Culture of Hoops

The Orlando Magic in Year 3 of the Post-Dwight Era

Image courtesy of RMTip21/Flickr.

Image courtesy of RMTip21/Flickr.

It’s been two years and a month or so since Rob Hennigan took over the Orlando Magic following a disastrous 2011-12 season which will forever be known among Central Floridians as “The Dwightmare.” If you take a look at the roster from when Hennigan was appointed general manager and the roster as it stands now, you’ll notice there have been some remarkable changes that took place. One example that may still sting Magic fans was longtime incumbent starter, Jameer Nelson, being waived by the only team he played for in his 10-season career. So where are the Magic now that it has entered Year Three of the Post-Dwight Howard era? Three things stand out: A new identity, cap flexibility and budding young talent. A New Identity There’s a new Magic team in the City Beautiful. One that was built in the way Hennigan probably envisioned at this point since he took over. No longer are the Magic in the eyes of the basketball universe viewed as a one man band carrying a team of nobodies to greener pastures. It may have taken a couple of tough, losing seasons that put one’s patience to the test (depending on who you ask), but Hennigan has managed to turn this team completely around. Now the Magic boast one of the youngest, and most athletic teams in the league with a great amount of upside that could catapult them among the NBA’s elite once again. We’ve all seen young teams that fit the Magic description suffered two to three years of rebuilding only to see them take that next step to the upper echelon of the NBA; most notably the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2010, and more recently the Phoenix Suns. It’s not a sure thing it will happen, but it’s not a stretch either to say that the Magic will be the next team to take that leap. Cap Flexibility The wins and losses might not tell you just how much impact Hennigan really has over the franchise, but one look at the Magic’s salaries from 2012 and the salaries today and you’ll begin to understand. In 2012, Gilbert Arenas – who wasn’t even on the team roster after Orlando exercised the Amnesty Clause – was the highest paid Magic player at $19,269,307. The second-highest-paid player who was actually on the team? Dwight Howard. Let that sink in for a moment. Now fast forward two seasons later, and you’ll see that the highest-paid player on the Magic now is Channing Frye at $8,579,088 with an annual 4.5 percent decrease. That lets you know where the Magic are in terms of salary cap flexibility, something the team didn’t have at all prior to Hennigan’s hiring. Having ample cap space can allow you to do things rather easily but even that can be a bad thing if you don’t know how to shop. The Magic could have easily been one of the teams making big splashes in free agency and would most likely be on the losing end as well. Instead, it got down to the nitty gritty and signed value players. Although some may say the Magic slightly overpaid for its free agent acquisitions, in today’s game, it’s all about getting bang for your buck. Budding Young Talent The Magic may be one of the youngest teams in the NBA, but they are also some experience away from being one of the most talented. Before the Frye signing, the Magic was probably one player away from making that proverbial leap. From players like Nikola Vucevic, Kyle O’Quinn who emerged as a double-machine and a top shot blocker respectively, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Aaron Gordon whose offensive and defensive versatility can present nightly mismatches for opposing teams, to Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, and Evan Fournier each with abilities that makes them practically interchangeable from both guard positions. Throw in Ben Gordon, who’s motivated to revive his career, and Frye, who was a very big reason why the Suns were two wins away (at 48 wins) from making the playoffs, and you have a Magic team that is having more people believing it can make some noise and push for a playoff berth for the first time since The Dwightmare. It’s been two years since Rob Hennigan took over the Magic. Two years is all it took for him to turn a franchise and a fan-base that was looking into a pit of despair into a franchise with a bright future and a fan-base that believes again. It’s not a stretch to say that the Magic will probably be in the lottery again, but it’s not a stretch to say it will break through and make the playoffs either

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