This summer the Magic took a huge chance on a new leader. Really twice.
Rob Hennigan is really only 10 years out of college and now he is responsible for running and rebuilding a franchise that spends somewhere around $60-70 million per year. Jacque Vaughn is only three seasons removed from retirement with two of those years spent as an assistant coach before ascending to the head job in Orlando.
In a short amount of time, Hennigan and Vaughn have accomplished a lot and built the foundations for their philosophies on how to build this team. It is an unparalleled opportunity for these young managers to change the game, so to speak. These are newcomers trying to bring energy to a franchise that is expected to go through a bit of a trough.
And in the never-ending enthusiasm and optimism that comes with the beginning of every year, Vaughn and Hennigan are providing what Alex Martins gave to them this summer: an opportunity.
Players young and old, veteran and rookie on this Magic roster have an incredible opportunity to either be part of the Magic's future or to increase their exposure for their own future. The Magic are not going to roll over and die and there are lots of players hungry to prove themselves this camp.
So in the low-pressure situation of a team not expected even to compete for a Playoff spot, an incredible opportunity presents itself to the players on the Magic roster.
Afflalo started his career in Detroit known as a defensive player and sort of a specialty guy. He developed in Denver into a consistent offensive threat, averaging 16.3 points per game while shooting 47.1 percent from the floor. That was on an incredibly balanced team as his usage rate was less than 20 percent.
The question for Afflalo as he moves on to the Magic is whether he can continue the efficiency while being given a bigger role. There is nothing more you can ask for from a relatively young player. This is Afflalo's first real opportunity to prove he can be more than just a role player on a good team. This is his opportunity to see if he can be that second or third guy. Afflalo has slowly ascended up the NBA ranks, and this could be an opportunity to turn into something more.
Afflalo's career ascendancy is very similar to Hedo Turkoglu's.
Turkoglu began his career as a role player for some very good Sacramento teams. He struggled to find his way until things began to click with Stan Van Gundy in 2008. He turned in two All-Star caliber years after several solid, but not spectacular years with the Kings, Spurs and Magic.
Turkoglu will be looking to recapture some of that this year with a new coach. Turkoglu has sort of lost his way since that 2009 Finals run. He has been searching for his game a bit, especially with age creeping up on him.
This team may rely on Turkoglu's ball handling a bit more than those late Van Gundy-era teams did. Turkoglu wants to finish his career in Orlando and wantsto contribute more than he has the past few years. There is no doubt he has disappointed since his return to Orlando. Turkoglu surely wants to make things right.
Jameer Nelson too knows that his role will change with this team. Dwight Howard is gone and so many are wondering whether Nelson can remain effective without his draft mate running the pick and roll. This is an incredibly important time for Nelson and the direction of his career. At 30 years old, he maybe has this contract and the next one before he will retire.
His numbers have steadily gone down since that magical 2009 season when he was named an All Star. But there are still moments when Nelson takes over games. He did it in the 2010 Playoffs and he does it from time to time. Without Dwight Howard, the Magic will rely on veterans like Nelson and Turkoglu more to carry the team and be leaders in the locker room.
It really is a chance to turn the page and begin writing a new, successful chapter to their careers.
And, of course, Orlando's young players have an incredible opportunity to learn from some solid veterans who have been around winning teams and franchises and gain experience on the court. Everyone will be learning from each other.
As has been said elsewhere, this season may not really be about this season at all. Rob Hennigan is building a new future. But the seeds will be laid in the coming months. So the focus is on the opportunity immediately ahead of the Magic. It is a big opportunity for several players, young and old, to make a difference with this team and prove a lot of doubters wrong.