Fans and the national media basically ignore the Orlando Magic, but their bottom-up rebuild, in Year 3 now, is the subject of great interest among league insiders. No team has a larger curiosity gap between fans and front-office types.
Let me back up for a second. The Magic are an NBA team that plays in Orlando. They used to have Shaq, and Dwight Howard farted a lot in their locker room. They still exist today! Elfrid Payton is a rookie with goofy hair, and Kyle O’Quinn has the league’s most majestic beard. Evan Fournier, a French guy they got in exchange for Arron Afflalo, has some ratty ponytail contraption on his head.
They have a Montenegrin center, Nikola Vucevic, who averages 19 points and 11 rebounds per game on 53 percent shooting; police this week charged him with the murder of Pau Gasol.1 They wear splendid blue-and-black uniforms, sometimes with pinstripes. They have three lottery picks on rookie contracts and two fourth-year guys, Vucevic and Tobias Harris, with obvious lottery-level talent.
If you haven’t watched them yet this season, now might be a good time to start. Watching the Magic is like looking at a blurry painting: You can kind of make out what they are trying to be, and in the brief moments when everything comes together, it looks pretty. But sometimes the portrait just stays blurry, and sometimes — as in their embarrassing home loss to the Hornets two weeks ago — it looks like the artist barfed all over the canvas.
People have been waiting nearly three seasons for Orlando to develop a post-Howard identity. Its failure to do so, and the general lack of improvement in its win total, has stirred frustration with Jacque Vaughn; Rob Hennigan, the team’s GM, didn’t exactly endorse Vaughn as the long-term head coach in a “state of the team” interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
But something has coalesced over the last three weeks, even if the results have been all over the place. The Magic are trying to be a fast-paced spread pick-and-roll team, with three shooters spotting up around (mostly) Payton/Vucevic pick-and-rolls: