Where Do The Magic Go From Here?
This season couldn’t have gone any worse for the Orlando Magic. The team made headlines for all of the wrong reasons and the on-court product was downright ugly at times. Injuries limited the team on the court and drama followed the team off the court. After winning 37 games and finishing with the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Magic were eliminated in the first round by the Indiana Pacers.
Orlando’s season will be remembered as a train wreck, one that drew national attention because the scene was just so ugly that people couldn’t help but watch. Dwight Howard’s on-again, off-again trade demand kicked the season off and was a distraction until the trade deadline. Stan Van Gundy’s press conference, when he acknowledged that Howard asked for his ouster, made things even more awkward.
The season certainly didn’t go as planned and now the Magic have plenty of questions to answer going forward. Will Dwight Howard be traded this offseason? Will Stan Van Gundy return as head coach? Is Otis Smith’s job safe? All of these questions and more will be answered in the next several months.
The Magic will enter this offseason with one goal: Make a splashy move that will persuade Howard to sign a long-term contract. Orlando tried to make a blockbuster move at the trade deadline, pursuing big names like Steve Nash, Josh Smith and Carmelo Anthony to no avail. At the end of the day, the Magic lack attractive trade assets so acquiring a second star is easier said than done.
However, Orlando hasn’t given up hope and they’ll be actively working the phones all summer. The Magic are willing to take on bad contracts if it means upgrading their roster and surrounding Howard with more talented pieces. If Orlando isn’t able to make significant changes to the roster, Howard isn’t going to sign an extension.
If that’s the case, don’t be surprised if Orlando decides to trade Howard over the summer. Magic CEO Alex Martins has made it clear that the team wants a commitment from Howard so that they don’t have to go through another drama-filled season. If Howard isn’t willing to sign a long-term deal, the Magic may decide that it’s time to trade Howard and start the rebuilding process.
Orlando has several decisions to make in the coming weeks. The final year of J.J. Redick’s contract isn’t guaranteed, which means the Magic can waive him by July 7 and save $6 million. Orlando can also choose not to exercise their team option on Von Wafer. Ryan Anderson will be a restricted free agent so the Magic must decide how much they’re willing to spend to re-sign him.
Jameer Nelson can, and likely will, opt-out of the final year of his contract. Sources close to the situation say that Nelson wants to test free agency and sign a long-term deal that gives him some security going forward. Nelson doesn’t want to be dealt as an expiring contract and end up in a bad situation. If he leaves Orlando, he wants to choose his next team rather than being dealt somewhere out of his control.
Howard’s status will affect all of these decisions, but it’s safe to say that Orlando’s roster will look different when the 2012-13 season begins.
Management and Coaching
The general consensus around the league is that Orlando will let go of Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith to present a fresh slate to Dwight Howard and prove that the organization is heading a new direction.
Van Gundy is one of the best coaches in the league, but his negativity has worn on many players in the locker room. It’s also never a good idea for a head coach to publicly butt heads with their superstar. It almost seems that Van Gundy knew his days in Orlando were numbered so he wanted to go out with a bang, making sure everyone understood what he was dealing with all season long.
If the Magic decide to fire Van Gundy, they’ll weigh all of their options and likely involve Howard in the search for a new head coach. Mike D’Antoni, Brian Shaw, Michael Malone and Nate McMillan are among the candidates who have been mentioned as possible replacements for Van Gundy.
Smith will likely be replaced this summer. Magic fans have been calling for Smith’s head for several years and, this season, ownership appeared to lose faith in Smith as well. His role was diminished and Adonal Foyle, the team’s director of player development, was given more control, specifically as the trade deadline approached.
The Magic started zeroing in on possible replacements during the season and league sources believe Smith will be let go in the coming weeks. David Morway, Kevin Pritchard, Jeff Bower, David Griffin, Tony Ronzone and Larry Harris have been mentioned as potential candidates.
Over the next few weeks, Magic brass will meet and discuss what to do with their head coach and general manager.
The Magic’s payroll sits at $66.7 million to 11 players for the 2012-13 season. That number will drop if Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Von Wafer and Earl Clark aren’t retained, but either way Orlando likely won’t have much cap space to work with this summer. The Magic could try to package a bad contract (such as Chris Duhon or Jason Richardson) with the 19th overall pick, but upgrading their roster through trades seems more realistic than through free agent signings.
Orlando will have their mid-level exception to offer free agents, which could allow them to upgrade one position this summer. The Magic sit just far enough under the tax line that they can use the full MLE, but then they will lose the bi-annual exception. The team needs to make a splashy move, but they don’t have much flexibility to do so.
Orlando may try to pursue a veteran point guard such as Steve Nash, Jason Kidd or Andre Miller to appease Howard. If Howard returns, he also wants the team to pursue a scorer who can create for himself on offense, such as J.R. Smith or Jamal Crawford.
In recent years, the Magic have really struggled to add quality pieces through the draft. Since selecting Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson in 2004, the team has whiffed on many picks including Fran Vazquez, Daniel Orton and a number of second-round selections. The main reason that Orlando hasn’t been able to draft contributors is because they don’t put much time or effort into the pre-draft process.
When Orlando drafted Orton, they hadn’t seen him work out in person. Nearly every other team in the league had witnessed Orton struggle in workouts and knew of his knee issues. The Magic selected him sight unseen, and Orton isn’t the exception. Justin Harper had never met or interviewed with Orlando before they traded for his draft rights last year.
Rival executives openly joke about the Magic’s approach to the pre-draft process. Most teams interview and work out everyone on their draft board. Some teams will even bring in a player multiple times to make sure they have a good read on his personality and game. The Magic’s lack of preparation has hurt them and a new regime must have a better approach to the draft. Orlando doesn’t have much cap flexibility, which means the draft is one of the only ways they can improve their roster year-to-year. They need to do a better job of evaluating prospects so that they can draft contributors rather than wasting picks on players who will never see the floor.
In HOOPSWORLD’s latest mock draft, three of our four experts have Orlando drafting point guard Marquis Teague from the University of Kentucky. Kendall Marshall has also been mentioned as someone who the Magic could target with the 19th overall pick.
The Magic have bigger things to worry about this summer, but they do need to put more of an emphasis on the draft going forward.
The Magic were glad to put their drama-filled 2011-12 season behind them, but they’ll need to make the right decisions this summer to right the ship. This will be one of the most important offseasons in team history and the moves they make will shape the franchise for the next decade. It’ll be an interesting offseason and all eyes will be on the Magic to see where the team goes from here.