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NBA AM: Orlando is Turning the Corner

The departure of Dwight Howard forced Orlando to rebuild. Now the team may be ready to compete for a playoff spot

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Updated 10 months ago on
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The Orlando Magic are turning the corner

As recently as 2012, the Orlando Magic were considered a team on the rise. The franchise was routinely booking 50 win campaigns and had even reached the NBA Finals back in 2009. However, Dwight Howard, the team’s franchise player during this time period, was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers before the start of the 2013 season.

Not surprisingly the team won just 20 games in their first season without Howard roaming the paint and have only posted 48 victories combined the last two campaigns.

But even though the losses have been adding up, there is a strong bit of positive momentum starting to surround the Magic’s young core of guys. Center Nikola Vucevic has developed into a nightly 20/10 threat. Elfrid Payton appears to be the floor general of the future. 2015 lottery pick Mario Hezonja is oozing with potential. Victor Oladipo continues to develop into an above average two-way player.

The architect of the Magic’s current rebuilding plan is general manager Rob Hennigan, who has earned the trust of his young core, especially Payton as it relates to Orlando’s new coach hire Scott Skiles.

“I trust Hennigan,” Payton told Basketball Insiders during Orlando Summer League. “I think it was a great move. You know I’ve heard a lot of great things about what Scott Skiles has done with point guards. We’ve already been talking and getting on the same page so I think he can just help me elevate my game, help me see how he saw the game, and use what I got to help us.”

The Magic finished with the third worst record (25-57) in the Eastern Conference last season, but Payton is already talking about getting over the hump and possibly reaching the playoffs in 2016.

“Yeah definitely,” Payton replied when asked if the Magic have a strong young core of talent. “We need to get into the playoffs this year, you know there’s no more time for next year. I think the time is now and we all have to step up our games and be ready to play.”

The Magic’s playoff hopes could hinge on how quickly Hezonja adapts to the NBA game, but he already has a fan in Payton.

“I think he’s very talented,” Payton said. “He could help us space the floor, he could shoot the ball, and is another guy I could drive and kick to. He’s also athletic so when we get the ball out on the wing, I know he’s going to finish it. He can go get a lob so I think it was a great pick up for us.”

The Magic are rising steadily but are still very young at key positions. The playoffs may be a goal in the locker room, but the reality is the Magic may need another year or two before the young guys are seasoned enough.

2015 NBA free agency period rolls along

The 2015 NBA offseason is still producing plenty of newsworthy buzz despite some of the top names being off the board.  Here is the latest chatter from this weekend:

Joe Johnson headed to the Cleveland Cavaliers?

The non-guaranteed contract of veteran center Brendan Haywood, worth $10.5 million, is one of the most attractive assets the cash strapped Cleveland Cavaliers have in their possession. The Cavaliers entered the offseason intent on maintaining their core group, but also had a goal of increasing the amount of playmakers in their rotation.

According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, Cleveland is reportedly considering a deal which would land the franchise former All-Star Joe Johnson with Haywood’s contract being utilized as a trade chip.

Johnson is entering the final year of his current deal and is owed $24.9 million for the 2015-16 campaign.  While no longer a franchise level talent, Johnson averaged a more than respectable 14.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 80 games for Brooklyn this past season. On the other end, Haywood combined to tally 35 points and 29 rebounds in 22 appearances for the Cavaliers last season.

It’s no secret that Brooklyn has explored the market value of Johnson and guard Deron Williams over the past few months. Moving Johnson would aid in Brooklyn in avoiding the luxury tax.

For the Cavaliers, potentially adding Johnson would give the team another option offensively who can create their own offense.

Los Angeles Lakers’ roster starting to take shape

The Los Angeles Lakers turned heads on draft night by selecting talented guard D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick over big man Jahlil Okafor. The theory was the Lakers would use free agency to secure an already established big man. But Los Angeles struck out on LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan and Greg Monroe, which left the organization scrambling for an interior presence.

The team reportedly agreed to a deal to acquire former All-Star center Roy Hibbert from the Indiana Pacers for draft considerations. The team also added more backcourt depth by agreeing to terms on a three-year deal with reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams.

Not resting, the team also reportedly came to terms with veteran forward Brandon Bass.

While the additions of Bass, Hibbert and Williams won’t thrust the franchise into title contention, it is clear Los Angeles has improved its roster. Especially if you consider getting back a healthy Julius Randle and Kobe Bryant, with Russell likely being ready to contribute right away.

It hasn’t been a bad offseason for the Lakers.

But they’re not done reshuffling the roster with reports indicating that point guard Jeremy Lin and shooting guard Nick Young may be available in various trade scenarios.

Report: Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons agree to terms on five-year, $80 million deal

The Detroit Pistons envisioned Reggie Jackson as one of their future building blocks after acquiring him from Oklahoma City last season. Now the franchise has reportedly agreed to terms with the talented guard on a five-year, $80 million deal to make the union official long-term.

Jackson averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 assists post All-Star break and performed even better as a starter.

Securing Jackson will now turn the focus to how the club plans to handle guard Brandon Jennings, who is recovering from a torn Achilles.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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