We are now entering year three of life without Dwight Howard for the Orlando Magic and it has been a painful transition to say the least. When the superstar center left for the supposedly brighter lights of Los Angeles, the Magic were deemed to be doomed with some even questioning whether the franchise would even recover from Howard’s defection.
Fast forward to present time and it’s safe to say that the franchise will not only recover, but is perhaps ready to take the next step in being competitive by at least contending for a playoff spot in the weak Eastern conference this upcoming season. Although the franchise mishandled the Dwight-mare phenomenally well, they have, ever since then, made smart analytical choices that have steered the ship in the right direction. The most important of those choices perhaps would be the firing of former GM Otis Smith and hiring the “boy wonder” genius of Rob Hennigan.
Many people thought Rob Hennigan lost the trade of Dwight Howard when he was shipped to LA, but three years later Hennigan seems like the clear cut winner. While LA only had one very underachieving year from Dwight as did Denver from Andre Iguodala, and Philadelphia received Andrew Bynum’s aching knees and horrible hairstyles, the Magic received several quality players.
Nik Vucevic is seen as a centerpiece for the current team. Aaron Afflalo is a solid veteran who they recently traded back to Denver for Evan Fournier, and Moe Harkless is a 20-year-old promising player and a great defensive asset. They also acquired a 2014 conditional first-round pick from Philadelphia which turned out to be Elfrid Payton to go with a conditional second-round pick from the Lakers in 2015, a conditional first-round pick from the Lakers in 2017, and a $17.8 million trade exception to use over the next year (which they let expire).
Hennigan also was determined to go build a team with good character guys who gave effort every day, and that’s one of the main reasons he drafted Victor Oladipo second overall in the 2013 draft. Oladipo was runner-up for Rookie of the Year honors last year and is primed to take the reign as the leader of this team this year after Hennigan finished removing veterans with oversized contracts from the roster (compliments of former GM Rick Smith).
Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Al Harrington, Jason Richardson, and JJ Reddick are no longer part of the team and instead replaced by a very young yet also very promising nucleus of Tobias Harris, Nik Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, and Victor Oladipo–special mention to Moe Harkless and Kyle O’Quinn.
The Magic are young, talented, and still not ready to compete for an NBA championship. However, they should be competitive and plenty of fun to watch next year, not to mention absolutely stingy on defense with a backcourt of Oladipo, Payton, and Gordon harassing the opposition. They need this year to grow and develop. They are talented enough that they can still contend for the 8th spot in the weak Eastern Conference and perhaps in the 2015-2016 season with the big amount of cap space they have. Sign a blue chip free agent that can help lead them to make a deep playoff run.
The Orlando Magic are and will be just fine, and dare I say, the Orlando Magic will win a NBA championship before the self-proclaimed “Superman” ever does.
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Main Photo by Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic