The Orlando Magic are looking to hire a new head coach for the 4th time in the last 5 years. Whether it’s Jerry Stackhouse, David Vanterpool, Ime Udoka, Dwane Casey, or Stan Van Gundy, the Magic are in need of a drastic culture change and possibly an overhaul of their roster. No matter who John Hammond, Jeff Weltman, and Alex Martins hire as the new Orlando Magic head coach, the questions will be the same. Here’s what they will need to answer.
Key Questions for the New Orlando Magic Head Coach to Answer
Is Aaron Gordon someone to build around?
The 2017-18 season was a career year in some ways for Aaron Gordon. With increases in minutes, points, rebounds, three-point shooting percentage, and free throw attempts per game, Gordon showed he could be more than just a reliable cog in the offense. Gordon’s ability to stretch the floor and handle the ball are both promising, as these skills are needed to be a star power forward in the modern NBA. Another jump like this could lead to Gordon following in the footsteps of former Magic player Victor Oladipo by winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award and making the All-Star team.
But Gordon brings as many question marks as he does exclamation points to the team. Gordon has missed a significant amount of games over his four seasons in the NBA. His third season hurt his development as he spent too much time out of position as a small forward. Gordon began the year leading the league in three-point percentage with a scorching hot 59.5 percent through the first 13 games of the year. But he plummeted to just 30 percent for the rest of the season, which is well below the league average. Pair these maddening inconsistencies with the fact that Gordon is a restricted free agent this summer, and the new Orlando Magic head coach will need to make a possible franchise-defining judgment call.
What is the best way to use Jonathan Isaac?
With the sixth pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, the Magic selected Jonathan Isaac. Was Isaac better than Dennis Smith Jr., Donovan Mitchell, or Lauri Markkanen, all of whom were drafted after Isaac? Maybe not. Does Isaac still have potential to be transcendent? Maybe. Isaac has all the measurables. He can handle the ball and has already flashed the ability to be an impactful defensive stopper. The issues with Isaac are twofold: health and position. Isaac played in just 27 games. With most rookies, there were positives and negatives in gameplay. Isaac was one of Orlando’s best all-around defenders, but his shooting leaves much to be desired.
A much more important question would be about Isaac’s most suitable position moving forward. If Gordon is gone after this summer, Isaac could easily become a full-time power forward. All signs seem to point towards Gordon staying in Orlando, so the tougher question would be whether to turn Isaac into a 6’10” wing, where he lacks shooting, or a 6’10” small ball center, where he would need to put on weight. Choosing one of these two paths could have ramifications for this franchise at a foundational level.
What type of system will the new Orlando Magic head coach bring?
Orlando’s past three head coaches all left something to be desired. Jacque Vaughn, a former Magic point guard, came over from San Antonio as an assistant. There were hopes for player development and an offensive system predicated on ball movement. Scott Skiles, a former Magic point guard, was hired with the knowledge that all three of his previous teams made the playoffs. Frank Vogel, lauded as a player’s coach, came to Orlando after his run with a gritty, defensive-minded Indiana Pacers team ended. All three of these coaches brought some type of promise to the table.
But none of those coaches fulfilled their potential, and as such, player development has been more than hindered over the last five seasons. The Magic have a bunch of interesting pieces to be either a small ball, fast-paced team or a more traditional squad. However, they currently lack the depth to commit to either.
Which young player should the team draft?
Both general manager John Hammond and president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman have stellar records when it comes to finding talent in the draft. If the current position holds, the Magic will be drafting fifth and will more than likely have three vastly different prospects to choose from: Trae Young, Mohamed Bamba, and Michael Porter Jr. These three players all have an interesting mix of transformative potential and red flags.
In Young, a player who led the NCAA in points and assists, Orlando would get a point guard who can stretch the floor with his shooting and run the pick-and-roll. This is something the Magic have greatly lacked since the days of Jameer Nelson. Conversely, Young’s diminutive size could limit him defensively.
Bamba offers freakish length as a seven-foot center with an astounding 8’0″ wingspan. He lacks polish as a player and lacks an outside shot. A team with a frontcourt of Bamba, Gordon, and Isaac may hold opponents to 85 points per game but would be hardpressed to score 80.
Drafting Porter offers even more possible outcomes. Porter was regarded by some as the top freshman this year. As a scorer, he can play above the rim while stretching the floor by shooting threes. Porter has the frame and athletic ability to guard multiple positions. The issue with Porter is health, as he logged only 53 minutes during his freshman season. These players all have both star and bust potential, and the new Orlando Magic head coach may be tied to their fate.
With all of these questions, it’s hard to know what to expect for Orlando next season. In order to gauge success for this team moving forward, it will need development over playoff appearances. The Magic must show that they are growing from the ground up, make trades to foster development, and ultimately compete from game to game. It took Brett Brown‘s 76ers four seasons of sub-.500 records and missing the playoffs until they broke through this season and made it to the second round of the playoffs. Brown masterfully instilled an edge in his team. Despite four straight seasons with no more than 28 wins, his team never quit and became stronger because of the struggle. If the Orlando Magic want to return to playoff prominence, this may be the most efficient route to take.
TORONTO, ON- FEBRUARY 13: Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon celebrates a dunk during the NBA’s All-Star Saturday Night. February 13, 2016. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)