How to Fix: the Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic’s 2014-2015 season comes to an end tonight. This is the third consecutive season they’ve finished with one of the top five worst records in the league. But hey there has been a little improvement. 20 wins in 2012-2013, 22 in 2013-2014 and 25—before tonight’s game at Brooklyn—this season. Can you sense the sarcasm?

This third season in the rebuilding of the Magic Kingdom in the aftermath of the Dwight Howard implosion/indecision was supposed to bring at least a lower seed playoff spot. But, the losses have piled up while the wins are more scarce than snacks at a Fat Camp. This was the year the Magic were supposed to be what the Boston Celtics are right now, battling for a lower seed well into the final week of the season. 

A couple of years ago, the organization  used the slogan “The time is now” in its marketing campaign; they may want to revisit that one, because there are several key pieces already in place that can and should jolt them into an Eastern Conference playoff team. Still, there are a few missing variables that need to be filled before that playoff equation can be solved. 

• First, no more experiments with first time head coaches. Three years ago this job was a perfect place to groom a rookie, but in order to move from rebuilding to winning, you need a veteran. Just like you need them in uniform and on the court, you need one patrolling the sideline and leading the huddles. My choice: Mark Jackson.

Jackson rebuilt the Warriors from the Western Conference pit, to the penthouse. Courtesy: Getty Images

With the way the Golden State Warriors have flourished in the aftermath of his mutual parting of the ways, firing or whatever you want to call it, many seem to have forgotten the job Jackson did turning a 23 win team in his first season (2011-12, which was shortened by the lockout) into the Championship contender they are now. His second season he led them to 47 wins and a first round playoff series win in the vaunted Western Conference. His third and final season produced 51 wins and another playoff berth. Overall he is 121-109 (.526),  not bad for a guy who took over a franchise that made the playoffs once in seventeen seasons before his arrival.

It’s his foundation that has allowed the “Splash Brothers” of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to blossom into the All-Star backcourt they’ve become. Jackson also can be credited with the steady improvement of Draymond Green, who is a key contributor for the Warriors and will be a highly sought after free agent this summer. I bring up Jackson’s Warriors past to highlight his great ability to groom young talent, which Orlando has plenty of. 

In Victor Oladipo and Nik Vucevic, the Magic have two budding stars with All-Star ability. Rookie Elfrid Payton, who is a triple double waiting to happen, has the look of a young Rajon Rondo and is the kind of facilitating point guard that Jackson, a former point guard can help accelerate his growth.
The wings are loaded with long, agile, athletes in vets Channing Frye and Tobias Harris (more on him later), Maurice Harkless and rookie Aaron Gordon. All of these guys—except Frye—are in their mid 20’s and younger, perfect for what Coach Jackson has proven he relates to.

Skiles to the Suns, Bulls and Bucks to the playoffs in his 13 years as a coach. Courtesy: Bucksbasketball.com

If you can’t get Jackson, former Magic point guard Scott Skiles (1989-1994) would also make a great coach for this young squad. In his time in Phoenix, Chicago and Milwaukee, he revived those struggling franchises and led them back to the playoffs while compiling a record of 443-433 (.506). 

Skiles played five seasons in Magic pinstripes. Courtesy: NBA.com

Skiles is known for having a tough defensive minded philosophy that is similar to the style in which he played during his ten-year career. This Magic team desperately needs an infusion of that.

I hear the Billy Donovan rumors and supporters wanting to try this union again, but this is like an ex-boyfriend and ex-girlfriend that’s considering a reconciliation; there’s a reason why it didn’t work out the first time. As Drake and Jay said on the Blueprint III album, “On to the next one.”

• Orlando will likely be selecting in the top five of the draft again come June. The Magic’s biggest need is a tough defensive minded, agile post man who does the dirty work, like Draymond Green is to Golden State, DeAndre Jordan is for the Clippers and Tyson Chandler is for the Mavericks, you get my point. 

Unless they get some magic… I said unless the get some magic, it won’t be a top three pick, so that means no Jahlil Okafor from Duke or Karl Anthony Towns from Kentucky, the top rated big men in this class. But that’s okay, because there is another guy who fits Orlando’s need and will be a perfect complement to fellow post man Nik Vucevic.

In order for this team to make the playoffs in 2015-16, It’s imperative that this selection is someone who you can plug-in as a game one starter. Willie Cauley-Stein the Junior 1st Team AP All-American big man from Kentucky can be that guy. And if by chance the ping-pong ball doesn’t bounce Orlando’s way to a top five selection, WCS is likely to still be available around picks number 6,7 and 8 according to the multitude of mock drafts available via the Internet. 

 

At 7-0 240 pounds, Cauley-Stein is the elite shot blocking, defensively versatile big that Vucevic isn’t. He can guard centers and stretch power forwards and stick with guards in the pick and roll game, plus he has superb leaping ability to control the defensive backboards and get after it on the offensive glass. Maybe he and Elfrid Payton can mimic the “Lob City” play Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan have perfected in Clipperland.

 

The negative on Willie is his unpolished offensive skills, but that won’t be as highlighted or a team weakness playing next to the current dominant big man in central Florida. There’s a possibility organization brass will let backup power forward/center Kyle O’Quinn walk in free agency, so this selection would kill two birds with one stone.

The current mock drafts—there are more than two handfuls—are split between the Magic selecting Stanley Johnson a 6-7 forward out of Arizona or the 7-0 Kristaps Porzingis stretch power forward out of Latvia if they earn a top four pick. Both players are more known for their offensive skills and could be a key in stretching the floor for Vucevic to dominate the post without double teams, while also keeping driving lanes open for Oladipo and Payton to slash. 

The only concern selecting another wing would be a log jam at the four spot. The Magic’s hope is to keep Tobias Harris, and you also have Channing Frye and their top pick from last year in Aaron Gordon who all play that position. But, when you’re picking in the top five three years in a row, you need all the talent you can get.

• As soon as possible, resign Tobias Harris. Harris was a steal for the Magic when they began this rebuilding process (acquired 2/21/13 from Milwaukee for J.J. Redick). 

While Harris has been often injured in his short time in central Florida, his skill set is just the type that causes matchup nightmares night after night. He has an inside-outside offensive game that compliments both cornerstones in Oladipo and Vucevic. 

 

Defensively he has the ability to guard a Kevin Durant or LeBron James on the perimeter and in the post. Harris gives the Magic versatility that more than half the NBA covets. 

The other key variable about Harris is he’s a vet, and this roster doesn’t have many who are actually playing major minutes. You need that experience on the court as much as his physical ability.

The Magic have potential and talent that GMs across the league salivate over, but there needs to be a breakthrough in development individually and collectively in order for this team to accelerate this rebuilding process or they’ll be back to square one. They’re already one step closer having bounced their coach.  If the Magic don’t make a significant jump in this coming fourth year of rebuilding, it may be time to push that big reset red button and start from scratch, again.

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