’15-’16 Magic: Promising Start, Ugly Middle, Hopeful Finish

How does the saying go?  Take one step forward, then two steps backwards? Yeah, that’s the story of the 2015-2016 Orlando Magic.

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The Magic took a big step forward in 2015-2016, but are still a long way from where they should be. Photo Credit: Magic.com

Year four of the Magic rebuilding plan looked headed toward a date in the postseason, early on. They reached as high as the 5th seed in the standings in late December, and were the 6th seed in the eastern conference with a 19-14 record on New Year’s Day. But that was short lived.

A horrific 2-12 month of January started a dismal second half of the season that had them looking like a team headed back to the top three of the draft lottery. The team finished with a second half record of 15-26.

Orlando was supposed to be this season’s version of the 2014-2015 Milwaukee Bucks. Get in the playoffs, then either win a series or push a team to 6 or 7 games. Instead they went down quicker than the Titanic or the Hindenburg.

Sure there have been some positives. This team won 35 games, 10 more than last season, and the most since the abbreviated 2011-2012 season when they won 37 of 66 games in Dwight Howard’s last season in central Florida. They also finished strong, going 6-4 in their last 10, with three of the teams they beat in that stretch playoff bound.

Aaron “Air” Gordon’s aerial assault in the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star weekend in Toronto and in the games to follow finally brought some positive attention to the franchise on the court. He’s enjoying a Vince Carter-like boost into the National spotlight without having even winning the contest.

Gordon is by far the most improved player on the Magic this season as he constantly improved each game with more and more playing time. Something I started begging for in the first month of the season.

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Gordon is a corner stone piece for the Magic’s return to the postseason. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

With this being his de facto rookie campaign since an injury limited him to 36 games in his true first season in the Association, Gordon looks to have the makings of being a franchise cornerstone piece along with Nik Vucevic and Victor Oladipo. Outside of those three, the rest of the roster is expendable. Which is why Orlando should be a major player in free agency.

Last summer the Magic tried to address their obvious needs for an All-Star veteran with significant playoff experience. There was a strong flirtation with Atlanta’s Paul Millsap when they offered him a 4 year/$80 million contract that he seriously considered. This summer they’ll have some very good options, and cap room to spend.

Lake Howell Grad and former Florida Gator Chandler Parsons will be a free agent, as well as Atlanta Hawk power forward and 2-time National Champion Florida Gator Al Horford. Both would provide the veteran leadership this team DESPERATELY needs. Parson has only played in 13 playoff games in three of his first four seasons in the NBA, but averaged 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game.

Horford has played in 64 playoff games averaging 12.9 points and 8.7 rebounds a game while shooting 49%. The 4-time All-Star in 9 seasons, has led the Hawks to the playoffs 8 times. Something that was unfathomable for that franchise when the Hawks drafted him 3rd overall in 2007. He’s a high character guy, that provides steady leadership and toughness.

Another Florida connection that should be on the Magic’s radar is Horford’s 2006-2007 National Champion teammate Joakim Noah. Noah is coming off a season where he missed 53 games with a shoulder injury, but from a defensive and leadership standpoint, the former 2014 Defensive Player of the Year has EXACTLY what Orlando’s young nucleus needs. Neither he or Horford are long-term options, but this team needs to get to the playoffs and for a 3-year plan, adding one or two of the three would go a loooong way in achieving that goal.

As far as the rumors of a Dwight Howard remarriage, I’m not onboard, and true Magic fans shouldn’t be either. That cut is too deep. Dwight’s indecision was worse than LeBron’s Decision.

But if D12 wants to reclaim his throne in the Magic Kingdom and Magic Management are seriously interested in signing him, he needs to realize he won’t be the number one post option on offense. That’s Vucevic. Sure Dwight should get more than the 4-8 shots a game he seems to average with Houston, but he’s not the same player that bolted for L.A. in 2012. At this point in his career, Dwight’s best bet is to mold his career into that of one time Magic player, and Detroit Piston defensive great Ben Wallace.

However, Howard’s defense and rebounding are a fit for Orlando. At 30 years old Dwight can still protect the rim at a high level. The Magic were 11th worse in the NBA in opponents field goal percentage at 46%, 13th in opponents points per game at 103.7, 15th in points in blocks (5.1 ppg), 13th in points allowed in the paint (43.5 per game). Dwight’s presence in the paint could be enough to steer those numbers in the favor of Orlando.

Maybe one of the guys I named could do for this unit what Horace Grant did for the Shaq-Penny teams of the 90’s. This Magic team has potential, and with the right veteran or two, this team should be in the 2016-2017 playoffs. They must. They have to make the playoffs next season. The rebuilding can’t continue any longer or everyone must go.

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