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The additions of Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal have the Wizards eyeing the playoffs, but it's a tougher Eastern Conference than you remember. This week, Path to the Playoffs takes a look at the Orlando Magic.
Two franchise players in their prime changed hands over the past year, and there's little question which one is in a better situation. Of all last year's East playoff teams, no team appears more lottery-bound than the Orlando Magic. The haul for Dwight Howard netted a rather bizarre return revolving around veteran SG Arron Afflalo, PF Al Harrington, PF/C Nikola Vucevic and SF prospect Moe Harkless. Add in a swap of 2011/12 Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson for C Gustavo Ayon. Re-sign oft-injured PG Jameer Nelson for $25.2 million over three years (last year partially guaranteed). Draft Andrew Nicholson. Add Hedo Turkoglu, Ish Smith, Glen Davis, J.J. Redick, Christian Eyenga, Josh McRoberts, E'Twaun Moore, Kyle O'Quinn and Justin Harper and you have a recipe for probably-not-the-playoffs.
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The backcourt rotation is dangerously thin. Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick have SG locked down, but behind easily-dinged up PG Jameer Nelson is only Ish Smith...good thing there is a veritable army of small, power and tweener forwards to pass the ball to. Orlando has overpaid veterans, journeymen and untested rookies up the yin-yang. If that doesn't reassure you, the army of backup centers Rob Hennigan assembled surely will.
It's not fair to analyze this team as one built to win-now, so let's look to the future. It's possible the new GM is operating on a combination of the Wizards and the Suns rebuilding path. Barring trades, this team is too good to sink all the way down to the cellar and the lottery not-so-promised land. Likewise, the chances of them pushing for a playoff spot with the talent deficit in the frontcourt are just as slim. Perhaps they can find a happy medium between handing rookies the keys and desperately hanging on to the past. But that probably isn't going to be clear for quite awhile.
Barring some slick GM'ing, the Orlando's cap situation isn't going to improve in a hurry. They've got an interesting mix of young talent in Afflalo, Vucevic, Nicholson, Ayon and Harkless, but none of those players seem poised to become game-changers though Harkless has enormous potential. There's opportunity there, but it doesn't look like an easy road for the Magic or their fans.
If there's an x-factor in play for that squad, it's the possible boost the team might get from Howard's departure. Yes, I'm aware of [your comment here] and the team's talent level has taken a massive blow. But perhaps they'll be this year's Nuggets and the Magic can work without their Carmelo Anthony. Just to be clear, when I say 'boost', I mean shot at a playoff spot which shouldn't be on the table. In the end however, I'm betting on a low lottery finish for the Magic. The competition for those last few seeds in the East is too fierce in 2012/13 and plenty of last year's lottery teams are hungry.