Orlando’s Roster Still Has Strong Leaders

One thing that is generally a staple for successful teams is the vocal leadership of players with tenure on that specific team. Senior leadership cannot be undervalued. In an 82-game season, senior leadership is invaluable, not only for their statistical contribution on the court but also for maintaining morale and unity off the court.

So who will be the senior leaders in the locker room and on the court for Orlando this year?

Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick and Hedo Turkoglu immediately come to mind when thinking tenure. Since being drafted by the Magic in 2004, Nelson has had seasons averaging 16.7 points, 14.6 points and 13.1 points respectively. Add to that an All-Star appearance in the 2009 season and it should be clear that he should be a leader on this young team.

Since the Magic drafted J.J. Redick in 2006, Redick has shown progressive improvement, averaging a career high 11.6 points, 2.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game last season. Hedo Turkoglu had arguably his best season as a professional with the Magic in 2008, averaging 19.5 points while shooting 45 percent from the field and 40 percent from long range.

These veteran leaders will need to step up their game this season for the Magic to have any success at all, however limited.

Realistic expectations for a team consisting of no true “superstar” can vary. The Detroit Pistons won the 2004 NBA championship with a starting five consisting of Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton. Granted, those are recognizable names, but none of the aforementioned players would be widely considered a “superstar.”

The Denver Nuggets have also experienced success without having a true star on their roster.

Since trading Carmelo Anthony in 2011 to the New York Knicks, the Nuggets have had a combined regular season record of 56-35. While the Knicks, who were the beneficiary of the “superstar” in that trade has a combined regular season record of 50-44.

Good chemistry in basketball can be just as important as having flashy names. And in a season full of questions, Magic fans may have to remind themselves of that.

Every team needs an identity, regardless of the sport. The Miami Heat has the big three. The Lakers have the Kobe system. The Celtics have the family atmosphere. The Bobcats have the hope of a deep draft class.

For Magic fans, the team’s identity will be based upon its ability to be unselfish, hustle and play for each other.

The Magic do have some solid pieces to build around however. And this is where the knowledge from players and potential leaders like Nelson, Redick and Turkoglu will really play a role.

Maurice Harkless averaged 15.6 points and 8.6 rebounds in his one season at St. John’s. Arron Afflalo averaged 15.2 points and 2.4 assists per game with Denver last season while shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc. While Nikola Vucevic did not blow anyone away with his numbers in his rookie season in Philadelphia last year, he has been impressive in his preseason debut with Orlando. It would not be hard to see this young man turn into a double-double machine over time. Having a 16-point and 9-rebound performance against a front court consisting of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will draw that kind of praise.

Developing the young talent that Orlando possesses will be the key to the future of the organization. Jacque Vaughn was brought in largely for this purpose.

When it comes to the 2012-13 version of the Orlando Magic, there are multiple unanswered questions. Some ask “What are the realistic expectations in the win-loss column”? Others ask “Who will step up and be the vocal leader of the team”? Some might also wonder “Will there be any big time trades that Orlando will be involved in”?

Although its easy to get wrapped up in what might happen next, it’s important to take a look at the current roster and be excited for what is already here.

Orlando has a good mix of tenured veterans and young talent. Youth and senior leadership are the keys to success.

Magic Remain Full Of Expectations

As every member of the Magic filed through media day — whether it be the media scrum or OrlandoMagic.com’s live broadcast of the media day — the same message continued to come up.

Yes, the Dwight Howard saga was a bit of a distraction last year. But there is no ill will among his former teammates. Just because Dwight Howard is gone, does not mean the Magic are destined for losing. The expectation for this Magic team to win and win now reamins even without the superstar center anchoring the paint.

The Magic are not in a “woe-is-me” mentality. That is not the culture Rob Hennigan and Jacque Vaughn want to build. This is still an organization that expects the best from its players every night, expects them to play hard and expects them to win.

No one within the Magic locker room or organization wants to use the “R” word. That may very well be what the Magic are actually undertaking as a franchise. They are not going to let a loser’s mentality or a tanking mentality enter the locker room however (no matter how beneficial such a strategy might be). Rob Hennigan and Jacque Vaughn both echoed that their team will compete hard every night.

That is all you can ask for from a team like this.

Outside observers see a Magic team that will sink to the bottom. All the way to the bottom, even below the Bobcats. That is a very realistic possibility. Outside the flowery talk and message the Magic hoped to portray on Media Day, sits a team that does not have a star player or a player who can consistently create offense. Not to mention a team that is full of inconsistent defenders.

The Stan Van Gundy-era Magic these are not. Fifty wins would be a miracle it seems. Orlando is likely to lose more games than it will win.

That is the view from the outside. Inside the team, the machinations are much different. These are competitive people. Many of these players are veterans who have been around the block in the NBA. Many of these players have spent the majority of their careers competing for NBA titles. Accepting losses is not in their DNA.

The overall talent may not be there, but that desire to win and that expectation to win remain. And that is more than enough reason to believe this Magic team will overachieve. Competing for a Playoff spot might be a bit optimistic, but you cannot blame the team for believing it as a possibility. These are all players with something to prove and the experience to know what it takes to achieve in this league.

This does not sound like your typical bottom of the league team. This sounds increasingly like your middle of the conference, just outside the Playoffs team. Maybe that is where Orlando wants to be… maybe it is not.

Whatever Hennigan’s plan may be, the players that are on the Magic are expected to play hard and go out and compete regardless of their record. And the players, at least by their words on Media Day, are expecting the same things from themselves.

Afflalo Excited About Playing For Orlando

Arron Afflalo was in Barcelona for an NBA clinic last week when the phone call came. Well, phone call might be metaphorical. It was more like a crawl going across the screen or an update going up on ESPN. Afflalo was on the Internet when ESPN reported he had been traded to Orlando as part of the Dwight Howard deal. Before that, he had not even followed the Howard rumors and trade discussions.

To his surprise, he found himself in the middle of it all in the end. And now he finds himself with a new opportunity in Orlando.

“It’s exciting for me. It’s a change,” Afflalo said as he was introduced to the media Thursday. “Change always brings mystery, it always brings doubt. But at the same time, from a positive outlook, it brings a lot of opportunity and a lot of room for growth. And that is the light that I feel most of people in the organization are looking at it and that’s the way we’re going to move forward.”

It is kind of hard to call anyone the “centerpiece” of the Dwight Howard deal for the Magic. They were not going after a replacement star it seems and were looking to take a step back by bringing in hard-working, young players to move around in future deals or as potential secondary pieces once the rebuilding is complete. Afflalo seems to fit that mold perfectly, and his three-year $7.75 million salary seems palatable for this rebuilding team moving forward.

Last year, Afflalo averaged a career-best 15.2 points per game last season in an increased role with the post-Carmelo Anthony Nuggets. His field goal percentage dropped only slightly with the increased field goal attempts as he shot 47.1 percent from the floor and shot a 53.4 percent effective field goal percentage. His PER last year was a career-best 14.7. This was on 12.1 field goal attempts per game, a number that is likely to increase this year with the Magic as Afflalo should quickly become one of the team’s best offensive options.

Opportunity has always been something Afflalo has had to grab when it was before him.

He was the 27th overall pick of the Pistons in 2007 and worked his way into their rotation as a rookie because of his defensive prowess. His role for that team was all about fitting into their defensive schemes and making shots when the opportunity presented itself. His offensive game grew slowly, but his defense kept him on the floor. He was traded to Denver in July 2009 and took advantage of that new opportunity, and an increased offensive role, playing alongside Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.

Afflalo said he really gained confidence in his abilities during that time playing alongside veterans like Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony, Nene and Kenyon Martin. When Anthony was traded, it was just another opportunity to expand his game and his role on the team.

It is safe to say that in his first full year without Anthony, Afflalo was able to do that.