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How to Neutralize the Orlando Magic’s Bipolar Tendencies

The Orlando Magic's bipolar tendencies are a product of management's 'win now' strategy, and they must be resolved sooner rather than later.

The NBA is a vast marketplace of views and opinions, and with most opinions, conflict ensues. However, one concept that is universally agreed upon in the basketball universe is that the Orlando Magic’s drastic ‘win now’ philosophy went out the window long ago.

The Magic are currently slumped in 13th in the Eastern Conference. Playoff contention is now agonisingly out of reach for Orlando, but in truth they haven’t been near it for a while.

How to Neutralize the Orlando Magic’s Bipolar Tendencies

Injury and inconsistency has riddled the Magic’s season from the outset and throughout. Losing Evan Fournier and then Jodie Meeks to injuries left them with a distinct lack of quality at the 2, which has led to an awful 5-14 run since the New Year. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that this is hardly form to write home about.

To be the bearer of bad news once again, the Magic are 2-6 in the last eight, both of those wins came at the unsuspecting hands of the Toronto Raptors, both on home court and on the road. The Magic ran out eventual 103-94 winners over the Raptors on Friday, with confidence high that they could maintain some momentum going into a road clash in Atlanta last night. This was not the case come Saturday night. It was a Hawks whitewash, drowning any hopes Orlando had of putting together a few wins to keep their playoff dreams afloat. But just how can the Magic kick this nasty inconsistenty habit?

Either Trade Big, Or Trade For The Future

It’s becoming evidently clear that the Magic’s off-season business has not come to fruition. With Serge Ibaka not providing the star-spangled performances many in the Amway expected, and Bismack Biyombo falling further and further down the pecking order, something needs to be done. And fast.

Ibaka is currently averaging 14.9 points per game to go with 6.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, numbers that would be welcomed if he were a role player, but Orlando expected more. The same could be said for Biyombo, who was picked up as a free agent in the off-season to add depth to the 5, and balance Nikola Vucevic‘s offensive potency with Biyombo’s defensive capabilities. This has not been the case. Over the last five, Biyombo’s minutes have fallen drastically, and has only averaged a measly 3.2 points a game.

In simple terms, the strength of the roster was overestimated. The Magic now find themselves chasing the pack with a record of 20-33, tirelessly struggling to keep up.   With a whole host of talent coming through in the upcoming draft class, the Magic can acquire a lucrative lottery pick and trade for the future and focus solely on a rebuild. Or, on the other hand, they can use their big money players (Ibaka, Biyombo, Green, Fournier) to lure in some short-term talent and stick by the ‘win now’ strategy.

During this time of year, when the NBA trade deadline edges near, rumours are bound to circulate. Some hold more truths than others. One that has been gaining substantial gravity in the rumour mill is that the Magic are open to shopping Summer acquisition, Ibaka, with Toronto looking the best fit for the stretch-four.

The choice is theirs to make, sticking with this roster for the remainder of the season is unlikely to yield results.

The Aaron Gordon Project

For a sizeable chunk of last season and the entirety of this term, Aaron Gordon has been deployed at the small forward spot. A role in which it’s fair to say he isn’t exactly familiar with and a position that his skill set doesn’t compliment.

Gordon, a perimeter defense specialist, isn’t a strong shooter. Which begs the question; why is he being utilised in a position he’s not performing in?

The answer is more complex than one would have first thought.

As Phillip Rossman-Reich of the Orlando Magic Daily put it so eloquently; “Gordon has shown elite ability defensively. And there is every indication this will continue as he improves his technique and gains experience“. The 2017 All-Star Dunk Contest participant offers defensive threat, at least. While he may not be putting up some great numbers, he more than makes up for it with his perimeter defense. But right now, the Magic need offence.

Coach Frank Vogel faces a conundrum with where to play Gordon. With the lowest PER of the Magic starters (12.7), offensively he is the weakest link. However, Vogel can’t drop one of his higher scoring players (Ibaka) to make way for Gordon, while benching Gordon himself isn’t much of an option, either. With Jeff Green acting as the only viable option at the 3 to replace him, it would be a mistake to drop Gordon as well.

The Magic should look to offload Green, or even Ibaka, as quickly as possible, and acquire a prolific shooter to add a scoring touch to a team desperately lacking offensive potency.

The Real Franchise Players

While most would argue that the Orlando Magic franchise player would be a Serge Ibaka, or an Evan Fournier, I believe this is not the case.

Right now, the Magic should value players like Nikola Vucevic and Elfrid Payton as untouchable. Payton is showing steady improvement on his far-from-reliable jump shot, and Vucevic, while playing far from his best, still offers an offensive threat that the Magic would be lost without at the 5.

At this minute in time, Ibaka would offer the most in a trade, and would give the Magic a chance to shift some deadwood with him in order to refresh and revitalise a lagging franchise. A rebuild is the smartest option, but in reality, you can expect some trades flying around Orlando from now until the deadline.

The core of this franchise should include Payton, a young guard growing in strength and confidence with each season, and Nikola Vucevic who will add experience and a unique offensive threat. Evan Fournier would provide a great scoring touch off the bench as a sixth man. And if Ibaka is traded, the Magic should look to acquire strong perimeter shooters as well as a rim protector.

Something needs to change in Orlando, it’s just a question of what.

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