Orlando Magic should value veteran help as building continues

D.J. Augustin's stats might be meager, but he was a key force in the Orlando Magic's maturity and stability as a prized veteran. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
D.J. Augustin's stats might be meager, but he was a key force in the Orlando Magic's maturity and stability as a prized veteran. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are expected to retool their team as they try to get out of the playoff basement. But even if they go young, veteran presence is vital.

The Orlando Magic are straddling two paths in the common NBA thinking.

There is no binary in the league between rebuilding and contending. There are varying shades. And the Miami Heat have continually proven a team does not have to bottom out to contend eventually.

Ultimately winning is what attracts free agents and attracts the high-quality role players that make the difference for championships. And that is the philosophy the Magic are following.

They believe competing for the playoffs will ultimately make them more attractive to the fringe free agents and put them in a position to make the all-inmove that takes them to the next level.

This offseason feels like a chance for the Magic to reset the board a bit. With Jonathan Isaac out for the year, it feels like something of a lost year for the team’s development. That does not mean there is not something to accomplish.

And it absolutely does not mean the Magic are going to give up on making the playoffs.

But fans want to see a bit of a reset. They want to see the team give younger players more responsibility. They want to see the team move forward.

The Magic, as they reset the roster certainly have to look for ways to empower the young players and position them to take over and play bigger minutes. The Magic certainly could shift their roster in that direction.

But that is only part of the equation. Going younger might create a brighter future. But fulfilling that potential requires a guiding hand.

So if the Magic do go younger — or even if they stay the same — they need to add veterans to solidify and guide this roster.

The problem with young players is how little they know. They do not know how to manage the 82-game season or get through those ups and downs. The Magic experienced that firsthand through six years of painful rebuilding where young players were pushed too far into the lead before they were ready.

Those teams were most successful when Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis were driving the ship. They shed those players for various reasons and to varying success. There is a time where veterans need to take the lead and a time to push them out and let the younger players go.

That was at least part of the reason the Magic let Grant Hill go in free agency in 2007. The Magic wanted to push Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson into leadership roles and have them stop deferring to the veteran All-Star.

That decision was clearly the right time — along with the right coach and free-agent acquisition. But they still retained someone like Tony Battie to be a veteran to help Howard in the locker room.

The Magic, despite their lack of under-25 players, were still fairly young last year. Only D.J. Augustin and James Ennis were older than 30 on the roster.

The mix of young veterans in their prime have likely pushed the Magic out of the basement and into playoff contention. But even they could stand to benefit from the guiding hand of older players to show the way.

A key veteran indeed can change the fortunes of a team, just like knowing when to let go is vital to a young leader’s development.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

It is hard to know exactly where this team is. Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon are already the team’s on-court leaders. But they still obviously need more.

The Magic need top-end talent to take the next step. That will remain the overarching goal. But for their continued development, the team still needs to value its veterans. They still need players who have been deep into the playoffs and can show young players the way.

D.J. Augustin is largely considered to be a player that does not fit the Magic’s overall vision. He had his struggles this year as he averaged 10.5 points per game and 4.6 assists per game. His 47.5-percent effective field goal percentage was the worst of his four years in Orlando.

But he was still extremely valuable as a floor spacer and manager this year.

Many expect the Magic to move on from him, seeking someone who fits the size profile they want even if they need Augustin’s shooting.

But that is an oversimplification of his importance to the team. It was Augustin who was take younger players under his wing.

Whenever the media were around after practice, it was Augustin taking the young players to school with his loud trash talk as they played shooting games with the coaches.

Augustin was as big a part of the glue holding this team together as anybody else. He helped keep everyone loose and provided a mountain of stability. These are some of the little things the team would lose if they let him leave in free agency this offseason.

It is hard to measure that kind of camaraderie and what that brings to a team or how it lifts it.

Of course, the team will have plenty to consider too. It is certainly not a sure thing the Magic bring Augustin back in free agency.

Augustin plays at a very slow pace and despite the team’s need for shooting, his lack of size and defensive ability hurts the team and its offensive potential. It is easy to see how he does not fit what the team wants to be on the court.

But there is an equally grave concern about losing him and the relationships and stability he brings.

If the Magic let him go in free agency, it will be impossible to replace all the immeasurable things he does — especially as a mentor for Markelle Fultz. It would be beneficial especially for that relationship to find another backup point guard who can work with him that way.

And so part of the focus in this offseason — whether it be in a trade or in free agency — is to bring a veteran who can make an impact for the team.

Even if the Magic go younger, they need veterans in the rotation who will be invested in this team moving forward. That is what separated D.J. Augustin from other failed veteran experiments — including the ill-fated Channing Frye signing and even the later stages of Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis’ tenures with the team.

Every move this offseason needs a purpose. It needs to be directed toward what the Magic hope they look like when they are ready to contend and as they take their next step up the Eastern Conference standings.

And so they need to find a veteran who will be invested in that future and help get that team to that future.

Just because the Magic are shifting some toward that future configuration does not mean they do not need veterans on the roster filling in the gaps both on and off the court to get them there.

It may be Augustin. It may be Al-Farouq Aminu. It may be someone else on the roster or some other acquisition.

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But Orlando still needs to value a veteran to help the team grow.