Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team's offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.
Trades and Claims
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
This offseason, like the season before it and everything in the foreseeable future for the Magic, was defined by Dwight Howard's exit. Orlando awoke from its "Dwightmare" on August 10th a fundamentally changed team with an uncertain road ahead. The philosophy of new GM Rob Hennigan is to rebuild using cap space and draft picks, but those assets are really only valuable if they're used wisely. In any case, there's no quick fix for the Magic, who figure to be down for a while before they regain the annual shot at a title that having Howard around always gave them.
The changes had begun even before the trade. The team fired coach Stan Van Gundy and parted ways with GM Otis Smith on the same day shortly after a first-round playoff exit. The moves seemed tied directly to Howard, especially the dismissal of Van Gundy, who told reporters in April that Howard sought to have him fired. His firing seems unnecessary now that Howard is gone, and with D12 seemingly destined to leave Orlando sooner or later, the falling ax appeared a desperate move of appeasement even as it happened. Van Gundy's style grates on veterans like Howard, but he's capable of connecting with young talent, as he did with an overachieving Heat team in 2003/04. He might have been just the man to guide the Magic through their post-Howard rebirth.
Smith's role in the front office reportedly had been shrinking, and he had begun talking retirement as he anticipated being fired by the club before he stepped down. Hennigan, the man who replaced him, along with new coach Jacque Vaughn, are disciples of the Spurs system, a tree of coaches and executives that always seems to sprout new branches. Yet Hennigan wasn't well-regarded by the Spurs, accoriding to Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News, who noted that Hennigan was never Thunder GM Sam Presti's right hand man in Oklahoma City, either. Vaughn wasn't among the top three assistant coaches with the Spurs. Regardless of their resumes, experience doesn't appear to be an asset either can lean on, as Hennigan, who's 30, and Vaughn, at 37, are the league's youngest GM and coach, respectively.
Vaughn is working with a team that's not devoid of talent, as the Magic's win last week over Howard and the Lakers showed, but Hennigan has much more to do. The Howard trade brought in Arron Afflalo, whose contract is not necessarily overpriced, at $7.75MM a year for this season and the next two, followed by a $7.938MM player option in 2015/16. It's still a lengthy commitment for someone who, at 27, appears destined to be no more than the third- or fourth-best starter on a playoff team, and his skills might not be the right fit for the team that will be built alongside him.
Al Harrington is another veteran on a middle-grade contract whom the Magic netted in the Howard swap. He's on Orlando's books for $6.687MM this season, and has two more seasons totaling $14.758MM. Those final two seasons are only 50% guaranteed, however, and though injury has prevented Harrington from making his Magic debut, his shooting ability as a stretch four is an asset the Nuggets miss this year. Still, Harrington isn't the kind of player you can build around, and his contract figures to be nettlesome for Orlando going forward, particularly when put together with Afflalo's deal, as well as that of Glen Davis, who's due $19.4MM between now and the summer of 2015.
The Magic tried in vain to include Hedo Turkoglu in a Howard trade, but the 33-year-old remains with the team at a cost of $11.8MM this year and $12MM in 2013/14. After this year, Turkoglu's deal is only 50% guaranteed, just as with Harrington, but I'm not sure the Magic have the stomach to eat half their deals just to make them disappear from the roster. They waived Quentin Richardson and the final two years and $5.436MM of his deal on the eve of the season to make room for rookie DeQuan Jones, so they're already on the hook for a lot of money to someone who won't give them anything on the court.
The team added another deal in the high seven figures this summer, re-signing point guard Jameer Nelson for $8.6MM each of the next two seasons, and $8MM in in 2014/15. The final season is partially guaranteed for $2MM, perhaps as a check against a continued decline in play for the one-time All-Star, who put up career lows in points per game and shooting percentage last year. The early returns are mixed, as his 40.8% shooting would set yet another career low while his 6.5 assists per game would be a career high, though it seems some correction is in order given the small 12-game sample size. Nelson turned down the 2012/13 option on his old contract despite his poor showing last year because he sought stability, and he got it from the Magic. The signing happened before the Howard trade, and you have to wonder whether Orlando would have inked the deal after they got rid of Howard, since stability is clearly not the plan for the Magic. Nelson could provide some veteran leadership, but Orlando is already yoked to other veterans for as long as Nelson is around, so this contract doesn't really fit.
For just a little more money per season than they're paying Nelson, they could have instead retained Ryan Anderson, the 6'10" three-point gunner who's putting up even better numbers this season with the Hornets than he did for Orlando last year, when he won the league's Most Improved Player award. Anderson signed for an average of $8.5MM per year for four seasons with the Hornets in a sign-and-trade that brought Gustavo Ayon on board for a total of $3MM over the next two years.
Ayon was beaten out for the starting center job by Nikola Vucevic, one of the young assets the Magic got in the Howard trade. Vucevic, the 16th overall pick by the Sixers in 2011, might turn out to be the best player Orlando got in the deal. He's averaging a modest 9.6 points on 9.4 shots per game, but collects 8.9 rebounds a night on 29.4 minutes of playing time. The 22-year-old USC product opened eyes with a 17-point, 12-rebound effort against Howard and the Lakers last week. Rookie Maurice Harkless, the other Sixers first-rounder acquired in the trade, got a slow start because of injury and is seeing only 18.2 minutes per game, but the Magic clearly have high hopes for him, too.
Vucevic and Harkless represent the first wave of what appears to be an influx of youth headed for Orlando. Thanks to the Howard deal, the team has eight first-round picks over the next five seasons, and their own 2013 pick is destined to land in the lottery this spring. There could be more extra picks coming over the next few seasons if the team can convince other teams to take on some of their veterans via trade. Still, the Magic's only significant expiring contract this season is J.J. Redick's, and it seems they may prefer to keep him around because he fits the team culture.
Regardless of how much leadership veterans like Nelson and Redick contribute, Orlando's primary course of action appears to be to invest as much as possible in the future. If they waive Turkoglu and Harrington, absorbing their partial guarantees, and renounce their free agents, they could probably sign a player to a maximum-salary deal next summer, but that might be premature. NBA teams need more than one star to win, and the Magic might be best advised to wait for one of their youngsters to develop or for more of their contracts to expire before splurging on someone this summer. As Mark Cuban and the Mavs could tell you, it's not always easy to find another star to pair with the one you have, even if you have warm weather and no state tax. It wouldn't really be in keeping with the understated San Antonio model, either. As Hennigan moves forward from the Howard trade, it's likely the construction noise of the rebuilding project won't be too loud.
Luke Adams contributed to this post.