Wizards

Magic remain optimistic as post-Howard era begins

201210211829665832136-p2.jpeg

Magic remain optimistic as post-Howard era begins

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) In the building Dwight Howard's exploits helped build it's hard to find even the smallest remnant of the former Orlando center these days.

The photographs, murals and other likenesses that once adorned virtually every other crevice inside the Magic's Amway Center have been scraped away, now just painful reminders of championship aspirations never realized.

After taking the Magic through one of the most tumultuous years in their history, the six-time all-star who called himself Superman is now a villain - departed from the city he once pledged to take to its first NBA title.

Change is everywhere for the new-look Magic.

Orlando enters the season with a new general manager, coach and roster full of new faces - and a promise to recover is the rallying cry of those that are left.

The marketing slogan for the first year of the post-Howard era: ``We will.''

``It's a new, exciting beginning, a new era for Magic basketball,'' CEO Alex Martins said. ``It's great to see a bunch of guys in camp that really want to be here and really want to wear that Orlando Magic on front of their uniform.''

Whatever the mood following the divorce from Howard, change is not a new word here. After all, the franchise is helped by similar wholesale upheaval following the departure of Shaquille O'Neal in 1996 to the same Los Angeles Lakers team that Howard now finds himself.

Since taking over for fired coach Stan Van Gundy, first-year coach Jacque Vaughn has not shied away from the new slate he's been handed by first-time general manager Rob Hennigan. He's also selling a fresh start approach to a roster that returns just four players that have been with the organization more than one season.

One of those players, point guard Jameer Nelson, isn't fearing the newness, even though he acknowledges it will be a vastly different team now.

``I think we can be better than people think because they don't know, nobody knows what's gonna happen,'' Nelson said. ``So for people to count us out automatically, that's just people writing things. It's up to us to go out there and work hard, make ourselves better and establish an identity.''

Health will be an extra impediment for the Magic, at least during the early part of the season.

Vaughn was one of the last coaches to begin the cut down process for his regular-season roster because so many members of his projected rotation spent most of the preseason on the mend.

With shooting guard Jason Richardson, forward Ryan Anderson and Howard all gone from last year's starting lineup, Nelson and forward Hedo Turkoglu entered training camp as the only holdovers.

But Vaughn has been curtailed in seeing what will likely be his opening night lineup of Nelson, shooting guard Arron Afflalo, forwards Turkoglu and Glen Davis and center Nik Vucevic, mostly because Afflalo has been restricted by a nagging sore left hamstring.

Other expected rotation contributors also have also spent their preseasons rehabbing injuries, including rookie forward Maurice Harkless (sports hernia surgery), forward Al Harrington (knee surgery), backup point guard Ish Smith (shoulder surgery) and swingman Christian Eyenga (hamstring).

It's all going to demand a coach with a lot of patience to manage a group that likely won't be in the best position to produce the Magic's fifth 50-win season in the last six seasons or seventh consecutive playoff appearance.

The 37-year-old Vaughn fashions himself as a no frills person who has a calm demeanor that he says won't change. Even as he becomes the league's youngest head coach.

``That's the most important thing, for me not to pretend to be anyone else but myself,'' Vaughn said. ``That's how I've been and that' great advice for me going forward...I will be me.''

His mentor as a player and assistant the past two seasons in San Antonio, Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich, said that he doesn't think Vaughn will have trouble finding his coaching legs.

``We're all different,'' Popovich said. ``He'll do it with a lot more class than I do it. If I get angry, it shows up on a sleeve...But he in that sense is a lot classier and lot more mature. And I think over time that will serve him really well.

``I have to be who I am and he has to be who he is. But he's a much more calm individual. Now, he will get miffed from time to time and they will test his patience from time to time, like any time would and he'll be as direct as he needs to be.''

The good news for Vaughn is that he seems to have a group that is primed to embrace the remaking of the Magic.

Vaughn has promised an up-tempo, free-willing approach to his offense and merit-based system for playing time that has piqued everyone's interests.

That is particularly true for an upward trajectory player like Afflalo, who will have a role with the Magic that could allow him to raise his profile like he never really had the opportunity to do in Detroit or Denver.

His outputs, most notably his scoring, have improved each of his five seasons in the league. Though he shuns any talk of being able to be a first-time all-star, he says he's ready to be counted on.

``I want to be a versatile player for this team,'' Afflalo said. ``To be able to score, to defend, to mentor. Whatever the coach needs, if I can enable this team to be successful, I want to be able to do it.''

Davis said no one in the locker room is thinking about who isn't in it anymore.

``The only all-star in here is Jameer. So, for us to be successful we're gonna have to use each other,'' he said. ``We're gonna have to play basketball. And that is making sure we execute whatever coach wants us to do...The mentality that (Vaughn) has us playing, he's telling us to play free, with the right mindset and great spirit...That's what it's about and what we have to do to be successful.''

---

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/khightower

Quick Links

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

img_4776.jpg
NBA

Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!