Last year's record: 40-42
Key losses: forward Tony Battie (season-ending shoulder surgery), guard Travis Diener (free agency to Indiana), coach Brian Hill (fired), guard Grant Hill (free agency to Phoenix), forward Darko Milicic (free agency to Memphis).
Key additions: center Adonal Foyle (free agency from Golden State), forward Marcin Gortat (2005 draft), forward Rashard Lewis (sign-and-trade with Seattle), coach Stan Van Gundy (hired).
What significant moves were made during the offeason?
With the exception of the Boston Celtics, no NBA team made more changes this summer than the Orlando Magic. The signing of Rashard Lewis, a three-point specialist and 20-points-per-game scorer, to a maximum contract generated a lot of buzz around the league and in Orlando. Not since the days of Tracy McGrady have the Magic had such a brilliant offensive force.
However, the most significant change the Magic made was in coaching. The team parted ways with Brian Hill because it disagreed with his slow-it-down, grind-it-out philosophy, which did not suit the Magic's players. Enter Stan Van Gundy, a coach who likes his players to run the floor, to score in transition, and to play tough defense. He should be able to better use the Magic's athletic roster while encouraging them to create on the fly. Look for Van Gundy's philosophy to make a star out of point guard Jameer Nelson, who looked lost trying to run Brian Hill's offense last season.
What are the team's biggest strengths?
- Three-point shooting - The Magic ranked 15th in three-pointers made last season, but 29th in attempts, which indicates that Brian Hill didn't make the best use of the shooting talent he had. Anyway, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, J.J. Redick, Keith Bogans, Pat Garrity, and Jameer Nelson could all conceivably shoot at least 38% from downtown. And considering the sheer volume of threes the team will take in Stan Van Gundy's offense (18 per game so far this preseason, compared to approximately 12 per game last season), that will translate into a lot of scoring. The problem is that teams who live with the jump-shot also die with the jump-shot. Luckily, the Magic have the option of giving the ball to Dwight Howard down low.
- Defensive rebounding - Although the Magic seemingly have holes at the power positions, especially with Tony Battie being out for the season, they have done a capable job of cleaning their opponents' glass this preseason. The Magic have rebounded 80% of their opponents' missed shot this season, much better than the 73% average. Of course, the Magic haven't faced teams with any dominant big-men yet this preseason, so that may be skewed. But if Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis are able to step up, and if Adonal Foyle plays well off the bench, the Magic will have plenty of possessions off their opponents' missed shots, which means plenty of chances to run the fast-break.
What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
- Leadership - Orlando has never been known for having gutsy players, or guys who can lead by example. This year's team features Adonal Foyle, who is as nice a player as there is in the league, but he doesn't have the star wattage that most leaders have. Ditto for Bo Outlaw, who may not even make the team. Until Jameer Nelson, Dwight Howard, or Rashard Lewis step up and show this team some backbone, the Magic may find themselves on the losing ends of some close games.
- Depth - The Magic are in desperate need of another rebounding big-man as insurance in case Foyle or Howard go down. Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, and Trevor Ariza will all see time out-of-position at the four, but they don't provide the brute strength required. Ditto for Pat Garrity, James Augustine, and Marcin Gortat, who are natural fours.
What are the goals for this team?
- Get healthy - The Magic were without Trevor Ariza, Keyon Dooling, and Rashard Lewis last week because of injuries. As a result, the team has not been able to practice at full strength in quite some time. Those three will likely play 20+ minutes per game once they are healthy. Until they are, the Magic are going to have to make due with what little else they have and hope it's able to get them through a grueling November.
Win a playoff series - After a four-year absence, the Magic returned to the playoffs last season despite having a losing record. They were swept unceremoniously in the first round by the Detroit Pistons. It was the first playoff appearance of the Dwight Howard era, so the Magic were already expected to build upon that by making another playoff trip. But the arrival of Rashard Lewis has raised the bar for this team, so to speak, so they must advance past the first round of the playoffs for the season to be considered a success.
For the record, the Magic have not won a playoff series since 1996.
How many times will some commentator or columnist mention Rashard Lewis' contract?
More than I can even begin to articulate. You know how last year Theo Ratliff didn't exist, but Theo Ratliff's Expiring Contract did? That's what it's going to be like for the Magic and Rashard Lewis. If he's playing well, they'll say the Magic have gotten their money's worth. If he's playing poorly, they'll say the Magic overpaid for a one-dimensional, one-time All-Star who has never had to lead a team in his life. It won't end. I'm already sick of it.
Predicted record: 46-36
Despite having a losing record last season, the Magic had a positive point differential, indicating that they were coached out of some victories. Their expected record last season was 43-39, and based on the personnel changes, they're probably a 50-win team now. However, given the inevitable injury to a regular rotation player (or two) at midseason, and given an adjustment period to Stan Van Gundy's new offense, and given the team's difficult opening schedule, I'm predicting a modest three-game improvement for the Magic, or 46 wins. That should be enough to make the playoffs; in fact, it may be enough to win the Southeast Division. Call me cautiously optimistic.