The Orlando Magic are officially out of the 2018 playoff race. It became obvious the Magic would not reach the postseason for the 6th year in a row many weeks ago. However, Orlando’s playoff elimination puts a cap on another disappointing season. With several games to go and mounting injuries, the Magic need a clear plan to finish the season.
Orlando Magic’s Playoff Elimination Gameplan
It seems like a long time ago that Orlando’s early season success had people talking about a potential playoff berth. Unfortunately, that never lasted more than the first 12 games. While many aspects of Orlando’s start were genuine, things fell apart early on. Key players who started hot came back down to Earth. Injuries piled up early and often. Notably, the Magic still deal with the injury bug. With this in mind, Orlando needs to realize this and make some decisions as another failed season ends.
What Orlando Needs to Do
Over summer, the new Orlando front office acknowledged this season would be an “evaluation year.” With this in mind, playoff expectations were probably never the goal. However, after a lackluster season, Orlando should know which players they will not want to keep. Equally important, they should know who they do want to keep.
Summer trade targets
The OMagic shopped several players during this season’s trade deadline. However, this year’s deadline was rather quiet. In fact, the only move Orlando made was trading Elfrid Payton. But the Magic will likely try to move players over the summer as well. One reason for Orlando’s failure this season is a weak front-court, particularly at the center position. Bismack Biyombo arguably has the league’s worst contract at $17 million a year until 2020. Additionally, veteran Nikola Vucevic is still horribly slow on defense despite some improvement. Expect the Magic to try and trade either of them over summer.
Who to Keep Playing
The Magic still have players the front office likely wants to keep watching. Unfortunately, several starters are still hurt. Terrence Ross has missed most of the season and Evan Fournier is also injured again.
This forces the team to play some of its questionable pieces more often. For instance, Mario Hezonja has stepped up this season. The Magic need to give him major minutes now that playoff hopes are officially over. Additionally, they need to re-sign him this summer. Orlando’s only proven offensive wings are Fournier and a questionably healthy Ross. Next season, they will need Hezonja’s offense to find success.
Another player Orlando will need to keep an eye on is Jonathon Simmons. His grit and personality are important to the culture of the team. However, his play has been spotty at times. His current contract runs for another two years, but playing him now will be key to deciding what role he fills once next season starts.
The Point Guard Spot
Trading Payton was a good move for the Magic. The move made it seem like they had their eyes set on using their inevitable lottery pick on the point guard position. The Magic will have several good options to choose from wherever they land in the draft selection. But for now, the biggest hole is at the point. Oklahoma’s Trae Young is the obvious choice for that spot.
Regardless of who is drafted, the Magic will finish the season with D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack. Augustin is already a proven NBA veteran. There really is not much for him to prove. But with nothing on the line, expect the Magic to give Mack some more opportunity to grow and establish his future.
The Gordon and Isaac Duo
The single most important part of the end of this season will be playing Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac together. The two have only played 14 minutes together since the all-star break. This is partially due to the injuries both have suffered. Isaac has had one nagging injury since around the start of the season. However, Gordon has dealt with several minor injuries all season long. He should return soon from another concussion protocol.
Once Gordon does return, playing him with Isaac needs to be the number one priority. Gordon and Isaac are the only two sure-fire pieces for Orlando to keep. That in mind, they need to rebuild their early season chemistry as this season comes to a close. With that they can create success to carry into next season, where playoff hopes can start again.
CHICAGO, USA – DECEMBER 20: Nikola Vucevic (9) of Orlando Magic in action during an NBA basketball match between Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic at United Center in Chicago, Illinois, United States on December 20, 2017.