Last season: 35-47, 11th in the East
Off-season gains: PF Serge Ibaka (trade), C Bismack Biyombo (free agent), SF Jeff Green (free agent), PG D.J. Augustin (free agent), C Stephen Zimmerman (draft), SG Jodie Meeks (trade), SG C.J. Wilcox (trade), SF Damjan Rudez (free agent)
Off-season losses: SG Victor Oladipo (trade/Oklahoma City), PF Ersan Ilyasova (trade/Oklahoma City), C Jason Smith (free agent/Washington), PG Brandon Jennings (free agent/New York), PF Andrew Nicholson (free agent/Washington), C Dewayne Dedmon (free agent/San Antonio), PG Shabazz Napier (trade/Portland)
Off-season stock: I'd wager they won't be the worst team in Florida any longer, but I'm not sure what that's worth.
League Pass team? Yes, if for no other reason so I can form some concrete opinions because for the fifth straight season I have no idea what to make of them.
I don't know, man, I just don't know.
Maybe I'm being arrogant or naive, but I'd like to think some of you Pounders read me for more than just the dumb jokes and have some kind of regard for my opinions, even if you don't always agree. But I'm no good to you with the Madge. I'm waving the white flag on this one.
I mean, what even is this roster?
It's like running a fantasy draft on auto-pick only you had to forfeit the first two rounds because you never paid your league dues last year. Orlando has a bunch of players who are interesting and capable of putting up an impressive stat-line or a fun GIF on any given night, but I'm not sure if they have even one guy I'd want on my team. They're literally the Magic Kingdom of teams. All their main attractions are overpriced, you're guaranteed to be surrounded by immature brats and you'll be ready to get the hell out of there after 48 hours.
Certainly the Magic needed rim protection and shooting, so in that sense you can understand why Serge Ibaka would appeal to them. But how does Ibaka fit on a team with Aaron Gordon? Are they seriously moving him to small-forward full-time? And why sign Bismack Biyombo to a huge deal if you're not going to trade Nikola Vucevic? Where does Jeff Green fit into the picture and how can they shoehorn enough minutes for all five of them to be happy? Then there's Mario Hezonja, last year's lottery pick who was predictably stifled playing under Scott Skiles. Can he function on the floor alongside Evan Fournier or is he strictly a backup? And trying to quarterback it all and keep everyone fat and happy will be Elfrid Payton, D.J. Augustin and C.J. Watson, one of the diciest point guard rotations in the league.
Like I said, I don't know what to make of any of it, but I do know that I think Frank Vogel is pretty good, that he's the best coach they've had down there in forever, and that I think the change of scenery will be good for him after things got stale with the Pacers. He's had plenty of experience coaching up teams with sub-optimal point guards and a lack of shooters. I trust him to maximize this Iron Chef-worthy group of ingredients into something appetizing, even if you wouldn't want to eat it every day.
Take Vucevic. He's the ultimate tease and I've just about given up on him. For all his offensive talent --and he continues to make incremental progress there, including as a passer last season-- he's just such a glaring non-entity in his own end that it nullifies his scoring. Maybe playing with a legitimate rim-protector will help him, but I don't see how the floor spacing will work if it's Biyombo, and Ibaka isn't quite what he once was. Supposedly one of the main reasons the Thunder dealt him is he was complaining too much behind the scenes about wanting to be more involved offensively even though his development plateaued after he extended his shooting range. I'm guessing he'll want more shots with the Magic, but it's not like he's all of a sudden going to be isolating from the elbow and crossing people up. Biyombo is even more one-dimensional, but at least he knows what he is. He started a few big playoff games for Toronto in place of the injured Jonas Valanciunas, and parlayed that into a huge contract, but who knows if he'll be able to perform consistently.
On the wing, Gordon is the square peg being asked to fit into the round hole. He's played some at the three in both of his first two seasons, approximately 40 percent of his minutes there last season according to basketball-reference, but I still see him as more of a poor man's Blake Griffin than a poor man's LeBron James. Either way, he's got a ways to go to make it work, from cleaning up his handle to being able to create for others on the drive or via the pick-and-roll to being able to check smaller guys on defense. He made considerable progress between year one and two, and he's only 21, but I'm not ready to project stardom onto him just yet.
Meanwhile, Green is a guy who makes a great first impression on new teams but winds up wearing out his welcome after a month or two as his warts become more and more noticeable. He's just maddeningly inconsistent, on both ends of the floor, both in effort and production. He's a nice guy to have in your back pocket in case your regulars are having an off night but you absolutely can't rely on him for anything.
Orlando has also made a big commitment to Fournier (again, a reminder to never Google "fournier"), ultimately choosing him over Oladipo. He's a better shooter, and can score in more ways, but I don't know if he'll ever develop beyond that. I'm still struggling to understand if the decision to keep him extended beyond the notion that their front office could get a haul for Oladipo in trade whereas they would've lost Fournier, a free agent, for nothing. It's an understandable rationale, but if I'm them I would've kept Oladipo and tried to work a sign-and-trade with the Frenchman instead. Hezonja could be a combustible sixth-man in a year or two, but while Vogel is more flexible than Skiles was, he's not going to put up with people who don't try in their own end. Even Lance Stephenson played defense for him. It remains to be seen if Hezonja will be a real player in the league or the second coming of Rudy Fernandez.
Payton was drafted a year behind Oladipo and he might also find himself elsewhere before long. He's running out of time to prove he was worth a lottery pick, showing no real progress in his second year in any facet. His three-point shooting improved from "awful" to "below-average," but he's still not a threat from outside, has no mid-range game and is a poor finisher inside. His length and quickness has yet to pay dividends defensively and as a playmaker he's been okay, not great. It hasn't helped that he's had no shooters around him, but the best point guards make it work regardless. Augustin is the ultimate boom-or-bust backup, depending on the year, and he was more of the latter with Vogel on the Pacers. He probably cost Indiana a trip to the finals (and maybe the Spurs a ring) in 2012-13, but was then great for the Bulls the next year. He was really bad for the Thunder last season but then terrific for Denver when they traded for him midway through the season. Maybe he just does better in low-pressure situations, which means he'll be an asset here.
It's a mismatched, disparate collection of talent with little or no experience playing as a cohesive unit. And yet I can't dismiss them completely, not with the Hawks, Hornets and Heat looking like decent bets to tumble down their respective perches atop last year's Eastern Conference standings and the Bulls, Knicks, Bucks and Wizards all having questions of their own. Everybody sixth through twelfth looks to be in a soupy morass between 44 and 36 wins. I can declare with some degree of confidence that the Heat, Sixers and Nets won't make the playoffs in the East. Beyond that, I can't dismiss anyone's chances, and that includes Orlando, even though I'll chicken out and pick them to finish tenth at 40-42, out of the derby.