ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A disappointing season for the Orlando Magic in previous years was followed by drastic changes to the roster during the offseason.
They’re taking a different approach this season. Instead of adding an impact player or trading a disappointing star, the Magic chose to follow up their fifth straight non-playoff season by not making a significant change to their roster.
Even second-year coach Frank Vogel isn’t quite sure what to expect.
“We will have to take a big jump if we want to consider ourselves competing for a playoff spot,” Vogel said when asked how well this season’s team is constructed for success. “We weren’t close last year and we didn’t make a bunch of changes, so the improvement has to come from within. It has to come from player development. That’s the task that has been put in front of me and that’s what I’m embracing.”
The team is banking on continuity to help turnaround its fortunes. For the first time since the 2014-15 season, the Magic have a second year coach. That means the second year of Vogel’s defensive system and the continuation of the small-ball offensive scheme Vogel gave into midway through last season.
And while there isn’t a superstar on the roster, Orlando returns the starting five of Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic that wrapped up last season’s 29-53 finish. The most significant additions are No. 6 overall pick Jonathan Isaac, who entered the NBA draft after a one-and-done year at Florida State, and Jonathon Simmons, a perimeter defense specialist who joined the club as a free agent from San Antonio.
New president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has defended the decision to virtually stand still and not make wholesale change to the roster. Weltman is in listen, learn and evaluate mode now.
“We come in without a history with some of the organization and the players and we have to give ourselves the time to understand what it is that we have,” Weltman said. “But what our hope is is to put everybody in the best possible situation to succeed while we are making those evaluations.”
Here are some other things to know about the Magic this season.
PLAYOFFS THIS YEAR? Even without doing much to improve their roster, the Magic could be on the brink of ending their five-year playoff drought. But it has much less to do with their improvement and more to do with three teams that were in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season but are now in rebuild mode. That creates an opportunity for Orlando to be the postseason chance. Atlanta, Indiana and Chicago have overhauled their rosters, opening up possibilities for teams that were on the outside of the playoff race last season like Philadelphia, Miami and Orlando.
PAYTON’S PLACE: There probably hasn’t been a Magic player more scrutinized than Payton. His perimeter shot isn’t consistent and his on-ball defense has left a lot to be desired. But clearly the Magic believe in Payton. A lot of that has to do with the improvement he made once Vogel shifted to the small-ball lineup last season. He had five triple doubles and averaged 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 2.5 turnovers after the All-Star break.
BEING DEFENSIVE: Vogel is a defense-first coach but he inherited a team that was anything but that last season. The continuity of players gives the Magic a chance to be improved defensively this year. The addition of Simmons will also help. He has the athleticism to get after opponents on the perimeter like the Magic couldn’t last season.
PERIMETER PROBLEMS: In a league where the 3-point shot has taken over, the Magic have struggled from beyond the arc. That could continue to be the case unless Gordon and Payton improve immensely and Fournier and Ross become more consistent. The Magic ranked 29th in the NBA last season in 3-point shooting after making just 33 percent from long range.
JONATHAN ISAAC IMPACT? Isaac’s impact may not be obvious. At 6-foot-10 and 210 pounds, the 20-year-old may not be ready to deal with the physical aspects of playing in the NBA. But his length and athletic ability gives him a chance to be a solid defender off the bench while he bulks up.
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