Not all rebuilds are created equally.
There are forced rebuilds, like when a superstar flees and leaves his team with nothing. Ask the Cleveland Cavaliers about that. On second thought, don’t do that. Things in northeast Ohio are a bit crazy right now.
There are rebuilds done on the fly, when a general manager/wizard like Masai Ujiri flips a major piece for lots of contributing pieces, keeping his team competitive in the short term. Look at the Denver Nuggets after the Carmelo Anthony trade for a great example of that.
Some rebuilds are taken to the extreme in their destruction and brazeness. All praise to the most high, Sam Hinkie.
And then we have the Orlando Magic, heading into their third year post-Dwight Howard. Back in 2012, the Magic had their hands tied by their wishy-washy, candy-addicted, injured All-Star center. He wanted out, and the national Dwightmare would have submarined an entire season. So the Magic dealt, shipping Howard to the Lakers in a four-team deal that netted Orlando a basket of assets. You can’t exactly call it a warchest, because at the time it didn’t look like the Magic really hauled in all that many valuable assets.
As it turns out, the Magic won that deal, netting Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, a few veteran role players and a host of first round picks while every other big name from the trade ended up on another new team just a year later. Additionally, thanks to being really terrible, the Magic scored Victor Oladipo in the 2013 draft.
Seemingly content to carry on along the path of a gradual rebuild, the Magic decided to jettison two of their veteran contributors this summer. Jameer Nelson was graciously released right before the start of free agency, while Afflalo was dealt back to the Nuggets in exchange for Evan Fournier and a second round pick.
The trade raised eyebrows, if only because Afflalo’s value was perceived to be much higher; he was involved in trade rumors that would have brought back a first round pick for Orlando just days before the deal went down. But it made sense for Orlando regardless. Afflalo is one of the better 2-guards in the league, and despite his modest price tag (about $7.3 million in 2014-15), he likely wasn’t going to be a part of the next contending Magic squad anyway. At 28, he’s seven years older than Fournier. And despite Afflalo’s prolific shooting from deep - 42.7 percent on 4.1 attempts per game - the Magic were still just 19th in three-point shooting. On top of that, moving Afflalo and cutting Nelson will allow Orlando to start Oladipo alongside first rounder Elfrid Payton, giving those two a chance to learn and gain experience together.
While it’s hard to compare their raw stat totals, looking at some per-36 numbers and advanced percentages shows what the Magic might see in Fournier. The young Frenchman appears to have the potential to be a volume long-range bomber, jacking up more threes per 36 than Afflalo and maintaining a good percentage. While he was used off the ball as a spot-up guy in Denver, Fournier should get more of a chance to be an active cog in the Magic offense. Still, Fournier could be a nice kick-out option playing alongside his fellow young’ns, as he knocked down 38.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes last season, according to NBA.com’s player tracking.
So, youth movement kicked into overdrive, you have to figure the Magic will scrape together some veterans to complement the insanely productive Vucevic, their darling backcourt, No. 4 overall pick Aaron Gordon, Tobias Harris and company, right?
Wunderkind GM Rob Hennigan went the other way, grabbing two guys on the wrong side of 30 to surprising deals: Ben Gordon, who last played the role of malcontent in Charlotte, got two years and $9 million, while stretch-5 Channing Frye got four years and $32 million to leave Phoenix. Those moves, friends, are not moves all that consistent with a rebuild.
Most of the basketball world had a good chuckle when news of the Gordon deal came out, especially because his biggest contribution to basketball the past several seasons was having a first round pick attached to his onerous contract when he was traded to Charlotte, eventually allowing the Hornets, nee Bobcats, to land Noah Vonleh.
While Gordon’s numbers from last season are unprintable and not even worth mentioning, he actually wasn’t useless in 2012-13, knocking down 38.7 percent of his 3.9 three point attempts per game. If he can show up in shape with a good attitude, defenses will most likely have to respect Gordon standing out on the wing. With a moveable salary and a team option on the second year of his deal, at very worst Gordon can act as a trade facilitator if he doesn’t work out, or the Magic can just let him walk after the season.
Frye is much more interesting, although just as confusing for a team that didn’t figure to contend anytime soon. After reportedly showing interest in Detroit restricted free agent Greg Monroe, the Magic instead got nothing less than the best big man shooter this side of Dirk Nowitzki. Since 2009-10, his first season in Phoenix, Frye is just a few percentage points behind Dirk (39.2 to 37.3) in the rankings of players 6-foot-11 or taller who have jacked at least 300 triples, and Frye has the most made threes in that span with 422, despite missing all of 2012-13 with a heart ailment.
But where does Frye fit in with this young Magic team? If last year’s results mean anything, he’s going to make life a whole lot easier for Oladipo and Payton. Frye played alongside dual ballhandlers last year in Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. While Frye’s shooting ability didn’t result in a stellar percentage from deep, his gravity beyond the arc opened up driving lanes galore for EBled and the Dragon. If he can make things easier for Orlando’s young backcourt in that manner, that’s a huge win.
|Off Rtg||Def Rtg||Net Rtg||FG%||3P% ||eFG%||TS%
|Frye - Bledsoe - Dragic||107||96.7||10.3||46.5||34.4||51.8||55|
Frye’s presence will also be a boon to Vucevic and Gordon. Paired alongside Vuc, Frye will pull an extra big man away from the hoop. Vucevic is already a beast of an offensive rebounder, pulling in 11.5 of available offensive rebounds last year while averaging 3.2 per game. Putting the two together will also almost guarantee that Frye will have a smaller defender on him, giving him open looks galore from three-point land.
The rookie Gordon should benefit from playing with Frye as well. While Gordon has the tools to make a defensive impact from opening night, he has no set offensive game to speak of yet. Again, Frye’s pull to the perimeter will open up space for Gordon to crash the glass at will with one opponent big man already out of the picture.
That’s all well and good. Giving Frye a contract that pays him an average of $8 million through age 35 isn’t great, but if the Magic blossom in the next couple of years he can be a valuable piece. Shooting doesn’t go away, and Frye can bomb away with the best of them.
One question stands, though: Why do this now? The Magic already have an exciting young core in place, and no one would have batted an eye if Hennigan and coach Jacque Vaughn left the kids to fend for themselves this year. Instead, they’ve sent mixed signals with what direction they want to take the team.
There’s something brewing in the Magic’s cauldron. It remains to be seen what kind of team is going to come out of it.