Offseason Power Rankings

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Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Mix together equal parts of ego and cap space to throw around, and you get one wild off-season. Everybody was making moves. There were decisions and The Decision.

And at the end of it all, the Lakers are on top.

Since most of the moves have shaken out, we’ve decided to do an NBA off-season power rankings. This is a ranking of NBA teams as we see them lined up for the next NBA title. The teams are accompanied by the betting odds for them to win the next NBA title (from Bodog Sports).

1. Lakers (odds to win next title 11/4)
They are the two-time defending NBA champions and good luck prying that trophy out of Kobe Bryant’s fingers no matter what kind of shape they are in. Scarier yet for the league, these Lakers should be better. Steve Blake is a better triangle point guard than the departed Jordan Farmar. Matt Barnes brings more toughness. If Andrew Bynum’s surgically-repaired knees can hold up for a season, the Lakers will head into next playoffs better than the last two years. They are still the king of the mountain.

2. Heat (7/4) Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh make the most talented trio the NBA has seen since the 1980s. Those three made a financial sacrifice to play together and will do the same on the court — their fantasy value goes down but their winning will go up. Pat Riley did a fantastic job with the rest of the roster — Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller being the keys. Erik Spoelstra will be under a lot of pressure, but he is a coach who can handle it. Still, there are questions. How long will it take for the group to gel? (Not long.) Who defends the paint on defense? (This is a bigger issue — Joel Anthony has fight but is undersized, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Jamaal Magloire will try but are not young.) With those big men, can the Heat match up with Orlando and Dwight Howard, Boston and it’s long front line or the Lakers with Bynum and Gasol? They’ll be good, maybe very good in the regular season, but the title will have to be earned.

3. Magic (11/1) They didn’t do much this off-season, other than be involved in Chris Paul rumors. Oh, and they got Chris Duhon, let us never forget that. But as much as they get overlooked, the Magic did not have to do much. This team has been to the NBA finals and the Eastern Conference finals the last two years. They kept JJ Redick and you’ll see more of him and less of Vince Carter. They will stick with their system of Dwight Howard and guys who can shoot the three, because it works. Jameer Nelson is still good and will have a chip on his shoulder. They still play defense. Overlook Orlando at your own peril, they are contenders.

4. Celtics (12/1) I picture Danny Ainge like John Belushi in the Blues Brothers, running around saying “we’re getting the band back together.” Then doing whatever it takes to make that happen, including pissing off Aretha Franklin. One smart move was picking up Jermaine O’Neal, who gives them some front line depth until Kendrick Perkins returns, and a lot more offense down low than Perk ever could. But it all comes down to health around the playoffs — fully healthy they are a serious contender, if not they are gone early. And while that is true of every team, with the age of the Celtics it is more of a risk than most places.

5. Thunder (18/1) For OKC, it’s about growth, not additions. They locked up Kevin Durant for five years. They got a little size to help combat the Lakers by drafting Cole Aldrich. They got Daequan Cook to spell Westbrook some, plus added guard depth with Mo Peterson. But if the Thunder just improve along the trajectory they already are on, they are about to make a big leap next season.

6. Bulls (15/1) If it wasn’t for the Miami Miracle, everybody would be talking about what a great offseason the Bulls had. They needed scoring inside, they got Carlos Boozer. They needed better play at the two, they got Ronnie Brewer. They needed better outside shooting, they got Kyle Korver. They got a coach who will preach defense first again in Tom Thibodeau. Add that to the core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng and you have a good team. With a new coach and new systems, it may take a while to gel, but come the playoffs this team should be scaring opponents.  

7. Spurs (28/1) I know, you’ve been hearing this for years and you’re done buying, but I really mean it this time — the Spurs have one more dangerous run in them. This season or next, the one year all the core guys can stay healthy, they are going to make one last big run in the Tim Duncan era. The key reason is Tiago Splitter, the best center for the last several years in Europe who the Spurs finally convinced to come to the states. He may not start, but you can bet he finishes games. And he will be the best big man Duncan has had next to him since the Admiral retired. Add in Tony Parker, George Hill and Manu Ginobili with a solid supporting cast and smart coaching and… it’s going to happen. Trust me.

8. Mavericks (18/1) It wasn’t for lack of effort. Mark Cuban busted it, Donnie Nelson tried everything, but the Mavericks go into the next season with the same roster that finished the last one. Which is not a bad roster. They kept Dirk Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood, look for Rod Beaubois to get more burn (he should have in the playoffs last year, but we’re letting that go and moving on now). They are on that tier one step back of the Lakers, but if for whatever reason the Lakers stumble Dallas is near the top of the West. And you can bet Cuban isn’t done trying.

9. Blazers (35/1) Their one big offseason move — essentially trading Kevin Pritchard for Rich Cho as general manager — is not going to have a big impact on the court. They added some good young talent with Wesley Mathews and draft pick Luke Babbit. The real key here is healthy — remember the Blazers were the up-and-coming young team two years ago, then injuries descended on them last season like they offended the basketball gods. If they can stay healthy — especially at center with Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla — they could surprise a lot of teams.

10. Rockets (35/1) It’s really simple: If Yao Ming is healthy, this ranking is too low. If not, it is too high. This summer the Rockets picked up some people to help keep Yao’s minutes down — Brad Miller and rookie Fredrick Paterson. They’re nice, but it is all about Yao. They have the backcourt (Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin), they have the role players (they kept Luis Scola) but Yao is the key.

11. Jazz (30/1) They lost Carlos Boozer, they replaced him with Al Jefferson. They lost Wesley Mathews and replaced him with Raja Bell. Goodbye Kyle Korver, hello Gordon Hayward. This was really a fantastic offseason by the Jazz — it could have been a disaster but they replaced key losses and may have even upgraded a little. The Jazz remain in that tough middle ground of good (52 wins last season, probably just a few less this season) but not good enough to challenge the elite. Still, fantastic offseason to replace those that bolted.

12. Bucks (40/1) The senator/owner opened up his wallet and now the team nobody in the East wanted to play in the first round (until Andrew Bogut went down) is going to be better. Brandon Jennings will not be a rookie anymore, and the Bucks have paid to keep John Salmons. They added solid depth along the front line with Drew Gooden and draftee Larry Sanders. They got Keyon Dooling and Chris Douglas-Roberts to solidify the backcourt. This is a good team that can get a top four seed in the East and advance to the second round. Not sure they can beat the elite, but this is a very good team.

13. Hawks (28/1) Meet the new Hawks, same as the old Hawks. They kept Joe Johnson (at a steep price) but did not add any size around him. New coach Larry Drew may be able to get more out of this squad — maybe get them to
play better defense and conv
ert that to offense going the other way. Maybe Jeff Teague can give them a boost at the point. Even still, this is a good team – maybe a 50 win team again — that can’t beat the East elite. They are what we thought they were.

14. Nuggets (18/1) Kenyon Martin is going to miss much of next season, and they need him to come back right for the playoffs to have any chance. They tried hard to get more size but missed on all their attempts. They did land Al Harrington and Sheldon Williams, but that’s not the answer. They have Carmelo Anthony, they have Chauncey Billups. This is a good team. But they do not have the talent to beat the Lakers or the top of the West. Right now, they are what they are, good but not great.

15. Suns (35/1) They lost Amare Stoudemire, and the window for Steve Nash and his back will not be open that much longer, so the Suns took some risks. They had to. They traded for Hedo Turkoglu, who when motivated is a good fit in the Suns system. He can also take on some of the ball-handling duties for the team. I love the Josh Childress signing and having him back in the league. Hakim Warrick was a quality pick up. However, it’s hard to see how the Suns really got better, while teams around them did. It’s hard to see them back in the Western Conference finals with this roster.

16. Grizzlies (50/1) They didn’t make big moves this summer — Tony Allen is a nice signing for depth, and Xavier Henry can be a boost if they stop messing around and sign him. But mostly they are counting on what worked last year working better this year. A better O.J.Mayo, a better Zach Randolph, a better Marc Gasol. And new max-deal man Rudy Gay stepping up to really lead. Seems like the kind of thing that could fall apart, plus the Grizzlies will not be sneaking up on anyone this year.

17. Hornets (40/1) Trade rumors swirl and ownership is in transition, or isn’t, we can’t tell. Two things that usually spell trouble for a team. But this team still has Chris Paul, back fully healthy, plus David West. Draftees Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter can provide something their first year. Emeka Okafor gives you more than his reputation would suggest. Basically, this team isn’t that bad. It isn’t good, not nearly as good as Chris Paul wants, but it isn’t a train wreck either. And they have some big contracts coming off the books to give them some flexibility for the future.

18. Warriors (75/1) The biggest off-season move in the Bay Area was not the signing of David Lee, it was Joe Lacob and Peter Guber buying the team. This team desperately needed new ownership, and now with that will come some big changes on the basketball operations side (once the owners get full control). Gone will be Don Nelson, which means draftee Ekpe Udoh might actually get to play. They traded a way a lot of talent this summer, however still have Stephen Curry and Lee. It’s hard to predict how good or bad they will be exactly. But now there is hope for the future in the Bay Area, and that alone is a huge boost for the fans.

19. Sixers (100/1) The biggest thing that will speed the Sixers turnaround — players will buy into what new coach Doug Collins is selling in a way they never did with Eddie Jordan. They have some players, too. Philly drafted Evan Turner No. 2 and will pair him with Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. Turner looked a little lost at Summer League, but he is still figuring out how to fit his game into the NBA. They still have Andre Iguodala. They lost Samuel Dalembert but picked up Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni. If Collins can get something out of Elton Brand, this ranking will be too low.

20. Kings (150/1) This team is going to be very entertaining. Draft pick DeMarcus Cousins and Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans will play very well off each other. Samuel Dalembert is a good fit along the front line. The Kings got bigger and better and are building a nice foundation. Not sure how far it will take them this year, but they are building.

21. Knicks (35/1) Amare Stoudemire up front and Raymond Felton running the show make this team a lot better. Anthony Randolph could have a breakout year. New York is building a roster that fits with the Mike D’Antoni system. Things are looking up. But they won 29 games last year, there was a lot of room for improvement. They still need one more big piece like Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul before New York will be all the way back.

22. Bobcats (50/1) They won 44 games last season then this summer they lost Raymond Felton and traded away Tyson Chandler. They got Erick Dampier in a trade, but will cut him to get under the luxury tax threshold. Sounds like they got worse, which means no return trip to the playoffs, unless Tyrus Thomas and D.J. Augustine really step up their games. We will be rooting for Shaun Livingston to do well also. But it’s hard to be very optimistic here.

23. Clippers (100/1) It’s like they get two first-round picks this season — Blake Griffin can finally play, plus Al-Faroqu Aminu. The Clippers also made some nice pickups by drafting Eric Bledsoe and bringing in Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye. All that with the core that includes Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon. Still, everything comes down to this: Can new coach Vinny Del Negro get Baron Davis to play well with others, and to care for 82 games? Or even 75 games would be good. On paper the Clippers have playoff talent, even in the West. But Davis has to be on board. And how much do you want to bet on that?

24. Wizards (50/1) They got the building block in John Wall. He is potentially that good and flashed it at Summer League. He is a blur end-to-end. Pair him with Gilbert Arenas in the starting backcourt, with Kirk Hinrich and Josh Howard coming in off the bench and you have a good guard rotation. Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee should get a lot of spectacular dunks in transition with feeds from Wall, who is a blur end-to-end. But that is the key — the Wizards have to run. They have to get Wall in the open court. Assistant coach Sam Cassell said that was the plan, we’ll see if the team follows through.

25. Nets (150/1) They swung for the fences this summer and struck out. Still, they should be better this year. Drafting Derrick Favors was smart, he has potential but like a lot of this team he still needs to grow. They made a great signing with Anthony Morrow plus picked up a solid backup PG in Jordan Farmar. Avery Johnson will have them playing hard. Still a lot left to do for Mikhail Prokhorov before they are in Brooklyn in two years.

26. Pacers (100/1) They want to run, they don’t have a point guard who is comfortable in that offense, and they didn’t get one. Second round draft pick Lance Stephenson is nice and could become the guy who can run the show at the point, and first-round draft pick Paul George has potential. But the Pacers stood pat. So for now, this team remains the Danny Granger show. They won 32 games last year, hard to see them improving on that now.

27. Pistons (100/1) They won 27 games last year, and they drafted a big man who needs some work in Greg Monroe. That’s basically it. They are bringing the same team back. Maybe they can’t make any big moves until the for-sale team has a new owner, but it is about time to blow this thing up and rebuild.

28. Timberwolves (150/1) They have Darko Milicic for four more years. They have the chance to rehabilitate Michael Beasley. We could spend all day mocking David Kahn and the Wolves because they seem to have no plan, at least not one that blends with the triangle offense Kurt Rambis wants to run. But there is some talent on the roster. They did draft Wesley Johnson to play the three, and they do have Kevin Love, a quality four. Luke Ridnour is an upgrade at the point. Martell Webster can shoot the rock. I have no idea what the master plan is, but the roster has a few nice pieces.

29. Raptors (150/1) They lost Chris Bosh. They have
put together a roster that looks like it’s in the EuroLeague. Things are going to get worse before they get better. Toronto fans are happy to see Hedo Turkoglu gone, but that is another offensive option now playing elsewhere. Look for DeMar DeRozan to have a big year, for Amir Johnson to get his chance, for draftees Ed Davis and Solomon Alabi to play well, but this team is about to take a step back.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (60/1) Do we really need to go into what a bad offseason this was in Cleveland? Byron Scott is at the helm now of a major rebuilding project that is going to see some tough years until some good young pieces can be put in place.

76ers invite Emeka Okafor to training camp (on non-guaranteed deal)

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Emeka Okafor was back in the NBA last season at age 35, after having been out of the league for four years trying to recover from a neck injury. He earned that chance going through the G-League, averaging 6.8 points on 61.2 percent shooting, plus pulling down 8 rebounds a game in 20 minutes a night, with a PER of 18.6, for the Delaware 76ers.

That was enough for the New Orleans Pelicans to call him up when DeMarcus Cousins went down, and Okafor got into 26 games. He played solid defense, and while he wasn’t putting up counting stats (4.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game) he was a steadying presence, and he had a PER of 18.6.

Then this summer, no team offered him a new contract.

Until now, the 76ers — and new GM Elton Brand — are going to bring him in on a training camp deal.

It’s a longshot Okafor makes the roster, the Sixers have 14 guaranteed contract and that does not include T.J. McConnell. Which means the roster is pretty much set. They also have Joel Embiid as the starting center and Amir Johnson behind him, plus some small ball lineups they will roll out.

However, have a good camp and another team looking for a backup center may notice.

 

 

Karl-Anthony Towns agrees to sign five-year, potentially $190 million extension with Minnesota

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It was a matter of when, not if.

Back in July, the Timberwolves had offered Karl-Anthony Towns a five-year max contract extension — which could be worth $158 million or, if he was named to an All-NBA team again next season, $190 million. Towns used his leverage and reportedly told management he can’t coexist with Jimmy Butler and reportedly would not sign the new deal until the Butler situation is resolved. Although everyone knew he eventually would sign, he was not leaving that much money on the table.

Minnesota is now working on a Butler trade — ordered by owner Glen Taylor — so Towns is stepping up to be the franchise’s face, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN but that Towns confirmed on Twitter.

Again, for Towns that is a $158 million extension, unless he makes an All-NBA team again (he was third team last season) or is named MVP, then that jumps to $190 million. Making another All-NBA team is certainly within reach.

From Woj:

Towns’ agent, Leon Rose of CAA Sports, informed the organization of Towns’ intention to sign the extension on Saturday night, sources said. The Timberwolves report for media day on Monday and begin training camp on Tuesday.

In a statement, Towns said: “On June 25, 2015, I was drafted to and committed to the Minnesota Timberwolves. On September 22, 2018, I made a recommitment to the Wolves and have the same feelings of excitement that I felt back in 2015.

“I promise to the fans, my teammates and the organization to keep the vision of the man who drafted me, Flip Saunders, alive and treat his dream of winning with respect and dignity. To the fans from Day One and the Timberwolves fans, this is for you. Thank you for believing in me.”

Towns, at age 23, is one of the best centers in the game. He was the No. 1 pick out of Kentucky in 2015 and the next year was named Rookie of the Year. Last season he averaged 21.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, the Timberwolves were 13.1 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court, and he was a key reason the Timberwolves made the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons. Towns is one of the best post-up scorers in the NBA, he shot 72.3 percent at the rim last season, but also added three-point range and took 23 percent of his shots from deep and hit 42 percent of them. He is an offensive force.

Maybe most importantly for Minnesota, he hasn’t missed a single game in three seasons. Age and durability were the reasons that if it came down to Towns or Butler, Towns was going to be the choice of the Timberwolves. Towns signing this extension is not good for the standing of coach/GM Tom Thibodeau, who is not on the same page with Towns.

That said, the pressure is on Towns to step up his game now, particularly on defense. Using ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus (a flawed stat but one that provides a good snapshot) Towns was one of the weaker defensive centers in the league, playing at a current Dirk Nowitzki level. Towns was better last season as a shot blocker for stretches, but he was inconsistent, he is unfocused on that end, bites on pump fakes too much, and he is often slow to recognize the play and get over to protect the rim despite his physical tools.

In the playoffs last season, the Rockets’ Clint Capela completely outplayed Towns.

Towns is getting paid to step up and lead this team now, especially with Butler on his way out the door. Minnesota was counting on the same thing out of Andrew Wiggins after his big contract extension, and he regressed last season and has shown little passion or willingness to put in the work needed. Butler and others want to lump Towns and Wiggins together, but Towns has put in the work and is a professional, it’s not a correct comparison. However, the pressure is now on Towns to take that to the next level.

Warriors big man Jordan Bell ready for second season

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — First, his right forearm cramped turning his arm into the shape of a V as his hand bent back, and Jordan Bell could not move it for several minutes as he sat in the bathtub as he recovered post-workout. He yelled for his girlfriend’s help. The cramp briefly released, then quickly returned. Soon, his quads, calves, hamstrings, biceps, hands and feet followed suit.

Then, Bell blacked out. He came to and his girlfriend got him into bed, and he doesn’t remember anything but waking up there.

“I just got cramps everywhere, all at once,” he recalled after a workout at Warriors headquarters this week. “The pain was just so much, I blacked out.”

It was terrifying – “very,” Bell said. He realized he had pushed his body to the brink of physical exhaustion after one especially grueling mid-August day with far from enough food and fuel. He did his cycle class, weights and conditioning, then a couple hours of open gym in Los Angeles – his regular routine all summer to get ready for his second season with NBA champion Golden State.

He’s feeling great now with training camp set to begin Tuesday.

Just chalk that scary experience up to another key learning moment in Bell’s evolution to rising star with the Warriors alongside All-Stars Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and, now, dominant big man DeMarcus Cousins.

“There’s a confidence to him. I think he was confident when he came in but he’s a little more seasoned, which is good, which is what you want in a second-year player,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said of Bell. “The thing about playing as deep as we did, the best you can give players that are young is experience, because you can’t simulate an NBA Finals game, you just can’t. You can talk about it but he’s actually gotten to experience that and that’s much more than any of us can do to get him ready for his second year. I think there’s a seriousness to him, which is good to see. He’s a fun guy but I think he senses he’s going to have a good opportunity this year.”

Bell’s dynamic play in the post will be even more important now with three centers from last season departed – Zaza Pachulia signed with Detroit, JaVale McGee joined the rival Lakers and David West retired – and Cousins is still recovering from a torn left Achilles tendon that required surgery and ended his season in late January.

And Bell spent the summer taking his fitness and game to another level. He often forgot to eat, just wanting to get home and into bed.

Then he learned his lesson with the blackout episode, likely dehydrated, too – another in many key growth opportunities for the Warriors’ second-round draft pick out of Oregon last year.

In Golden State’s fourth game, he threw the ball off the backboard to himself and slammed it home for his own alley-oop. In a blowout win no less.

Rookie mistake? Maybe. Growth moment? For sure. Even if Curry and Durant could only watch in awe and delight, their mouths agape.

Bell tossed the ball off the glass then dunked during a 133-103 victory at Dallas last Oct. 23. Coach Steve Kerr spoke to Bell afterward and warned him he might face some retaliation the next time against the Mavericks.

Now, Bell is ready to take on a greater role as the Warriors chase another championship as the NBA’s team to beat out West. He’s also treating himself to a new smartphone at long last this season, his other one cracked on draft day a year ago. Though the old one will find a special place in his trophy case.

“I know my role is going to be more extended just because of the bigs we have this year,” he said. “Whether it’s starting, whether it’s playing more minutes or sixth man, whatever it is, I just know I’m going to have a big role and I think the work I put in this summer is going to have me ready for it.”

Bell’s troublesome ankles are strong and healthy, too. He was out with a sprained left ankle for 14 games from Jan. 20 through Feb. 24 before working his way back into Kerr’s deep rotation while continuing to deal with ankle issues. After being inactive for six games early, he had emerged as a starter for 11 games before the injury as Kerr went with a more up-tempo lineup.

It took time for Bell to find his groove again. He wound up averaging 4.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists while playing 14.2 minutes in 57 games with 13 starts. Kerr realized early on he needed to create ways to get Bell minutes. While the rookie needed to learn, he would do so by making mistakes and strides on the court next to so many greats.

Then Bell impressed everybody as he handled the load of helping defend James Harden. Bell earned key minutes as the Warriors went on to a repeat championship and the franchise’s third title in four years that sent Golden State into dynasty status.

“Great energy, great speed and athleticism. He’s a good playmaker,” Kerr said. “We’re thrilled with the way he’s played and his future here.”

 

Orlando has become team worth watching for first time in long time

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This is the latest of NBC’s NBA season preview stories, and we will post at least one a day on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, and today the young Orlando Magic are the focus.

A strange sensation came over me during Summer League in Las Vegas this year:

I wanted to watch Orlando Magic games.

It felt weird. It has been years since the Magic were must-watch, but I was intrigued by them and their potential. Part of it was they have zigged when the league has zagged — in a small-ball league the Magic (in Vegas and in general) went big with Mohamed Bamba and Jonathan Isaac. And those two, for stretches, could dominate the paint.

“The potential between me and (Isaac) is unreal, I think in Summer League we’re starting to bridge that potential into production with the small things we do,” Bamba said to NBC Sports in Las Vegas.

That carries over to this season and expands to other players — which makes the Orlando Magic interesting and worth watching.

It’s been a long time since we could say that, but the Magic have the potential for a dynamic defense this season, especially up front: Bamba, Isaac, just-resigned Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Simmons. Put all of them under the guidance of new, defensive-minded coach Steve Clifford, and the Magic can be big and defense-first in an NBA leaning more toward the Warriors’ model of small and offense first.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t even think (the team’s defensive play in Summer League) scratches the surface in terms of where Mo is going to be in a year or two years, or where I am going to be in a year or two years,” Isaac said of the team’s potential. “Physically, mentally, game wise, you throw in AG and all those guys we have on our team now, and I think we will be a defensive nightmare for a lot of teams.”

Isaac was one of the real head turners at Summer League. He missed much of his rookie season with an ankle injury, playing in just 27 games. In Las Vegas he looked healthy and like he spent time in the weight room getting stronger. He was a defensive force but was able to turn some of that into offense.

Bamba showed potential in Vegas as well, although he was more up and down and showed how he needs to get stronger and develop a better feel for the game. For example, the Suns’ No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton pushed him around physically for much of the night. But even then, Bamba blocked an Ayton shot and altered others, plus he flashed offensive potential (and in another game, showed a smooth shooting stroke from three).

“I just have to establish myself as a roller, it really opens up a lot for our team, even if I don’t necessarily get the ball it opens up guys in the corner or in spots as teams adjust to how we are playing,” Bamba said.

The Magic still are not going to be good, and there are a lot of questions to be answered. How well can both Bamba and Isaac play with Gordon (it would be hard to play all three together, with Gordon at the three, he has struggled in that role before)? Coach Clifford has said he wants to switch more and that these bigs can do it, but how will that really work in practice? Clifford also wants to see how Bamba and Nikola Vucevic pair together for stretches.

Gordon is the best player on the team, the franchise cornerstone guy who signed a four-year, $76 million contract this summer (with incentives that could bring it to $84 million). He averaged 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds a game last season, is a competent three-point shooter who can finish at the rim like a beast.

Can one of the other young Magic players step up and join Gordon as a cornerstone? Can this team go big and become a force? Those are the interesting questions for the Magic this season, what makes them worth watching.

The rest of the team… not as interesting.

The Magic still don’t have a point guard of the future — D.J. Augustin and Jerian Grant will split the bulk of the time there — and beyond that have solid to good NBA players who are not great fits or parts of the future, such as Evan Fournier and Timofey Mozgov. Vucevic and Terrence Ross are in the final years of their contracts and the Magic will look to move them (they have tried to trade Vucevic since last trade deadline, and he could help some teams, but no deal has been found).

Orlando will lose more games than it wins this season, Bamba and Isaac will learn hard lessons. It will not always be pretty.

But there is real reason for hope, and with it this is a team worth keeping an eye on. It’s been a long time since we could say that.