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?