51Q: Is Scott Skiles, typical player development enough to satisfy Magic?

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The Magic were likely to get better this season no matter whom they hired as coach.

Orlando had an average age – weighted by playing time, holding someone’s age constant as of Feb. 1 – of 24.3 last season. In the previous decade, 86% of teams with an average age below 25 improved the following year.

It’s just hard to keep a young team down.

Young players improve. Young players are typically bad, helping their team add talent through the draft. Young players typically make less money, leaving their team cap space to add depth.

The Magic fit that model perfectly.

They should get internal improvement from Nikola Vucevic (24), Victor Oladipo (23), Tobias Harris (23), Evan Fournier (22), Elfrid Payton (21) and Aaron Gordon (20). They drafted Mario Hezonja No. 5. They splurged a little in free agency on C.J. Watson and Jason Smith after giving Channing Frye a lucrative contract the previous summer.

They also hired Scott Skiles.

Skiles is a hard-driving, defensive-minded disciplinarian who produces immediate results. Twice, he has taken over losing teams.

The Bulls promoted him midway through a 23-59 season in 2003-04. The next year, they went 47-35.

The Bucks went 26-56 in 2007-08. Then they hired hired Skiles and went 34-58.

He gets players to play hard and focus on defense, a simple path to a turnaround. His tight style might produce a lower ceiling – his best record is 51-31 with the 2000-01 Suns – but his methods raise the floor. Skiles’ worst full season is 34-48 – better than the Magic’s 25-57 last year.

Put it all together – the internal development, Hezonja, the rotation-level veterans, Skiles – and I absolutely expect Orlando to improve this season.

But will it be enough to satisfy the team’s brass?

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“Last year, our hope was to turn the corner,” general manager Rob Hennigan said. “This year, we expect to turn a corner. Our goal is to make the playoffs, and our expectation is that we’ll compete for a playoff spot throughout the entire season. It’s important for us to be playing games that matter at the end of the season. We expect to be in the mix.”

The Magic, who’ve missed the playoffs the last three years, have talked a lot about winning now. Their actions have been mixed, making it difficult to determine just how patient they really are.

The bar to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference is low, and the Magic could clear it. I expect them to fall a little short, but it’s nowhere near impossible.

A postseason berth would unquestionably be a quality year for Orlando. Likewise, notching fewer than last season’s 25 wins would be problematic.

But if the Magic fall between those outcomes – which is most likely – will that be enough to keep the front office happy?

Skiles and crew will probably have to land closer to the playoff side of that scale. Can they do it?

Potential No. 1 pick James Wiseman suspended by NCAA 11 more games

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Starting on Jan. 12, James Wiseman can return to playing for the University of Memphis.

The NCAA — the self-appointed arbiters protecting the myth of amateurism — have investigated the fact that then high school coach Penny Hardaway, paid $11,500 to help Wiseman’s family move to Memphis. Hardaway, a graduate of Memphis, has since become the coach of the Tigers, and before that was considered a booster. That made helping Wiseman move an illegal benefit, and the NCAA has made its ruling to punish Wiseman for this.

Memphis reportedly plans to appeal the ruling. Wiseman had this reaction to the decision:

Here’s why fans of certain teams near the bottom of the standings — and the front offices of those teams — care: Wiseman has the potential to be elite.

He could be the top pick in next June’s draft and is a lock top-three selection. He is by far the best big man in a guard-heavy draft class coming up.

Wiseman was ranked 37th by the basketball writers here at NBC in our “50 Best Players in Five Years” project this past summer. Here is what College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster wrote about Wiseman for that project:

Wiseman has a chance to be really good. He stands 7-foot. He has the kind of length, mobility and athleticism that should allow him to thrive at the five in the modern NBA. He is a capable defender with the potential to be very, very good with some added strength and a bit of motivation. And he is skilled enough where he has the potential of one day doing all four things modern fives are asked to do – protect the rim, switch ball-screens, space the floor to the three-point line, be a lob target as a roll-man in ball-screens…

If Wiseman embraces the fact that he can be a top five center in the NBA doing the four things I listed above at an elite level, then he’ll make himself a lot of money while making some NBA GM very, very happy.

Wiseman also has worked on a face-up game and wants to add some Greek Freak like skills to his game. We’ll see how that goes, but his floor seems to be a very good NBA big man. A lot of teams could use that.

Rob Gronkowski, Venus Williams dance with Laker Girls (video)

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Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said he doesn’t plan to play football this season.

How is he spending his time?

Dancing with the Laker Girls cheerleaders along with tennis legend Venus Williams. They put on quite a show. I’m sure comedians James Corden and Ian Karmel, mostly off camera, were also great.

But the most-impressive stoppage entertainment in Los Angeles last night? That might be Maxx.

Portland waives Pau Gasol as he tries to recover from foot surgery

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Portland signed Pau Gasol to a one-year contract this summer, hoping the aging Spaniard could help the team stay afloat while Jusuf Nurkic recovers from surgery on his leg.

It didn’t work out that way. Gasol suffered a foot injury that required surgery and he has yet to recover enough to get back on the court. Meanwhile, an injury to Zach Collins left Portland even more shorthanded up front. Wednesday, the Trail Blazers waived Gasol, something the player confirmed.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news and had more details.

Is this the end of Gasol’s Hall of Fame career? He’s 39 years old, and last season with the Bucks he looked like a shell of the All-NBA big man who joined forces with Kobe Bryant to win the Lakers a couple of titles. Injuries limited him to 30 games last season, he doesn’t move like he once did, and he averaged a career-low 3.9 points per game.

If so, one of the good guys of the NBA will be missed.

If not, if he can get healthy, some teams certainly would be interested in having him for depth and his locker room presence during a playoff run.

Report: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George to play first game together on Wednesday

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The way they tell it, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard wanted to play together on the Spurs in 2017.

They’ll finally share the court as teammates tonight.

The Clippers signed Leonard and traded for George this summer. But alternating injuries have prevented the forwards from playing together. That’ll change against the Celtics tonight.

Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

George dominated three games without Leonard, scoring like crazy and hitting a game-winner against the Thunder. Leonard excelled before his knee injury.

It’s scary to imagine how Leonard and George will perform together.

Boston could provide a stiff first test. The Celtics have plenty of wings – Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye – to throw at the Clippers stars.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an adjustment period for Leonard and George. They have similar styles, and that can create complications. But Leonard and George are so versatile and talented. I expect them to thrive together in the long run.

There’s certainly excitement surrounding tonight’s game, but it’s only one night in what should be a long season in L.A.