So the Magic finally detonated the team by trading Dwight Howard and starting the rebuild process. That was expected. What wasn't expected was the complete lack of talent and cap savings that they got in return.
There are two major problems with this return package. First, for a team clearly on the Oklahoma City Thunder bottoming out plan, the Magic didn't really bottom out with this trade. Rather than acquire all young pieces that can grow together, the Magic took back veterans like Afflalo and Harrington that could do just enough to push them toward mediocrity. Afflalo is an above-average starting shooting guard, and Harrington can still hit big shots and be a stretch 4. On this team, though, they will simply block other players that will play a bigger role in Orlando's future. If Harrington and Afflalo help lead this team to 26 wins next year, that will be a huge problem.
The author goes on to point out that they didn't really save much long term money either. Not good times. So what's the best case?
The best-case scenario is that, behind the leadership of Vaughn, Nelson, Redick, and Davis, Orlando plays hard each night and gives the City Beautiful a team of which it can be proud. Magic fans like to invoke the Heart-and-Hustle squad of 1999/2000--a team made up of castoffs and unproven players, under rookie coach Doc Rivers, which won half its games and nearly made the playoffs--as a potential model for this team, but I fear that hope is misguided: Rivers' Heart-and-Hustle team had brilliant defensive players and, in Darrell Armstrong, a two-way, diamond-in-the-rough star. There's no real reason to expect similar success from the current crew.
So is there hope for a respectable season? Not likely, because defense wins.
Afflalo is a good defender. Ayon is a decent defender. Vucevic should be a good defender. At small forward, Moe Harkless might be a good defender. But this team is almost assuredly going to stink defensively. Bad teams tend to get worse on defense as the stakes decrease. Defense is partially talent and physical attributes (length, athleticism, agility), but in the NBA, effort and determination and will are huge factors. When you're 15 games out of the No. 8 seed, effort and determination and will suffer. Given that 90 percent of players make their dough on offense, defense gets short shrift on bad teams. Hopefully Vaughn can prevent that. I'm not optimistic.
So when will Orlando be back? The Magic still have a lot of money tied up into the 2014 team. It will likely not be until the 2014-15 season that Orlando will be able to spend money to bring in a decent player to bring the team back into Playoff contention. The Magic are hoping smart drafting will keep the boat steady and provide the foundation for a future title run. And it looks like Orlando will take two drafts to rebuild that foundation.