The Orlando Magic’s offseason has been an active one.
Half the roster was sent out, including fan favorite Victor Oladipo, and a whole bunch of new players were brought in. The face of the franchise was completely flipped. Serge Ibaka was a big acquisition via trade. Bismack Biyombo, D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green were brought in with free agency.
These were major moves that changed the face of the franchise. The team even changed directions (somewhat) with a new coach in Frank Vogel.
The Magic team that takes the floor in November will be very different than the 35-win group that ended the season in April.
That brings up questions and uncertainty entering an important year. The team has missed the Playoffs for the last four years. That ties the longest drought in franchise history.
Orlando was ready for a long drought when they hired Rob Hennigan. They expected a long rebuild with slow development and improvement over time. The Magic have had that — going from 20 to 23 to 25 to 35 wins. But the team has not taken on a set identity. Even at 35 wins last year, it seemed like the team had not realized its potential and had a ceiling. The sudden resignation of Scott Skiles certainly did not inspire confidence either.
The team was in flux and searching for a more certain foundation.
That is what the team seemingly forced on itself this offseason. The Magic cashed in some chips to refine their identity.
Each move, as Zach Palmer of Orlando Magic Daily detailed, focused on forming this identity. An identity built on defense.
The Magic always wanted a defensive identity. It was something Rob Hennigan noted from the moment he took over. It struggled to take over. The Magic had their best defensive season last year, but were still in the middle of the pack.
Undoubtedly, the best path to get to the Playoffs is defense. Last year 12 of the best 13 defenses in the league by defensive rating made the Playoffs. There are similar numbers for years past. The best defensive teams are the ones who make the Playoffs.
The Magic, as I wrote on Orlando Magic Daily, clearly have made their bet on the defensive end. By adding rim protectors in Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo and even by moving Aaron Gordon to the small forward position, the Magic are showing a commitment to stopping other teams first as a means to take that next step up as a franchise.
That may not create the most entertaining basketball — expect a few 92-87 games — but the team is clearly seeing that it has strong defensive players and, without a star especially, they recognize they have to generate offense from their defense to outpace teams.
This is the identity Orlando wants to build. This is the team it wants to be. It is the way the team wants to play.
It is a defensive team with incredible depth that can keep coming at opponents in wave. That is the idea behind this Magic rebuild.
There is disappointment in the fan base that the team does not have a star. And that the Magic traded away a player that seemed to have star prospects in them. The reality is there was no star to get and Oladipo had likely topped off.
Transforming the Magic’s front court was paramount to improving the team’s defense. Rim protection changes everything. As much as Frank Vogel believes he can improve Nikola Vucevic’s defense through positioning and anticipation, his eyes still light up when he talks about what Ibaka can bring. Rim protection — true rim protection and athleticism — is irreplaceable.
Orlando improved its depth and improved its front line defense. The team has committed itself to having a top-10 defense and using that to ride into the Playoffs. Whether that is enough to make the Playoffs will play out.
The Magic made every move this offseason with this in mind. Now it is time to see how effectively it is execused.
Orlando City makes some loans
Orlando City made some roster moves in this transfer window to improve the team both short- and long-term.
The long-rumored acquisition of Uruguayan defender Jose Aja became official. The team acquired him from Racing Club de Montevideo on a six-month loan with an option to buy.
“We are excited to have José join the team. He is a young, talented defender that we have been looking at for a while because we knew he could come in and make an impact on our team,” Lions Assistant General Manager Niki Budalic said in a press release. “We look forward to working with him and benefiting from his contributions.”
The 23-year-old center back is an extremely promising young player. The Lions are going to add him and hopefully add some depth at the position. If things work out he could stay for a while.
Similarly, the Lions loaned out designated player Bryan Rochez, according to a report from Alicia Del Gallo of The Orlando Sentinel. Rochez will begin a six-month loan to Real Espana in Rochez’s native Honduras.
Rochez, despite taking a designated player spot, has struggled to find much playing time. Orlando City took the player as an investment they would grow slowly. That has not happened in the franchise’s second year in MLS.
Getting him more playing time could hopefully add some confidence and experience before returning to the team at the end of the year in preparation for the 2017 MLS season.