The Brooklyn Nets have had consistent company at the bottom of the East the last 3 years, as the Orlando Magic launch yet another rebuild in 2018-19.
The Orlando Magic have been rebuilding for a long time now, for as long as the Brooklyn Nets have been in their new home in fact, and will enter yet another phase of that effort with a new coach and a freshly signed franchise player in 2018-19.
The Magic haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, the season before former No. 1 overall pick and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. They will be opening 2018-19 with their fourth coach in that span in Steve Clifford.
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Clifford is a familiar name in Orlando, as he was an assistant under Stan Van Gundy from 2007-12 with the Magic before heading to the Lakers in 2012-13.
The next season, he was named head coach of the then-Charlotte Bobcats and led them to a 196-214 record and two playoff appearances in five seasons.
Orlando is entering its seventh season A.H. (After Howard) and haven’t won more than 35 games in a season since the trade and they’ve only topped the 30-win once, a 35-47 season under one-and-done coach Scott Skiles in 2015-16.
Jacque Vaughn couldn’t get it done, fired in 2014-15 during his third season at the helm. After interim coach James Borrego, Skiles coached the club for a season before Frank Vogel was brought in for the next two.
Last season, the Magic were 25-57, the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference, and this summer, Orlando committed to young forward Aaron Gordon as the latest attempt at putting a face on the franchise, re-signing the restricted free agent to a four-year, $80 million deal.
Gordon was solid when available in 2017-18, averaging 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steals in 32.9 minutes per game on .434/.336/.698 shooting, but he missed 24 games with a variety of ailments that included a concussion, a right calf injury and a strained left hip flexor.
Gordon turns 23 on Sept. 16 and is entering his fifth NBA season. He’s improved steadily, raising his scoring average from 5.2 points per game as a rookie to 9.2 in 2015-16 and 12.7 in his third year before last season’s breakout performance.
The Magic will be working a new young big man into the system, as the hopes are high for sixth overall pick Mohamed Bamba.
Bamba averaged a double-double in his lone season at the University of Texas last year, putting up 12.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game to go with an impressive 3.7 blocks per game.
If the No. 6 overall pick in 2017, Jonathan Isaac, is healthy this season, he and Bamba could make quite a matchup nightmare in the frontcourt. The 7-foot Bamba teamed with the 6-foot-10 Isaac at the Las Vegas Summer League in July and combined to average five blocks per game.
Isaac was the Magic’s leading scorer in Vegas at 14.3 points per game, even as he shot just .351/1-for-8/.727. Bamba put up an odd line, averaging 8.7 points in 19. 7 minutes per game while shooting 12-for-20 overall and 2-for-4 from 3-point range in three games.
But he never found his way to the free-throw line, something that bears watching for a 7-foot center who plays near the rim so often.
Where Orlando will struggle is in the backcourt, where journeyman D.J. Augustin is expected to start the season at the point guard spot, backed up by three-year veteran Jerian Grant, who is on his third team already.
Fournier and second-year man Wesley Iwundu figure to get the bulk of the minutes at the 2 spot.
Jonathon Simmons had a solid first season with the Magic, but had surgery on his right wrist in June with no timetable for his return.
Orlando is the latest stop on the Timofey Mozgov Bad Contract tour, as well, as the Magic picked up the center in the deal with the Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls that brought them Grant and sent another big man on a 2016 Summer of Cash contract, Bismack Biyombo, back to Charlotte.
Charlotte had acquired Mozgov from the Brooklyn Nets earlier in exchange for Dwight Howard, showing that things really do come full circle.
25-57, 14th in Eastern Conference
103.4 PPG (24th), 108.2 OPPG (21st)
105.2 Offensive Rating (25th), 110.1 Defensive Rating (18th)
Team Leaders (minimum 42 games/82 3-pointers made)
Scoring: Evan Fournier 17.8 PPG
Rebounding: Nikola Vucevic 9.2 RPG
Assists: Elfrid Payton 6.3 APG
Steals: Elfrid Payton 1.5 SPG
Blocks: Bismack Biyombo 1.2 BPG
3-point shooting: D.J. Augustin 41.9 percent
Braian Angola-Rodas, G
D.J. Augustin, G
Mohamed Bamba, C
Khem Birch, C-F
Isaiah Briscoe, G
Troy Caupain, G (2-way)
Evan Fournier, G-F
Melvin Frazier, G
Aaron Gordon, F
Jerian Grant, G
Jonathan Isaac, F
Wesley Iwundu, F
Amile Jefferson, F (2-way)
Jarell Martin, F
Timofey Mozgov, C
Terrence Ross, F-G
Jonathon Simmons, G-F
Nikola Vucevic, C
Mohamed Bamba (draft), Melvin Frazier (draft), Isaiah Briscoe (street free agent, July 6), Jerian Grant (3-way trade, Chicago and Charlotte, July 7), Timofey Mozgov (3-way trade, Charlotte and Chicago, July 7), Troy Caupain (2-way contract, July 10), Braian Angola-Rodas (undrafted free agent, July 13), Jarell Martin (trade, Memphis, July 23), Amile Jefferson (free agent, Minnesota, 2-way contract, Aug. 7).
Shelvin Mack (waived June 25), Arron Afflalo (free agent), Jamel Artis (free agent, Sacramento), Mario Hezonja (free agent, New York), Marreese Speights (free agent), Bismack Biyombo (3-way trade, Charlotte and Chicago, July 7).
Against the Brooklyn Nets
Last season (home team in CAPS)
Oct. 20: NETS 126, Magic 121
Oct. 24: MAGIC 125, Nets 121
Jan. 1: NETS 98, Magic 95
March 28: Nets 111, MAGIC 104
Jan. 18: at Orlando
Jan. 23: at Brooklyn
Feb. 2: at Orlando
Projected Depth Chart
C: Nikola Vucevic, Mohamed Bamba, Timofey Mozgov, Khem Birch
PF: Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Jarell Martin
SF: Jonathon Simmons, Terrence Ross, Melvin Frazier
SG: Evan Fournier, Wesley Iwundu
PG: D.J. Augustin, Jerian Grant
Steve Clifford has a big job ahead of him, as the Magic roster is a mish-mash of promising young players and journeyman veterans filling holes until the kids can develop.
One can’t mention the Magic, however, and not mention Nikola Vucevic, who came to Orlando in the Dwight Howard trade in 2012 and — despite being in trade rumors for roughly 362 days each year — keeps on keeping on even as the cast around him has dramatically shifted.
The Magic have to be healthier in 2018-19 than they were in 2017-18, if only because the odds would seem to be stacked against one team being that unlucky two years in a row.
If Orlando can stay healthy (or at least healthier), that figures to help them in the win column. Just not, you know, a lot. Until the Magic can clearly identify a core and a direction, they will be doomed to drift along near the bottom of the East.
Projected record: 28-54