Paul Flannery and Tom Ziller are previewing all 30 teams via conversation. Next up: the Orlando Magic. Find all of the Flanns and Zillz previews here.
ZILLER: The Magic were deemed a failure last season because they were supposed to finally break through and legitimately challenge for a playoff spot. They didn't, and Scott Skiles bailed at the end of the year.
But when you look at the arc of the post-Dwight, post-Van Gundy Magic, Orlando actually saw a fairly impressive win improvement (+10). It was probably unreasonable to expect the team to shoot from 25 wins in 2014-15 to playoff contention; from 35 to the low 40s is far more reasonable, especially given the additions of Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, and ... uh, Jeff Green. Is this team demonstrably better than last year's edition?
FLANNERY: There are two things going on here. One, the Magic should be better this year. They lacked the defensive presence that Ibaka and Biymobo will bring to the rotation. Evan Fournier looks like a player and Elfrid Payton has a ton of true point guard skills. By the end of the year, Aaron Gordon was looking like a beast. Even after clearing out some of their young players, the Magic still have untapped potential, and we haven't even mentioned Mario Hezonja yet.
Getting Frank Vogel was also a coup. I'm excited to see what he does with this group. At the very least, I expect them to compete for a playoff spot with just about everyone else in the East.
Then there's the long-term potential, and that's a different matter. Like last year, the Magic lack that one guy they can pin their franchise hopes on for the future. Maybe it's Gordon, but that's asking an awful lot of a guy with a quirky shot who should be focusing on defense. That's the trade-off to living in the lottery for so long and the Magic haven't been lucky in that regard.
I can disagree with some of the moves, but I get the rationale.
ZILLER: That's a good summary of their summer. I'm somewhat concerned about positional issues, especially with respect to Gordon. And I wonder if there's a reason for Ibaka to stay -- Victor Oladipo is a mighty price for a one-year rental. Finally, I'm concerned what Skiles' quick checkout -- reports suggested he felt like leaving in January -- says about the franchise's instability. Was that Skiles being eccentric, or a veteran coach recognizing a hopeless cause?
FLANNERY: Who can tell with the mind of Scott Skiles?
Considering they alter tactics every year -- whether it's bringing in veterans past their expiration date or going full on youth to something in between -- this has not been a classic rebuild. The Oladipo move was weird, just as the Tobias Harris dump was perplexing. If Ibaka bolts after this year ... man.
Orlando Pinstriped Post season preview
Orlando Pinstriped Post season preview
Still, there's enough here to think the Magic may ultimately be on to something. I'm just not sure what that something is, or whether they know what it is either.
ZILLER: In one sense, it's typical of a certain brand of failed rebuild. We've seen teams amass hot prospects, but be unable to turn it into a winning team in the past. The Kings of the past decade are one example; the Timberwolves before the Love trade are another. As Sam Hinkie learned in Philadelphia, amassing "assets" and prospects is just part of the battle. You've got to pick wisely and you've got to assemble the collection of talent into a coherent team.
Rob Hennigan definitely amassed prospects and I'd argue he's picked wisely. He's trying to finish the job by turning it all into a team. This season could do that, albeit at the expense of one of his more promising prospects in Oladipo.
Really, I just want to see what Aaron Gordon can do. I'm tentatively excited to see him under Vogel and playing with a shot blocker.
FLANNERY: Don't get me wrong, I'm super interested in watching this team. Regardless of results, there's genuine intrigue here. That's something! And I do think they will be better. I just have no idea where they're going.
ZILLER: Maybe up, maybe down, maybe nowhere. Just like all of us!
FLANNERY: At least it'll be watchable.