SB Nation NBA has called on its sites to use Wednesday to examine where their respective teams might stand 12 months away. This post marks Orlando Pinstriped Post's entry in that series. - ED
Since trading Dwight Howard in August 2012, the Orlando Magic have undergone a complete roster makeover under the stewardship of general manager Rob Hennigan and his staff. The departure of Jameer Nelson in July means, in less than two years, Hennigan has stocked his team with players of his own choosing. The results on the floor are less than encouraging: no NBA team has a worse record than Orlando does in that span, but the future may be bright for Hennigan and coach Jacque Vaughn's young crew.
From a personnel standpoint, Hennigan has some hard choices to make. Nikola Vučević, Kyle O'Quinn, and Tobias Harris will enter restricted free agency in July 2015, and each figures to command a salary larger than the mid-level exception, and in Vučević's case perhaps even double that sum. Hennigan can opt to offer extensions to Vučević and/or Harris before the season begins, but if those players don't reach an agreement on new deals, then the market will have a chance to set their values.
Though Vučević has proven his worth as an elite rebounder and an emerging offensive threat, it's fair to question whether he's a foundational player. The young center will receive a hefty payday regardless, as all productive young bigs do, but paying him for the sake of paying him could have dramatically negative consequences on Hennigan's ability to maintain the team's salary-cap flexibility moving forward.
Harris, a versatile combo forward with excellent off-the-dribble scoring instincts, won't earn as much money as Vučević does, but he adds plenty of value to a team in need of offensive firepower. Curiously, he has yet to nail down a starting job in Orlando, and we'll know more about his future with the team as the 2014/15 season progresses. At present, he looks dangerously close to expendable, given the presence of Maurice Harkless and rookie Aaron Gordon on the roster.
In his two seasons, O'Quinn has evolved from a second-round Draft pick with a low ceiling to a reliable utility big, one who rebounds, defends, sets solid screens, and scores efficiently, if not always gracefully.
The calls Hennigan makes with regard to those three players will go a long way toward shaping Orlando's future and where it'll stand come August 2015. So too, obviously, will its performance in the season ahead. The offseason additions of Gordon, Elfrid Payton, and Channing Frye could pay dividends in the win column, but it seems unlikely the value they'll add to the team, which won just 23 games in the 2013/14 season, will vault the Magic into postseason contention, even in the weak Eastern Conference.
On the court, look to see if either Payton or Victor Oladipo makes strides as playmakers; their growth in that aspect of the game could help Hennigan chart a course for free agency come July. If neither Harkless nor Gordon impress, then the Magic could find themselves in the market for a bona fide starting small forward, at least if they want to enter the playoff race in 2016.
The key question, as it's remained throughout Hennigan's tenure at Orlando's helm, remains this one: when, and by what means, will the Magic's young GM find a cornerstone player? The last decade of NBA history strongly suggests there's no better or more surefire way to guarantee annual postseason runs than to employ at least one of the league's 15- or 20-best players. Would free-agents-to-be Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, or LaMarcus Aldridge fit the bill? Would Hennigan even be interested in them? Or will he instead continue to focus on the Draft and trades as means to upgrade his roster?
The season ahead will offer answers to those questions and others. At present, it's tough to tell exactly where the Magic might stand in August 2015, but at least we have an idea of the factors which may offer some answers.