Like the Phoenix Suns this season, every year there’s that one team that appears out of nowhere and become contenders. Whether they’re locking up the No. 1 seed, or clinging to an eighth seed, these teams usually aren’t expected to be in that spot before the season begins.
Is there anyone more unexpected to be in that spot than a team that’s almost 30 games under .500?
That’s right, the Orlando Magic are in position to swing a playoff berth come 2014-15.
The Magic may not have any stars on their roster at the moment, unless you consider Arron Afflalo one. But what they do have are a stock of young, talented players with great potential, some of them even playing at a high level this season.
When you take a look at a player like Nikola Vucevic, who at the age of 23 is already averaging 14.2 points per game, and 11.0 rebounds per game (8th in the NBA). Although he’s no Dwight Howard, but he’s a solid parting gift that brings much less headaches. With so much time left in his prime, this is only the beginning for the former USC Trojan, and next season it’s safe to say he’ll be posting even greater numbers, leading his team to greener pastures on the way.
Vucevic isn’t the only young, budding star on the Magic. You also have to look at both rookie guard Victor Oladipo, and the third year forward Tobias Harris, both starting to develop into quality players. You could make a case to say that Oladipo’s ceiling is higher than Harris’, being a rookie and putting up numbers just as solid, with 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists to Harris’ 15.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game.
Both of them are at the age of 21, and have years to go until they reach their prime, and that goes for Vucevic as well. They may not be stars next season, but they’re all certainly going to improve, maybe enough to elevate their team to a higher level.
High Picks in a Loaded Draft
The Orlando Magic are currently slated to have the No. 3 (their own pick) and No. 15 (via the Knicks or Nuggets, whichever is less favorable) overall picks in this year’s draft. Of course, this could change still with a week left in the season and the draft lottery yet to occur.
Either way, there’s a good chance they good have two top-15 selections in one of the most loaded drafts in the past 10 years. If that’s not the ideal situation for a rebuilding team, then I don’t know what is.
This gives Orlando a chance to draft two impact players immediately, and get a player with superstar potential with the No. 3 pick, like Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins or Kentucky’s Julius Randle. Depending on how the Magic approach this draft, they can set their team up for success for years to come.
If they can snag a player or two who can immediately contribute next year, they could make some serious noise in the Eastern Conference with the solid roster base they already have.
Salary Space to Help Their Roster
After the Magic sign their draft picks, they’ll have around $20 million in cap space, and there’s a few different directions they could go with that money.
If they really wanted to be contenders next season, they could go out and sign someone like current Detroit Piston Greg Monroe, who’s averaging 15.2 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game, and sports a PER of 18.28.
Monroe is only 23, and if the Magic wanted to steal him from Detroit, they would have to throw almost all of their money at him. It would, however, make them contenders without a doubt next season, pairing him next to Nikola Vucevic in the paint.
They could also go on the cheaper side, if they are confident in their starting lineup as it is. They could sparingly use the money to sign role players and quality bench players to help solidify their roster, something that may not be as flashy as dishing out the big bucks to sign someone like Monroe, but it could have just a big of an impact.
Plain and simple, Orlando has the money to make some moves this offseason, and they aren’t as handcuffed via the salary cap like the Los Angeles Lakers or the Brooklyn Nets. GM Rob Hennigan and his staff may not want to go all in on one big name, but it’s a wise idea to spend some of their cash, and maybe make a run in 2014-15.
Clearly, the Magic won’t be making the playoffs this season, but for a 20-win team, they’re closer to being back in in contention than you may think.
Shawn McFarland covers the Orlando Magic for HoopsHabit.com