Man, the Southeast Division is a Dumpster fire, isn’t it? In the old days, the Heat would’ve been one of the worst 4 seeds the playoffs had ever seen, the Wizards are a capped-out Roland Emmerich movie, Charlotte seems to exist entirely to ensure the continued underrated status of Kemba Walker, and the Hawks and Magic are…well, they’re signs that Atlanta and Orlando are fine ersatz sports cities, a problem that seems to plague the southeast for every sport other than college football.
So, like yesterday, the question at issue in today’s post isn’t whether the Orlando Magic are good in the classic sense of “team with a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs” but rather a question of whether the Magic are merely bad or “historically awful”.
Serious Basketball People™ in Vegas think Orlando can win 31.5 games. Are they right…or are they drunk?
2017-18 record: 25-57
2018-19 over/under: 31.5
Not Fired. Released From His Torment.
Frank Vogel’s biggest reason to get up in the morning this season will be the joyful realization that he doesn’t have to coach the Orlando Magic.
Instead, that’s now Steve Clifford’s job, and like Vogel, Clifford was fired from a decent-but-massively-underachieving franchise and packed off to Florida like how you do that to your grandmother when just digging a grave and pushing her into it would be too obvious.
Then again, speaking of being released from one’s torment, Clifford doesn’t have to coach Dwight Howard anymore, so…win?
What Is This Roster?
Aaron Gordon is a spectacular dunker of basketballs, robbed by Zach LaVine in one of the three greatest dunk contests (seriously, just pick one between ’88, ’00, and ’16, you’re not wrong no matter which one you choose) of all time.
What he is not is a great actual NBA basketball player.
He can’t shoot (33.6 percent from three last year, 30.9 for his career), can’t work within a quality NBA offense (his Offensive Rating has been a nightmare since he came into the league and he didn’t even manage one offensive win share in 58 games), doesn’t defend well enough to slot as a defensive specialist, and hasn’t come close to the promise he showed in that 2016 season (1.8 VORP, 17.0 PER, .138 WS/48.)
He’s Orlando’s highest-paid player. Silver lining, he’s still only 23.
Meanwhile, Evan Fournier is the second-highest-paid player, and he’s a lot better at his role than Gordon is at his.
Fournier shot 37.9 percent from three, right on his career average, he put up great offensive advanced stats for the awful team he was on, he’s a solid contributor…
…who couldn’t guard my dead grandmother on defense. Uh-oh. And that was while being coached by Vogel, the architect of a top-5 defense in Indiana.
Third on the list of highest-paid players is…Timofey Mozgov. Welp…
The Real Point At Issue Here
If you’re asking yourself whether the Magic can improve, what you’re really asking is if the core they’re building on second contracts after their rookie deals has upside or if we’ve pretty much seen what kinds of players they are and come to the conclusion that they’re a 25-30 win roster paying real-star money to ersatz stars because Orlando is a free agent dead zone.
They may be right next to Disney World, but they’re basically owned by Amway salesmen and play in a market where all the money belongs to the tourists. How they’ve lasted 30 years without getting moved to Seattle or Vegas is mainly due to their ability to draft centers.
So far, the guys they have haven’t shown any sign of being anything other than a collection of role-players, and ragtag bunches of role-players without a star don’t make the playoffs unless Gregg Popovich is coaching them (seriously, the 2018 Spurs, man…and don’t talk to me about LaMarcus Aldridge unless you want to prove you don’t read this site.)
Oh, and speaking of Pop-coached guys, at least Jonathon Simmons wasn’t the massive risk of dropoff it looked like he was going to be after his sophomore slump, but he still looks like what he is—a G-League guy who is at best a fringe star and at worst a guy they fished out of the G-League.
How Do You Fix This?
The Magic can’t tank in hopes of getting the one big drafted center, someone like Howard or Shaquille O’Neal, who has in the past brought their franchise into the spotlight.
They can’t really roll this roster to more than 35 wins, and that’s if absolutely everything goes right, something it assuredly won’t because Gordon gets hurt if you look at him the wrong way.
So they’re stuck, not even in Mediocrity Hell. At least Mediocrity Hell makes the playoffs.
The Magic are stuck in We Suck And There Is No Hope Hell.
Orlando will win between 25 and 30 games. The over/under is 31.5. Under.
And as a bonus side bet, you can bet on Gordon to miss at least 25 games due to injury.
Are the Magic good? Busted, in every way that question can be busted.