Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic certainly can be considered two major building blocks for the Orlando Magic, but who else should stay on the team? Who should be traded? And which players are still missing?
The Magic have a young roster with a couple of veterans, and the 2014 NBA draft will bring additional talent.
It makes sense that Orlando will give its most promising prospects as much playing time as possible over the next couple of seasons. If management can ensure that the majority of them stays for the long term, the franchise is looking ahead at golden times with perennial—and meaningful—playoff appearances.
The 2013-14 win-loss record betrays the quality of the Magic's current roster.
Over the last season, Jacque Vaughn made many questionable decisions regarding rotations and playing time. Some may say this was in order to lose more games and get a better draft pick, others may claim he simply wanted to experiment. The result, in any case, was a lack of consistency for the athletes.
That hinders production, team cohesion and development—especially for young players.
This franchise is not going to be a title contender for the next couple of seasons. There is no need for instant cures or immediate success and hardly any place, nor reason, for adding more veterans.
Fans have been patient so far. Now they want to see the long-term plan being executed proficiently.
If the Orlando Magic play their cards right, they can become a powerhouse again.
On the one hand, there is Victor Oladipo.
He had an impressive rookie campaign and made his case for Rookie of the Year honors. Oladipo became better with each game and can be expected to be one of the key players for many years to come.
He should improve further during the offseason, given his work ethic.
On the other hand, Nikola Vucevic keeps putting up great numbers.
The 23-year-old averaged a double-double the last two seasons and helped Orlando fans forget about Dwight Howard. Vooch still needs to work on his defense, one aspect still missing from his game.
With his expressed desire to stay in Florida, as reported by Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz, he is definitely a cornerstone for the team. If he can keep up his production and stay healthy, good times lie ahead.
Even if Joel Embiid is up for grabs when it's Orlando's turn in the 2014 NBA draft, they need to keep Vucevic. He has proved his worth, the Magic desperately need some consistency and there are concerns regarding Embiid's health, as reported by ESPN's Jeff Goodman.
It would be devastating to let Nikola go only to have Joel on the injury list or struggling to adjust to the physical NBA game in his first season.
Players Who Need To Stay
Apart from these two, the roster has a variety of talented players who Orlando must keep.
Tobias Harris has shown a lot of talent. With more minutes on a consistent basis, he can become one of the go-to guys for this team. His skill level is arguably at least on par with Oladipo's, and he possesses impressive athleticism.
Harris can be an explosive scorer, able to finish through heavy contact.
Picked at No. 49, he provided great defense and solid offense late in the season, when his minutes increased thanks to the Glen Davis buyout. If he can improve his mid-range jump shot during the offseason, he can become one of the missing pieces for the Orlando Magic.
As for Jameer Nelson, the veteran guard can still play an important role.
He has the experience needed to guide such a young team, especially at such a crucial position on the floor. What's more, he can teach his successor over the next couple of seasons to allow for a smoother transition.
The Question Marks
Players like Maurice Harkless or Andrew Nicholson need to prove they can live up to expectations. Last season saw them underperform, partly due to inconsistent minutes. However, they have the talent to prosper into efficient role players at the very least.
A lot will be decided during the offseason.
The former has shown his potential on occasions during 2013-14 but needs to become more consistent. He can become a crucial relief at both guard positions, but he isn't likely going to be starter material.
Dedmon joined the Magic late last season and still has a lot to prove. In the short time he was on the roster, he provided much-needed interior defense. His playing time was helped by Vucevic's injury, and he made sure to make the most of it. The undrafted big man may well evolve into a situational role player.
His future, however, is still unclear and depends largely on Orlando's draft picks.
Players on Their Way Out
Jason Maxiell has hardly seen the floor even after Glen Davis' departure. The lack of production paired with his age make it more than likely that he will be waived.
Doron Lamb and Ronnie Price both had disappointing outings. To be fair, they were hardly given the chance to get into a flow. In Price's case, age also becomes a factor in the Magic's decision whether to keep him.
Both are likely to be let go, given previous season's numbers as well as the addition of two first-round draft picks in June.
Unlike Maxiell, they may well be worth dangling in front of other teams trying to initiate a trade.
The Afflalo Situation
Things get a bit tricky in the case of Arron Afflalo. The veteran shooting guard has played his best season and may, for that very reason, be on his way out—fair or not.
Afflalo is undoubtedly a valuable player. The very coachable veteran is a great locker-room presence and offers a lot of experience.
In the case of the Orlando Magic, however, he also takes away important playing time from guys like Oladipo or Harris. Harkless, Moore and possibly one of the first-round picks will compete for minutes as well.
Eventually, Afflalo will be a luxury bench player for a team not competing for the title.
Management will be looking for possible trade scenarios during the offseason.
Afflalo will be 29 years old come next season. While this is not likely going to decrease his production yet, his value on the trade market will definitely go down significantly in years to come.
The longer the Magic wait with a trade, the less they will receive in return.
Whether they want to add even more draft picks or prefer to invest in a quality veteran in an area they need to improve depends on what the franchise plans to achieve in the next couple of years.
Orlando has a lot of scoring options. It also has good perimeter defense. What it lacks is a player who can dominate defensively under the basket.
O'Quinn and Dedmon may be the answer in the long run, but it never hurts to have additional help to alter the odds in your favor. The easiest shot is the dunk or layup, which makes it vital to challenge opponents each time they drive to the basket.
One-dimensional role players like Javale McGee, Tyson Chandler or even Chris Andersen (the author is aware that this may provoke heated discussions, pun intended) paired with draft picks may not only provide immediate help reaching the playoffs. They can also support O'Quinn's and Dedmon's development.
However, Afflalo is too good a player to rush into any trade just for the sake of it.
Either way, if he stays, he will hamper the progress of important key players for Orlando's future. Despite arguably being All-Star material, AA will likely be shipped unlike management believes the franchise can become a major force within three years.
It would be a shame for both Afflalo and the Magic to have him waste his best years on a team not able to compete for the title.
The 2014 NBA draft is supposed to be one of the best in recent history. While it may be tough for a small-market team to attract great free agents, the Orlando Magic are in a unique position.
They have two lottery picks.
Depending on the ping pong balls, their first pick can be used for Dante Exum or Joel Embiid. For their second pick, they may decide to trade up, using their WoNK pick and the aforementioned Afflalo. That way they could get their hands on either Noah Vonleh or Marcus Smart.
The point guard position definitely needs a player like Exum or Smart for two reasons: Oladipo is not a natural playmaker, and Nelson, despite ending up eighth in the NBA in assists last season, will have to be replaced eventually.
By now, fans know Jacque Vaughn's definition of VO by heart.
In case you need a reminder, here's what he keeps repeating in one fashion or the other, as reported by SB Nation's Evan Dunlap:
I think when we talked about what Victor was, we said he was a guard, and I don't think we've changed from that. We've seen him bring the ball up at the one position and play off the ball and we've seen some good things both ways. I don't think we're at a position where we're forced to say, „you're only going to do this in the course of the game.“
Oladipo himself begged to differ in January.
The second area of improvement concerns the paint.
Embiid is a highly regarded prospect, who has All-Star talent written all over him if he can stay healthy. His back injury is reason for concern, says Deadspin's Matt McCarthy. Vonleh is mainly a defensive presence; his offense still is a bit rough at the edges. That doesn't matter too much, though, as Orlando has enough offensive weapons.
Both have a lot of upside to their games and can become important players for the franchise in many years to come.
This year proves that the seeding doesn't matter too much in the playoffs. The postseason has its own rules, and all those closely contested games and series show us there is no certainty whatsoever.
If consistency finds its way into Orlando's rotation, the team will end up in a playoff spot as early as next season. More importantly, though, the Magic could be on the way to becoming an NBA powerhouse.
It will be critical to focus on the young talent. That means parting ways with Afflalo despite his skill level, coachability and overall great personality.
Also, Coach Vaughn will be under scrutiny.
If he continues to change the lineups and minutes as much as he did last season, he will not only alienate fans. He will lose his players' respect and the management's trust. Either one can be the difference between getting paid to sit on the sidelines or paying to watch from the stands.
The Orlando Magic are in an excellent position. They have a great future if they can keep their current nucleus together. Add two lottery picks and it is hard not to get excited as an Orlando fan.
Destiny, here we come.
You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.
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