Published October 16, 2014
(SportsNetwork.com) - Reboots are all the rage nowadays, so allow us to introduce the latest inception of the "Daddy Day Care" franchise: the Orlando Magic.
The Magic are entering their third season since trading former cornerstone Dwight Howard and the slow rebuild continues to motor along, unlike the career of Eddie Murphy.
Orlando has won a mere 43 games the past two seasons, clear evidence of starting over, so it doesn't come as a shock that the club went into training camp with 11 players on the roster with three seasons or fewer of NBA experience.
But following a 23-59 campaign in 2013-14, the Magic could be ready to finally take some steps forward. Veterans like Channing Frye, Ben Gordon, Willie Green and Luke Ridnour were brought in to baby sit, I mean, help tutor the youngsters and get this project truly moving along.
"I think patience is an important word as we continue to build the team," said Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan. "It's important for us to keep the long- term vision in place as we go through. We have to show improvement. We expect to show improvement.
"Our fans have been incredibly supportive to that end. We also understand that they want to see progress. I think patience and staying the course, staying disciplined is still very much how we have to look at things."
Patience will be needed again as the Magic jettisoned their backcourt from a season ago, waiving veteran point guard Jameer Nelson and trading guard Arron Afflalo to Denver in a deal that landed Orlando another young player in Evan Fournier.
Nelson ranked second in franchise history with 651 games played and nobody dished out more than his 3,501 assists while wearing a Magic uniform, while Afflalo contributed 18.2 points per night to a team that averaged just 96.5 a game last season.
The turnover will leave plenty of minutes for Fournier and second-year guard Victor Oladipo, as well as rookies Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton.
"I think this season, especially, we'll see more competition for minutes and playing time than we've seen in our prior seasons," declared Hennigan. "That's exciting for us. That speaks to how we're building the team and the way we want to build it. Versatility is important."
And as Orlando's young core gets another season-long lesson in how to succeed in the NBA, Hennigan and coach Jacque Vaughn will also need to decide if pending free agents Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Kyle O'Quinn are part of the long-term plan or just more parts to be moved for the future.
The same holds true for the likes of Frye, Ridnour and Ben Gordon, who will be just as valuable in the locker room as on the floor until Orlando's young stars are ready to take over.
"I think where we are at right now, bringing the right people into the locker room is one of the most important things when you talk about team chemistry," said Vaughn. "The vets on our team ... these are guys who have played on multiple teams, have been in different settings and understand the importance of earning minutes on a basketball team. That's going to be an important message for the guys in our locker room right now."
2013-14 Results: 23-59, 5th in Southeast Division; Missed playoffs
ADDITIONS: G Evan Fournier, G Ben Gordon, F Channing Frye, F Aaron Gordon, G Elfrid Payton, G Luke Ridnour, G Willie Green, G Devyn Marble
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Luke Ridnour SG- Victor Oladipo SF- Tobias Harris PF- Channing Frye C- Nikola Vucevic
KEY RESERVES: G Ben Gordon, F Aaron Gordon, F Maurice Harkless, C Andrew Nicholson, F Kyle O'Quinn, G Evan Fournier, G Elfrid Payton,
FRONTCOURT: More than a few eyebrows were raised when Frye opted to sign with the Magic, but in the end a four-year deal worth a reported $32 million was enough to get the veteran to come to Orlando and be part of the rebuilding process.
It probably didn't hurt that Frye is cousins with Magic forward Tobias Harris, who he should start alongside in addition to center Vucevic.
Frye missed the entire 2012-13 season after getting diagnosed with an enlarged heart, but returned to start all 82 games with Phoenix last season before opting out of the final year of his contract. He sprained his knee in the preseason, so that might linger.
In Frye, the Magic get a 6-foot-11 body who is a career 38.5 percent shooter from 3-point range. His presence will open up the floor for the rest of the offense and Vaughn called him a safety blanket for his players to get the ball to.
"I think if you look at different scouting reports, when you play against a guy like Channing Frye he makes you react to his ability to shoot the basketball," said Vaughn.
Harris should see an increase from the 36 starts he made last season. The 6- foot-9 forward managed to average 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game over 61 total contests and is a solid rebounder.
He'll help double-double machine Vucevic clean up around the rim as the 7-foot center plays for a new contract. It's hard not to see the 23-year-old Vucevic not fitting into Orlando's future after he posted 14.2 points and a team-high 11.0 rebounds per game last season in 57 outings, all starts.
Not only can Vucevic grab his fair share of rebounds, but the former 16th overall pick of the 2011 draft shot a team-best 50.7 percent from the floor. That helped him along to a team-high 36 double-doubles last season, with a pair of 20-20 efforts.
BACKCOURT: Orlando's vision for the future of its backcourt began to take shape with the drafting of Payton and the signing of Ridnour. That meant the club was moving on from having Oladipo play point and will instead allow him to use his explosiveness at the two guard spot.
Taken second overall in the 2013 draft, Oladipo broke out as a rookie last season and finished second behind Philadelphia's Michael Carter-Williams in the Rookie of the Year race after averaging 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.
Oladipo brings a lot of energy to both sides of the floor, but he will need to improve on his 41.9 shooting percentage from the floor while also filling the void left by Nelson and Afflalo.
"I've got to be a leader. That's one big thing. Other than that, my role is going to be whatever they want it to be. I'm looking forward to whatever that is and I'm going to go out there and play hard on both ends of the court," noted the 22-year-old.
Payton, meanwhile, is more of a pure point guard and will probably be the starter by season's end. He was taken 10th overall in the draft by Philadelphia and then traded to Orlando after averaging 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game as a junior with Louisiana-Lafayette.
The 20-year-old also was named the national defensive player of the year by CollegeInsider.com and was the Sun Belt Conference's defensive player of the year as well, so he fits the mold that Orlando is trying to create with a stronger defensive scheme.
Ridnour may in fact open the season as the starter and mentor before eventually giving way. He played in 61 games with Milwaukee and Charlotte a year ago, averaging 5.0 points, 2.9 assists and 1.6 rebounds per game.
BENCH: In Fournier, the Magic acquired a former 2012 first-round pick by the Nuggets with an undefined role.
In just under 20 minutes per game, Fournier averaged 8.4 points and 1.5 assists per night while shooting at 41.9 percent. Those numbers could increase with more playing time, and the 21-year-old certainly flashed his ability for France at the recent FIBA World Cup, but he finds himself behind another pair of highly-drafted guards in Oladipo and Payton.
At 6-foot-6, Fournier could find time on the floor with those two when the Magic go small, but it appears as if he'll have to fight for minutes.
"I think the biggest thing is the efficiency and the consistency that he plays with. (He) doesn't really try to do things that are out of his skill set. He plays within himself and I think he does a good job of letting the game come to him, just reading and reacting," Hennigan said of what he likes about Fournier.
Fournier's role could become further complicated if Ben Gordon regains his old form. He joined the Magic on a two-year deal after getting released by Charlotte in March following two unhappy seasons with the Bobcats.
In fact, Gordon has struggled since leaving the Chicago Bulls -- who took him third overall in the 2004 draft -- to sign a five-year deal with Detroit. Vaughn will try to get the shooter right mentally and turn him back into a quick and dangerous scorer off the bench.
Orlando has some depth up front as well, starting with Aaron Gordon. The fourth overall pick of the recent draft is as athletic as they come and figures to have a huge impact on the defensive side of the floor, but he'll need to work on the offensive side of things before he is ready for starter's minutes.
Maurice Harkless can step in if Harris struggles, having made 41 starts in 80 appearances last year. Harkless averaged 7.4 points per game and controls the ball well.
Big men Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O'Quinn saw their minutes go back up in late February when Glen Davis was bought out of his contract. O'Quinn figures to be main option to spell Vucevic.
COACHING: Vaughn's main job as he heads into his third season as coach of the Magic is to remain a teacher and get his young players to grow.
As a veteran of 12 seasons and 776 regular-season games in the NBA, Vaughn has the resume that should get his guys to play hard and tough for him. He also comes from a winning pedigree, having captured a championship as a player in 2007 with San Antonio and also serving as an assistant for the Spurs from 2010-12. The Spurs had a mark of a 111-37 during that span.
"I think overall, this group has to learn me. We have a bunch of new players. We'll grow together. My preparation doesn't change. I think it's my job to get these guys to grow together," said Vaughn, who was extended through 2015-16.
OUTLOOK: This season will serve as just another step in the rebuilding process and even the eighth seed is probably a long shot for the Magic.
All the club can really hope for is that its young players give a constant effort each night and absorb some knowledge from veterans like Frye, Ridnour and Ben Gordon.
"It's part of a process. We feel good about the team and we like the direction we're headed in. We have the guys on the team for a reason because we feel all of them do a little something different," said Hennigan.
Vaughn's job is the easy one with the coach noting, "I'll keep it very simple with these guys: the challenge of being better the next day than you were the previous day."
Neither Vaughn or Hennigan know where that will lead the club in regards to wins and losses by season's end, but at least they know the task at hand.