After watching their team finish with the worst record in the league, Orlando Magic fans are happily looking forward to making predictions about next season. Once it comes time to actually look into the future, though, it quickly becomes apparent that the Magic might not see a big improvement in their win-loss record.
In Orlando's first season without Howard and former head coach Stan Van Gundy, the Magic only managed to win 20 games. Even worse, the franchise only won five games after the All-Star break.
The dismal results are by design, though. General manager Rob Hennigan decided it was in the franchise's best interest to bottom out after trading Dwight Howard prior to the 2012-13 season.
Still, there are no excuses in the NBA on a nightly basis. With some of the greatest athletes in the world as their competition, the Magic will struggle to remain competitive over the span of a full season.
Magic fans should not expect the upcoming season to be much better than the previous one, although the development of the team's young talent will be on full display. Next season will be about the continued progression of the roster under Jacque Vaughn's leadership, which should allow the front office to pick which young talents are going to be selected as franchise cornerstones.
Although it's difficult to give up hope of making a run at the playoffs before training camp even starts, Orlando's rebuilding effort is already ahead of schedule. The haul the Magic received in return for Howard, which was thought to be underwhelming at the time, has turned out to be better than originally anticipated.
Nikola Vucevic appears to be one of the most promising young centers in the NBA. He finished the season with 46 double-doubles, which was the third-highest total league-wide.
Also included in the trade was Moe Harkless, who started 59 games for the Magic. While it took the St. John's product about half of the season to transition to the NBA game, he started to look more comfortable over the final three months of the season, as evidenced by the fact that he averaged 13.4 points per contest after the All Star break.
The acquisition of Tobias Harris in the J.J Redick trade also made Hennigan look like a genius. In his 27 games with the Magic, Harris averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds while shooting 45.3 percent from the floor.
With the second pick in June's draft, the Magic selected shooting guard Victor Oladipo out of Indiana. The move did not surprise anyone. Oladipo was rated the top prospect in this year's class by a collection of NBA GMs and scouts, according to Chad Ford of ESPN (subscription required).
The Magic will rely on their young core group and veterans Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson and Glen "Big Baby" Davis. And while the roster has upside, it's hard to form an argument against the Magic employing one of the league's bottom 10 rosters in regards to "ready" talent.
It's a bit tough to find many strengths for the Magic. They still have a while to go until they're ready to compete for a playoff spot.
That being said, Orlando was strong on the boards last season and figures to be just as good once the new campaign gets underway.
By pulling down an average of 42.7 boards per contest, the Magic finished the season ranked 12th in rebounding. By adding Oladipo at shooting guard, who figures to be above the league average on the glass for his position, the Magic could easily blossom into a top-10 team on the boards.
Unfortunately for the Magic, the only other aspect that could confidently be considered a strength is the team's age. More than half of Orlando's expected impact players are under 23 years of age, which means the franchise certainly has something to build upon.
The team's weaknesses are plentiful, but that is to be expected for such a young group that struggled to win games last season.
The Magic will have a hard time scoring on un-assisted baskets. Offensively, the Magic don't have a player that can consistently get himself a decent open look. Without a go-to guy, Orlando will struggle in late-game situations.
Although the Magic could improve on either their scoring offense or defense (they finished ranked 24th in each category last season), it wouldn't be surprising if neither unit improved dramatically.
Despite having plenty of building blocks, Orlando still lacks a legitimate star player, but it hopes to acquire that type of talent once the 2014 NBA draft rolls around.
The Magic are in the Southeast division, which means they have the misfortune of playing the Miami Heat four times per year. While Orlando seriously challenged the NBA champions in two of their four contests during the 2012-13 season, the Magic are still a couple years away from giving the Heat any trouble barring serious personnel shake-ups.
Rounding out the Southeast are the Atlanta Hawks (who lost Josh Smith in free agency), the Washington Wizards (who should compete for a playoff berth) and the Charlotte Bobcats (who figure to better due to the acquisition of Al Jefferson).
At this point, Orlando appears to be the worst team in the division. It's conceivable that the Magic could finish the regular season with a better record than the Bobcats, but that would likely either take another major step back from Charlotte or a serious leap in progress from Orlando's young players.
Looking at the Eastern Conference as a whole, the Magic will have a few competitors at the bottom of the standings. With the season still months away, the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Bobcats figure to join Orlando in the conference's cellar.