The first season of the Magic's rebuilding program is over. It featured a lot of young players getting lots of time to grow and develop in their first and second years all under (at least early on) the watchful eye of several veterans. Undoubtedly, having Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo among others in that locker room helped Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris grow.
Eventually though they got in the way of playing time for the young players. Injuries and "injuries" began to take over as the Magic were happy to allow players to take as much time as they needed to get back 100 percent healthy.
Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis likely could have pushed themselves to play if that is what the Magic really wanted. Having been eliminated from the Playoffs already, there was no need to risk further injuries. Jameer Nelson missed all of April with what was at first a sprained ankle. Al Harrington and Hedo Turkoglu were pretty much healthy scratches, even when they could have been used in minor roles to help give young guys a rest.
Orlando wants these veterans around for their leadership and guidance for the young players. But playing the young guys was a priority for this team. And it will remain to be so in what is expected to be another developing year in 2014 (with an eye on a start-studded Draft class).
Tobias Harris might be saying the team's goal next year should be to make the Playoffs — and it should be — but the question is whether you can rely on these young players who struggled specifically on the defensive end in the final months of the season — the Magic gave up a 107.7 defensive rating in the final 20 games. If the Magic favor young players again next year, without major improvement from multiple players, the Playoffs are just that: a goal.
Veterans though could help. The Magic were 12-13 at one time and had a top defense that gave up a defensive rating of 99.0 defensive rating. If the veterans play, they can help the team achieve that goal. Again, the question is who improves and how do the Magic move forward with the distribution of playing time and offseason acquisitions.
Several veterans know that, perhaps, and can see the shifting still going on with the Magic.
Al Harrington and Hedo Turkoglu sense that their time with the Magic is coming to a close, with buyouts coming up on their contracts leaving them without any guarantees next season. It is still unclear for both of these players based on their limited playing time this year if they can continue to contribute to an NBA team.
As reporters asked veterans like Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo, no one could say for certain whether they would be in a Magic uniform next year (h/t Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel):
Glen Davis: It's not my place to even think about that. No matter what they do, I got to be who I am.
Arron Afflalo on whether he was told he would not be traded: No. It was just never put like that.
Al Harrington: I understand what's going on. It's a cycle of the league. Hopefully, it's a trade. Maybe they can waive me so I can pick my destination.
Schmitz further cites a Magic source who said no player on the roster is completely untouchable this offseason. The Magic are going to continue to do their due diligence.
That is all you can ask for from the Magic as they continue to put the pieces in a row. It seems like having veterans around helped the young players and I would expect a few of them — particularly Jameer Nelson — to be around next year to provide that foundation of professionalism that is important through all this losing.
But October 2013 is a long way away. And a lot can still happen.