ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: The Orlando Magic

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Last season: It was a season of transition. The Magic started out near .500 (12-13) but when Glen Davis got injured things fell apart. The Magic won 8 games the rest of the year and by the trade deadline they had fully embraced the rebuild, meaning J.J. Redick was the first out the door in a six-team trade that brought Orlando Tobias Harris. The Magic ended the season with just 20 wins, the worst record in the NBA.

Signature highlight from last season: Not a lot to choose from, but how about some Tobias Harris.

Key player changes: It was a pretty quiet summer. The biggest addition this offseason was Victor Oladipo, who was drafted No. 2 and is expected to be key to whatever is ultimately built in Orlando (that doesn’t mean I think he’s the point guard of the future). They also brought in Jason Maxiell as a free agent. Gone are Al Harrington, Josh McRoberts, Dequan Jones and Beono Udrih.

Keys to the Magic’s season:

Just how good is Tobias Harris? Orlando is all about player development the next few years and there may be no bigger test of that than Harris.

He showed a little promise but could barely get off the bench in Milwaukee, then he comes to Orlando, gets an opportunity and averages 17.3 points a game. He was a revelation. That said, his shooting efficiency numbers were just average (he shot 45.3 percent overall, 31 percent from three with a true shooting percentage of 52.4 percent for Orlando). It begs the question: Is he a legitimate future All-Star player or is he a nice player just putting up numbers on a bad team? Is his ultimate role really gunning sixth man on a contender or something more than that? His game has holes, for example his defense on the perimeter needs work, also he needs to attack more and not settle for jumpers on offense. He’s going to get a lot of minutes this season and we will see how his game develops. We’re going to find out just how good he is the next couple years.

When do Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis get traded? We can probably throw Arron Afflalo on that list, too. The Magic are rebuilding and guys who are not part of the long-term future are going to get shopped around (Nelson has already admitted he knows he’s on the block). Davis could be hard to move with that contract ($6.6 million the season after this one) unless he shows his foot is fully healthy, but we know by the middle of the season there are contenders always looking for big men who can help them out.

Also, how do all the trade rumors that will swirl effect this young team?

Can Jacque Vaughn build a winning culture amid all the losing? It is all about player development with the Magic — how does Victor Oladipo come along? Andrew Nicholson? Nikola Vucevic? Tobias Harris? Mo Harkless? There are interesting pieces.

The key is keeping them working on doing things right amid all the losses that will come — they cannot let losing infect the team culture.

Vaughn seemed to do that last year — Orlando played hard for their coach. Not well, but the effort was there. If felt like a foundation was being laid for the future. Now they need to take a step forward and keep building on that — if the defense or effort slide that will be the problem. They are not going to be good this season but you can see where something good can come in a few years if they keep developing. If the losing infects the culture then Orlando has real issues.

Why you should watch the Magic: They have some interesting young players — Oladipo, Harris, and even Mo Harkless. How they use them, how they develop them are the questions, but these players are intriguing.

By the way, the Magic may not be as bad as we expect. If they can get everyone healthy (we’re looking at you, Glen Davis) their starting five to start the season is Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris, Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic, with Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson and Mo Harkless off the bench. That’s potentially pretty entertaining.

Prediction: 25-57. Call it rebuilding, call it organizational tanking, call it whatever you want, this team is all in for the upcoming draft. Whether it ends up being Wiggins or Randal or Smart, they are going after some big talent in the top five of the draft board. The Magic have some interesting young pieces to develop, they could be a team on the rise in a couple years, but they need one more big piece and they are going after it through this draft.

Robin Lopez helpfully stopped to tie Jae Crowder’s shoe (VIDEO)

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Why did Robin Lopez tie Jae Crowder‘s shoe during Sunday’s Game 4 between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls? We may never know. Perhaps he was just helping the Celtics forward after he tossed him to the ground? Or maybe he’s just doing weird Robin Lopez things?

In any case, Lopez helpfully stopped to tie Crowder’s shoe after it came off during a battle down low early in the third quarter at United Center.

Here’s how it went down.

Via Twitter:

I still have no idea.

Noticeably frustrated, Russell Westbrook gets prickly with reporter after loss to Rockets (VIDEO)

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The Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets played an ugly game down the stretch on Sunday. The Rockets employed a hack-a-Andre Roberson strategy, while the Thunder played sloppy and often poorly with Russell Westbrook out of the game.

The latter was the subject in question when Oklahoman reporter Berry Tramel spoke with Westbrook and Steven Adams at a postgame press conference following the Game 4 loss, 113-109.

Tramel’s question — whether the Rockets got a boost when Westbrook was off the floor — was directed at Adams, but the Thunder MVP candidate couldn’t let it go.

Snapping at Tramel, Westbrook told him not to split them up.

Via Twitter:

Tramel’s question is legitimate, and one of the overarching themes of this series thus far. Westbrook’s response is pretty far off the mark, but it did tell the story of how he’s feeling going away from Chesapeake Arena down 3-1.

Game 5 is on Tuesday in Houston.

Kevin Love throws full court pass to LeBron James for sweet and-1 bucket (VIDEO)

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Kevin Love and LeBron James were locked in an epic battle with the Indiana Pacers during the first half of Sunday’s Game 4 playoff matchup. Part of that matchup included yet another long, full court pass between the Cleveland Cavaliers duo.

Love, as you might guess, was the passer and LeBron was again the receiver.

The play came in the final minute of the second quarter, with Love nabbing a rebound from the right block and LeBron jetting down the floor.

Love’s pass was perfectly placed, and Paul George just didn’t have the strength to keep him from getting the and-1.

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.

Nene’s 28 lead Rockets past Thunder for 3-1 series lead

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Nene scored 28 points on perfect shooting from the field, and the Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 113-109 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Nene made all 12 of his shots and had 10 rebounds. He helped the Rockets overcome an off night by James Harden, who finished with 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting.

Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each scored 18 points for the Rockets. Trevor Ariza had 14.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Houston.

Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook had a triple-double by halftime and finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. The Thunder said Westbrook joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to claim three consecutive playoff triple-doubles.

Steven Adams scored 18 points and Victor Oladipo added 15 for the Thunder.

Westbrook had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists at the break. He grabbed the 10th rebound in the final second of the second quarter, and the Thunder led 58-54 at intermission. Meanwhile, Harden made just 2 of 9 shots and scored just six points in the first half.

The Thunder opened the second half with a 10-2 run, but Houston closed to 77-73 at the end of the third quarter.

Adams made the first of two free throws with 21.7 seconds remaining to cut Oklahoma City’s deficit to four. He rebounded his missed second free throw and found Westbrook for a 3-pointer that cut Houston’s lead to one point. But the Thunder lost track of Nene on the other end, and he converted a three-point play. Gordon’s two free throws with 6.2 seconds made it a four-point game.

TIP-INS

Rockets: G Patrick Beverley was fined $25,000 by the NBA for confronting a fan after Game 3. The league announced the fine about two hours before Game 4 tipped off.

Thunder: Westbrook had just one turnover in the first half. … Adams went 6 for 6 from the field in the first half. … Westbrook missed all six of his shots in the third quarter.

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.