The focus of many scouts and league executives is on the trade deadline coming up Thursday. This is the last point for this season for many teams to transform their teams and put them on the path toward a championship, the Playoffs or back to rebuilding.
Orlando right now is taking a look at the bigger picture beyond this season. It is about a long-term plan to build the Magic into a championship team and organization. So they are active at the deadline, but probably not in any hurry to make a deal. The assets they have — namely, Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson — will likely retain their value into next season.
So the trade deadline this year is, for the Magic, a task in answering the bigger question: Are the Magic on the right path?
Zach Lowe of Grantland tackled this question a bit and asked some scouts about the Magic and where they are in addition to getting the Magic's perspective on their own progress. A sample:
You can understand the skepticism some of the league feels about the Magic’s path. Maurice Harkless has stagnated in his second year. He is uncertain with the ball, he rarely shoots, and he has not met the organization’s expectations for him on defense. But he’s not yet 21. Tobias Harris has lost his jump shot and remains a tricky lineup fit. He gives up size at power forward, where he thrived last season during Glen Davis’s absence, and has struggled this season at some of the basic things an NBA small forward has to do. He’s a poor long-range shooter and a shaky ball handler, and he has trouble at times tracking quicker wing players scurrying around the floor. The number of post-up threats in the Magic’s core lineups — Nikola Vucevic, Afflalo, Davis — limits Harris’s chances to bully smaller wings down low. “That’s how it goes,” Harris says. “I have to be patient and not complain. I feel like we’re taking steps in the right direction, and I want to do whatever I can to help us win games.”
It is admittedly hard to project where the Magic will be going. There is a big piece to this puzzle missing. That is the piece Lowe writes most about — the superstar. Very few teams have won championships without a top-15 player. Orlando is fishing for one in this year's draft. Players like Nikola Vucevic remain a mystery as they get set to hit the free agent market for the first time.
It is next year that is the critical one for the organization. Few teams and organizations stick to a rebuild plan past the third year. There has to be some real progress next season or else impatience will really begin to build.
A lot of things have to go right for the organization and the organization has to hit on a lot of things at the right time to get back to the top. That is how it is for most organizations — certainly ones from small markets.
Several players on the Magic have taken steps forward this year. Others though have plateaued some or struggled to replicate any success they had last year. Most are still young so there is plenty of time for them to get better and improve.
The future though is still extremely uncertain for the Magic. And the time is coming when real improvement — wins and losses improvement — needs to be seen.
Rob Hennigan will have his chance to make any last tweaks this week before the major 2014 Draft.