magic made the playoffs 14 times, mostly with a very dominant big man. They’re once again taking that approach, only by committee, hoping the newly attempted balance works out.

Worst Case Scenario

Not making the playoff is bad, but regressing is even worse. The Magic need to make Green and Ibaka feel like it’s worthwhile staying (if they give the Magic what’s expected). Going into another kind of rebuild with even more questions about their young players and their ability to carry the load and succeed in the next coming years will just means the building and decisions of the last few years have been a massive failure.

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