This NBA off-season was a whirlwind of movement. Typically quiet months were spent with players flying from team to team, division to division, and conference to conference, and now, in the middle of September, there are still players of talent unsigned or in trade discussions.
With all these moves, how has the NBA landscape changed? With Jimmy Butler and Paul George moving to the Western Conference, has the Eastern Conference become even weaker, or has it just made the gulf between the bad and the good teams in the West even greater? With the trade between last season’s Eastern Conference finalists in Boston and Cleveland, has the gap closed between the Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors?
With so much player movement, which teams have improved and will be headed for the playoffs?
Not the teams below.
Beginning with the team most likely to finish 15th, through to the team who will finish 9th and just outside of the 2017-18 Eastern Conference Playoffs, we predict how many wins these 7 teams will have, and how many, many, many, losses.
15th - Atlanta Hawks
2017–2018 Projection: 19 Wins - 63 Losses
Additions – Luke Babbitt, Marco Belinelli, Nicolas Brussino, Tyler Cavanaugh, John Collins (rookie), Quinn Cook, Dewayne Dedmon, Tyler Dorsay, Josh Magette (2-way contract), Miles Plumlee
Departures – Jose Calderon, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Tim Hardaway Jr., Dwight Howard, Kris Humphries, Ryan Kelly, Paul Millsap, Mike Scott, Thabo Sefolosha
Just three seasons ago the Atlanta Hawks held the best record in the Eastern Conference. That team had four All-Stars and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Only three seasons later, with Paul Millsap, the last of those four All-Stars, departing, the Atlanta Hawks now appear to be embracing a rebuild. The Hawks let Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. walk for nothing, and traded away Dwight Howard, who had only signed the previous off-season.
This off-season the Hawks have signed only small, shorter contracts to mostly young, inexperienced players. Dennis Schroder is now the Hawks best player. The 6-foot-1’ point guard is coming off his best season, averaging 17.9 points, 6.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game. As Schroder enters his 5th season, the Hawks will be relying on him to continue his performance from last season’s playoffs, where he led the team in scoring and assists.
Beyond Schroder, the Hawks do have some players who, with the absence of Millsap, Hardaway Jr., and Howard, will have the opportunity to earn significant minutes. Ilyasova, who played 26 games for the Hawks last season, re-signed with the Hawks for 2 seasons and will be relied on for his outside shooting. Small forward Taurean Prince won the starting spot for the playoffs, but Kent Bazemore is the highest paid player on the team, and if they can get some quality production from him, expect the team to place him on the trade market.
Atlanta’s only significant off-season acquisition, Dewayne Dedmon should provide the team with much-needed defence, and if he is allocated enough minutes, should produce a double-double average in points and rebounds. Miles Plumlee, after several disappointing seasons, will be given the means to prove he belongs in the NBA as Dedmon’s back-up at the centre position. Rookie John Collins joins as the perfect fit for a team that will be in desperate need of size, scoring and rebounding. Between his freshman and sophomore seasons at Wake Forest, Collins increased his scoring average from 7.2 PPG to an impressive 19.2 PPG in only 26.6 minutes per game. His rebounding average climbed from 3.9 to 9.8 rebounds per game.
This 2017-2018 NBA season will end a 10-year streak of the Hawks making the playoffs, but as they begin their rebuild, they do so with some pieces already in place in Schroder, Prince and Collins. Unfortunately, this will not be enough to win many games, but with a few fortunate draft selections, the Atlanta Hawks will be in the playoffs again, soon enough.
14th - Chicago Bulls
2017–2018 Projection: 22 Wins - 60 Losses
Additions – Ryan Arcidiacono (2-way player), Antonio Blakeney (2-way player), Kris Dunn, Justin Holiday, Zach Lavine, Lauri Markkanen, David Nwaba, Quincy Pondexter
Departures – Jimmy Butler, Isaiah Canaan, Joffrey Lauvergne, Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter Williams
Unsigned – Nikola Mirotic
This season the Chicago Bulls will be looking towards developing their young talent and the 2018 draft, after trading away Jimmy Butler, the last of the Bulls players from the team that made it to the top of the Eastern Conference in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
Butler was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in what may be one of the most one-sided trades in NBA history. Chicago sent Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves, along with this year’s 16th draft pick, for Kris Dunn, coming off an incredibly disappointing rookie season, and Zach LaVine, a promising young offensive talent who suffered an ACL tear in February, plus the 7th pick in this year’s draft. Trading for two young players with significant questions about their immediate playing ability clearly signified that the Bulls front office were now embracing a rebuilding process.
LaVine, 22, a two-time NBA Slam Dunk Champion, will be returning to the hardwood after tearing his ACL, yet there is no set date for his return. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said that the expectation on Lavine’s return was “soon after the start of the regular season”, however, LaVine has stated that his recovery was well ahead of schedule and he expected to be ready by the beginning of training camp.
It should be assumed that the Bulls front office will be extremely careful with LaVine, so a return by training camp, only 8 months after the injury, is extremely unlikely. Once LaVine does return, any sign of soreness or discomfort is likely to have the team shut him down for the entire season. To further complicate matters, LaVine will be due a contract extension at the end of this season.
Kris Dunn will be able to have a do-over this season after a horrible rookie campaign. Dunn had a truly bad offensive season, with shooting averages of .377 FG%, .288 3ptFG%, and .610 FT%, while shooting only 50% from within the restricted area, which is well below the league average. It should be noted, in his senior year at Providence, Dunn averaged 16.4 PPG, 6.2 APG and 2.5 SPG, was explosive and could get to the rim easily. He was named the Big East Player of the Year, so Bulls fans should not be discouraged just yet.
With the 7th pick in this year’s draft, the Chicago Bulls selected Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen, a 7’0, 225lbs power forward, is an intriguing prospect for the Bulls. In 37 games for the Arizona Wildcats, Markkanen produced 15.6 PPG on 49.2 FG%, 42.3 3FG%, and 83.5 FT%, whilst pulling down 7.2 rebounds per game. As well as being a great shooter, he can also score in the post, has good mobility for a big man, is a good floor spacer, and has a high basketball IQ. To further excite Bulls fans, in this year’s EuroBasket, as of the 7th of September, Markkanen has averaged 28.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG, with a .691 TS%.
As clear as his strengths are, so too are his weakness. Many analysts believe that the Bulls should have drafted a more certain prospect, with both Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk still being available at the 7th pick. For a 7ft power forward, Markkanen averaged only 0.5 blocks per game for the Wildcats and is said to lack real explosiveness and the strength needed for the NBA.
The rest of the Chicago Bulls are a collection of pieces that do not necessarily fit together.
Dwayne Wade is 35 and is in the twilight of his career. At $23.8 million it was a certainty that Wade would pick up his player option for this season, but he does not fit with the Bulls rebuilding time frame. If rumours are to be believed, Wade will be bought out by the Bulls before training camp, with the Heat, the Lakers, and the Cavs, being likely destinations for him to sign with.
Robin Lopez would help a playoff team improve and should fetch a reasonable asset, either a mid-to-late first round draft pick and/or a young player, so expect him to be moved by the trade deadline. Young promising players such as Dunn, Felicio, Grant, Holiday, Portis, Valentine, Zipser and Mirotic (who will certainly be re-signed once a contract agreement can be made) will all get their opportunity to earn starting positions and more minutes this season, with the aim being the development of youth over wins. But what will this will mean for a young coach, when wins are the measure of success?
Fred Hoiberg could be somewhat excused for last season. The front office decided to try, one last time, to win with Jimmy Butler. They brought in Wade and Rajon Rondo, both years past their prime, and both the wrong type of player to compliment Butler. It began well enough, padding their record just enough to later make the playoffs, but then the team combusted. No floor spacing. No 3-point shooting. Butler and Wade distanced themselves from the rest of the team. Rondo spoke up against the two stars. Hoiberg could not control them.
This season Hoiberg has no true star, no established alpha. He will have the means to create the system he has always said he wanted. If he can have his young players improve within his system, even if it results in losses, will it save him? Chances are, yes. The Bulls front office will not want wins this season. This season they want Michael Porter. Or Marvin Bagley. Or Luka Doncic. Or DeAndre Ayton. But not wins.
13th - Brooklyn Nets
2017–2018 Projection: 25 Wins - 57 Losses
Additions – Jarrett Allen (Rookie), DaMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, Milton Doyle (Rookie), Timofey Mozgov, Yakuba Ouattara (Rookie), D’Angelo Russell, Jeremy Senglin (Rookie), Jacob Wiley (Rookie)
Departures – Randy Foye, Archie Goodwin, Justin Hamilton, Brook Lopez, K.J. McDaniels, Andrew Nicholson
Unsigned – Aleksandar Vezenkov (Rookie)
It can’t be easy being a Nets fan.
Since the Nets made it to the NBA Finals twice in the early 2000s, Nets fans haven’t had much to be happy about. Superstar players arrive at too hefty a cost, and well past their prime. Once promising players fade away after seasons shortened by injuries, one-dimensional players are signed to exorbitant contracts, well above their worth. Draft picks are traded away in short sighted moves.
Yet, with one month until the regular season, Brooklyn Nets fans could be forgiven for thinking that their team might finally be improving.
This off-season saw the addition of 9 new players to the Nets roster. After several seasons of being used as a bargaining chip (where a young star would be happy to join, at least, until his current team matches the offer), this season the Nets went in a different direction and managed to get some young talented players.
This offseason, the Brooklyn Nets were nice enough to help a few teams by taking unwanted and restrictive contracts off their hands. In return, the Nets received some promising assets.
No contract signed during the last offseason was more above the players market value than the one given to Timofey Mozgov, who signed with the Lakers for 4-years, $64 million. To move his contract this offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers included their promising point guard, D’Angelo Russell, the 2nd overall draft pick from the 2015 draft. Russell is coming off a productive season, with averages of 15.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.8 APG and 1.4 SPG, while shooting 40.5 FG%, and 35.2 3FG%, in 28.7 MPG. At only 21 years old, Russell is now entering his third season in the NBA and fits the time-frame of the Nets rebuilding process better than Brook Lopez did, whom the Nets sent to the Lakers in the trade, along with the 27th pick in this seasons draft.
Allen Crabbe arrives in Brooklyn, one season after the Nets offered him, as a Restricted Free Agent, a 4-year, $75 million contract, which the Portland Trailblazers matched. The Nets acquired Crabbe for Andrew Nicholson, who was earning significantly less than Crabbe, a move possible due to the room the Nets had under the salary cap. So too was the deal the Nets made with the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors wanted to move the 4-year (3 remaining) $58 million contract of Demarre Carroll so much that they included a lottery protected 1st round pick, and the least favorable of the Lakers and Magic second round picks.
And that is where the Brooklyn Nets made yet another mistake, in a long line of mistakes.
This season these three contracts will cost the Nets $49.4 million. By now spending their cap space, the Nets have now ensured that they will no longer be able to recruit significant free agents. The Nets, at present, have a salary of $94,786,023, with this seasons salary cap being at $99.09 million. What they have now is what they will be rebuilding with, and no draft pick until 2019.
It should be said that the Nets do have some NBA caliber talent. D’Angelo Russell is certain to get the starting point guard role (or why take Mozgov?), and will be given plenty of playing time. He will need to improve his offensive efficiency after 2 seasons averaging nearly 40% from the field. He is a terrific passer and thrives in pick and roll plays, yet he only averaged 4.4apg last season. This should improve with the Nets, as Russell will be the main ball handler. Russell’s limited athleticism has hampered him in the past, and for him to increase his scoring, Russell will need to work on attacking the basket and getting to the rim, and trying to draw fouls. Last season Russell improved on the defensive end, simply by increasing his effort. This season Russell needs to continue to improve his defense, by learning to use his length on shorter opponents, and by improving his on the ball pressure.
Jeremy Lin returns, and will be looking to bounce back after an injury shortened season. Though he only played 36 games, Lin produced his highest scoring average since Linsanity took over New York, and had his highest 3pt shooting average. Lin may come off the bench this season, but Russell and Lin are both capable of playing the 1 and the 2. With Crabbe, being able to play the 2 and the 3, the Nets could play a 3-guard line-up, which might be part of the team’s best offensive unit.
Allen Crabbe had the second highest shooting percentage from beyond the arc last season (44%), and will be a significant improvement on the Nets shooting guard position. DeMarre Carroll arrives at Brooklyn, but the question will be whether he is able to recover from last season, his worst since leaving the Hawks. If so, he will provide a veteran presence, 3 point shooting and some hardnosed defense. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson returns for his 3rd season with the Nets, and will share minutes with Carroll as the only serviceable Small Forwards on the team. RHJ is a freak athlete, and a terrific and versatile defender but is limited offensively. Trevor Booker will anchor the 4 and provide toughness, and could average close to a double-double in points and rebounds. Sean Kilpatrick had a breakout season and will find plenty of minutes off the bench behind Crabbe, and Caris LeVert and Joe Harris will both be asked to contribute. Rookie Jarrett Allen could be the best center on the team before playing a single game, and at 6”11, 227lbs, he is surprisingly solid and agile, with terrific, giant hands. He will be an incredible finisher of the pick and roll, but at 19, he is expected to be raw and needs a season or 2 before he is truly productive. He is not used to a physical style, but one of running the court and finishing at the rim or grabbing offensive rebounds.
Whilst that sounds like a 9-10 man deep roster, many of the players are one dimensional and young. Rebounds and blocks will be hard to come by unless Allen surprises. Defensively, the Nets figure to have a defensive rating near the bottom. Offensively, the absence of Brook Lopez and the spacing he created cannot be understated. Players will rely too much on jump shots and three pointers, both of which the team will be only average. This season the Nets will be small, and dominated by bigger teams. Faster, more explosive players, who attack the basket will torch the Nets defense on a near nightly basis.
Yep, this season, it won’t be easy being a Nets fan. And now, they have almost no cap space. And again, they have players on too expensive a contract. Yet, for the first time in years, with young, promising players like Russell and Allen, it might be getting a little easier.
12th – New York Knicks
2017–2018 Projection: 28 Wins - 54 Losses
Additions – Michael Beasley, Damyean Dotson, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nigel Hayes (Rookie), Luke Kornet (Rookie), Frank Ntilikina (Rookie), Ramon Sessions
Departures – Justin Holiday, Maurice Ndour, Marshall Plumlee, Derrick Rose, Sasha Vujacic
For the New York Knicks, last season and the start of the off-season was a disaster. They won only 31 games, one less than the season before. They missed the playoffs for the 4th straight season. They continued with the triangle offense.
As most expected, the season was a train-wreck on and off the court. Players unable to adapt to the triangle offense, and the front office and coaches being unwilling to change it. Players, coaches, and the team President used the media as a soap box, a way to complain without speaking to the team. A player disappears, not showing up for a game, and doesn’t tell anyone where he was going. Blame being thrown after every game. Team ownership going crazy, a dictator gone mad. Star players miserable. Insubordination.
And then came the off-season.
The front office upsets the team newest star player, Kristaps Porzingis, over the treatment of the teams’ former star, Carmelo Anthony. As a result, Porzingis does not attend the end of season meeting. Team President, Phil Jackson, then publicly complains to the media, stating that it had never in 30 years had happened to him (which was a lie, Shaquille O’Neal did it at least once).
In what looks to be an attempt to show his power, Phil Jackson publicly states that Porzingis is suddenly tradeable, overtly implying that Porzingis is difficult, and then publicly tries to trade him to Boston and Phoenix, even though it appears to be more of a show. No trade eventuates.
Owner James Dolan publicly states he would not be attending the NBA draft, even though his team had the 8th pick because he was going to a concert instead. The Knicks then draft a player who will not be ready to produce effectively in the NBA for at least one season, even though likely All-Star talents, such as Dennis Smith Jr., and Malik Monk were still available.
But finally, things look to be changing.
With the firing of Phil Jackson and the hiring of Steve Mills and Scott Perry, the Knicks begin this season without pressure to make it to the playoffs. In fact, there won’t even be pressure to win games. This season, as with most teams rebuilding, the aim is to develop and improve as players.
Last season Kristaps Porzingis failed to progress as much as expected, though injuries and the system being huge factors. The Triangle Offense did not favor his skills and style. He needed the ball, which was never going to happen with Melo and Derrick Rose, and their Iso style.
Porzingis has his flaws. His foul frequency reduces how effective he can be on defense. At 3.7 fouls per game, he is behind only DeMarcus Cousins. As good as he is as a rim protector, his fouls reduce his effectiveness. While he is successful in help defense, his one-on-one defense leaves a bit to be desired.
This season, Porzingis needs to use his height and the verticality rule to consistently protect the rim while avoiding fouls. Porzingis can do almost anything on offense and is a very good rim protector making him the perfect center. Sliding Porzingis over to the center spot will help since most centers tend to be less agile than stretch fours. He also won’t be exposed to playing as much defense on the perimeter.
Beyond the Unicorn, the Knicks will be a worry. Passing on Malik Monk and Dennis Smith Jr. for Frank Ntilikina might become a terrific decision in 2 to 3 seasons, but Ntilikina is not NBA ready. Whilst 6'5 with a 7'ft wingspan, he is very thin. Without a blow-by first step, explosiveness or strength, he will have trouble scoring in the NBA until he gets stronger. Talent wise, Ntilikina is a terrific shooter and can suffocate opposing ball-handlers with his combination of foot speed and length.
The Knicks brought back Tim Hardaway Jr. Well, maybe the word should be 'bought'. The Knicks over paid and must have confidence in Hardaway Jr., and he will need to return that faith with a huge season. This season he should finally crack the 30 minutes per game average, and with it, he will need to increase his scoring to 20 PPG. If he can increase his 3pt% to 40%, Hardaway Jr. might have a tiny chance of a playoff appearance.
The acquisition of Michael Beasley will provide scoring and rebounding and should help the Knicks move Porzingis to the 5. Ramon Sessions joins and should also get some decent minutes backing up Ntilikina who shouldn’t play more than 25-30 minutes a game as they bring him in slowly. Joakim Noah returns, but is way past his prime and will surprise all if he can play a season without injury. Also returning are Ron Baker, Willy Hernangomez, and Kyle O'Quinn who were positives in a season of negatives.
In life, there are questions that cannot be answered. How long is a piece of string? If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Are the life on other planets? Who built the pyramids?
Will Carmelo Anthony be leaving the Knicks?
In all seriousness, this should not be such an impossible question. Carmelo Anthony has been pushed to the point that he wants to leave, and the Knicks are ready to rebuild, and want him to leave. As much as he is loved in New York, even the fans have come to terms with it.
So why is he still a New York Knick?
Simply put, because no one wants to relent power. Carmelo is one of only three players with a no trade clause (Lebron James and Dirk Nowitzki are the others), and whilst he is willing to waive the no trade clause, he will only do it to go to the Houston Rockets (he is no longer interested in the Cavs). The Rockets do want Carmelo Anthony, who even at 33 years old, is still a 20+ points per game scorer and a reasonable rebounder. Unfortunately, the Knicks, who have no leverage in this trade, continue to turn down the offers presented.
The deal hinges on Carmelo’s lofty contract. To match his $26 million for this season, the Rockets want to move Ryan Anderson in the deal. Anderson, is 29, and will be paid over $19 million for the season. Anderson is just about to enter the second of a 4-season deal, making it costly in the long term for the Knicks. It has been reported that the Knicks have asked for Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza, to which the Rockets have refused, based on their productivity and importance to the team, their three-point shooting and versatility, as well as Ariza’s defence. To facilitate the trade, a third team has been sought, yet no team has been interested in taking Ryan Anderson’s contract.
It is likely that the Knicks fold before the season starts and take the Houston offer of Ryan Anderson, if it comes with other assets. If so, Knicks fans should be happy if this rebuilding season leads the team to another draft pick......which might be the best thing that could happen for the Knicks future.
11th – Indiana Pacers
2017–2018 Projection: 30 Wins – 52 Losses
Additions – Ike Anigbogu (Rookie), Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, DeQuan Jones, Cory Joseph, T.J. Leaf (Rookie), Ben Moore (Rookie), Victor Oladipo, Alex Poythress, Domantas Sabonis, Edmond Sumner (Rookie), Damien Wilkins
Departures – Lavoy Allen, Aaron Brooks, Rakeem Christmas, Monta Ellis, Paul George, C.J. Miles, Georges Niang, Kevin Seraphin, Jeff Teague
With the trade demands of Paul George forcing their hand, this off-season the Pacers traded their best player since Reggie Miller. Unfortunately, the Pacers are lucky if they received 40c for the dollar in return. It is debatable whether there was a better trade out there, or if the Pacer strategically chose to send Paul George to the Western Conference; or if they purposely chose to send George to Oklahoma, considering he has continuously said he wanted to go to a big city and a big market team.
The return from the Paul George trade was Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. That’s it. No draft picks. Worse is the fact that starting this coming season, Victor Oladipo will be making $21 million, $1.5 million more than Paul George, who is by far the better player.
This season the Indiana Pacers have only 6 players returning from last season’s team, a result of team options being let go, players being waived, or traded for younger players.
Victor Oladipo is a promising player. Joining the Thunder, Oladipo went from a team’s best option, to arguably a team’s second, and some areas of his production suffered. Coming to the Pacers, he will be able to return to being a team’s first option, just in time for him to grow into his prime (and his contract). If Oladipo can improve his three-point shooting, and return to his 2015-2016 averages in rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, if not better them, he could receive an All-Star berth.
Domantas Sabonis had a reasonable rookie season while showing that he has the ability to improve. He showed he can score and block, but needs to increase his rebounding. He was a streaky shooter, yet has Dirk-ish shooting abilities from just within the arc. To get the most of Sabonis, the Pacers will need to decide whether to use him as a 4 or 5.
Sharing time on the 4 will be rookie TJ Leaf, an incredibly versatile offensive player. He’s able to play inside and out and is terrific at exploiting offensive mismatches. He can score from around the basket, jumpshots, hook shots, turnaround jumpshots, mid-range pull-ups and shots from beyond the arc. Whilst he needs time to increase his build and strength and is not an elite athlete, Leaf can use his high IQ, great footwork, and motor rather than taking contact and bodying into the defender.
The rest of the new Pacers include Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph, who are all serviceable players but only provide limited production.
Returning Pacers include Thaddeus Young, whom at $15 million is a terrific veteran, though at too high a price. He has a player option, but the Pacers may choose to trade him for younger players, or to make room for Sabonis and Leaf. Jefferson should continue to produce in limited minutes, and Glenn Robinson III will again not get the minutes he needs to show what he can do, even at 46.7 FG%, and 39.2 3FG%, though he could surprise with more time.
Myles Turner is entering his third season in the NBA, and the Pacers must now realize that they will soon be in trouble if they don’t surround him with talent, and show him that they are at least moving in the right direction. After his incredible improvement from his rookie to second season, Turner will now be asked to take the mantle of team leader that George left behind.
The Pacers have never been a team to choose to fully rebuild and this season will be about young player development. Can Oladipo and Turner work together to form a promising tandem? Can Thad Young return to his 2015-2016 form? Can young players like Glenn Robinson III and Sabonis take a step forward? If so, the Pacers will be a promising young team, but it is unlikely to result in many wins this season.
Unfortunately, two issues hamper the Pacers. Firstly, the Pacers front owner will at no point exceed the salary cap. Secondly, the Pacers will not tank. Whether the reason for this reluctance is the Indiana Hoosier Hysteria ethos, or the refusal to be non-profitable, the Pacers have created this roster to be serviceable, even though in the long run, it would be better to be bad and be rewarded by a top draft pick, if only for one season.
10th – Orlando Magic
2017–2018 Projection: 31 Wins – 51 Losses
Additions – Aaron Afflalo, Khem Birch (Rookie), Jonathan Isaac (Rookie), Wesley Iwundu (Rookie), Kalin Lucas, Shelvin Mack, Adreian Payne, Jonathon Simmons, Marreese Speights
Departures – Patricio Garino, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Jeff Green, Jodie Meeks, C.J. Watson, Stephen Zimmerman
The Orlando Magic will have another average season.
The Magic began this off-season by firing Rob Hennigan, the General Manager, and replacing him with a more experienced GM in John Hammond, who has previously brought a lottery team into the playoffs several seasons ago in Detroit and then more recently, in Milwaukee.
Attempting to begin anew, the Magic started the off-season with a ton of cap space, and the intent to bring in a star who could help the young team create some success. They acquired rookie Jonathan Isaac, Jonathan Simmons, Aaron Afflalo, Marreese Speights and Shelvin Mack. That’s it. The Magic had so much cap space, yet no stars wanted to join. Again.
This season, don’t expect much of an improvement from last season. This season will be another about the development of the Magic's younger players. The Orlando Magic do have several players who are promising, and possibly due for a significant improvement. Aaron Gordon finally showed some improvement, after they moved him to small forward. Gordon has not become the star the Magic had hoped, and though last season he averaged 12.7 PPG in 28.7 MPG, he does not provide enough rebounds and blocks for his size, nor is he a particularly good shooter. The same can be said for Terence Ross, who as a shooting guard and a small forward, provides less than 2 assists per game, and less than 3 rebounds per game in 31 minutes per contest. Hammond has made the most of athletic wings in the past, so this season the Magic will be expecting improvements.
With the 6th pick in this year's draft, the Magic showed faith in Elfrid Payton, by passing on Dennis Smith Jr., and taking Jonathan Issac instead. Isaac looks to be a terrific prospect, and at 6’11”, and only 205lbs, he is surprisingly already a good defender. In college, he could cover both the guard and forward positions, thanks to his incredible length and footwork. He can cover the defensive glass, switch onto any player, chasedown defenders, steal, block, and chase around screens. As a negative, Issac is passive offensively, shooting only the occasional jumper when wide open. With enough minutes, he will improve the Magic's defense, but will not draw defenders until he can build some offensive aggression.
With all the cap space, the Magic ended up collecting several veterans to help guide their younger players towards improving. Aaron Afflalo returns to the team where he had his best season, though that was 6 seasons ago, and his numbers have dropped significantly. Jonathan Simmons arrives after 2 seasons in San Antonio and should bring in some toughness and defense against the oppositions best guard. Maurice Speights will help with some spot minute offense, a man never afraid to take the catch and shoot 3, a skill he gained during his last season with the Warriors.
This season belongs to Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton. Over his career, Fournier has increased his point per game average every season, going from 5.3 PPG, to 8.4, to 12, to 15.4 and to 17.2 last season. At nearly 25, the next season or two will show whether Fournier will be able to become a star and lead the team, or if he is better as a second or third option. One concern though is that he must improve is his 3-point shooting. Last season, Fournier took 5.3 threes per game but made only 1.9 of them, which needs to improve if he is to continue shooting at such a volume.
Payton showed vast improvement last season with his field goal percentage nearing 50%, which is made even more impressive when considering that he shot the 3 at only 27.4% last season. The Magic passing on point guards like Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina showed that the Magic have faith in Payton, and this coming season he will need to repay that faith by improving his 3-point shot. His free throw percentage took a jump last season, going from a dismal 58.9% in 2015-2016, to 69.2% last season. Bringing these both up to at least respectable would vastly increase his scoring and stretch the floor more, with opposition teams needing to defend him tighter.
The Orlando Magic have had less than 40 wins every season since the end of the Dwight Howard era, and is a team still a season or two away from the playoffs, even in the Eastern Conference. This season the Magic are set to win between 30-35 games, and as the next seasons draft seems to be 5 players deep at the top level, the Magic need to focus more on internal improvement to bring in quality free agents, rather than luck at the draft.