Magic optimistic following 1st year without Howard

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 18, 2013
It will be hard not to look back on the Orlando Magic's 2012-13 campaign as being similar to an expansion season. It certainly resembled one on paper. From a roster filled with first- and second-year players, to far too many lopsided losses to count, and ironically the exact same 12-29 home record as in their inaugural season, the only thing that seemed missing in Year 1 of the post-Dwight Howard era was a ribbon-cutting ceremony. A deluge of injuries also had a role in the stark regression following Howard's offseason departure. Still, following a league-worst 20-62 finish, in many ways the Magic go into the offseason viewing the year positively in regards to their on-going rebuilding process. ''We won 20 games, so I can't really give myself a pat on the back,'' general manager Rob Hennigan said Thursday regarding the state of the team. ''We feel good about how we're positioned for the future. We feel good about the players we have. But every man knows that we have a lot of work to do still.'' Not only do the Magic have the best chance to land the top pick in the upcoming NBA draft lottery, they have a cache of future draft picks and increasingly more salary cap space to work with going forward. That may not be a titillating proposition for fans to ponder, but is one Hennigan insists is of value. ''We have a challenge ahead of us. We know we have to get better. We believe we will get better, and I think the group we were able to establish this season is a really good starting point,'' he said. ''We're still a ways out, but I would think we're a little bit closer than maybe the perception tells us.'' The Magic have to wait until the May 21 draft lottery to find out where they will be picking in June. After six consecutive seasons in the playoffs, it will be their first lottery appearance since 2006 when they drafted J.J. Redick. It's created a much different feeling heading into the offseason for veterans like Jameer Nelson, one of the last remaining links to Orlando's most recent run of success. ''Losing is tough. Nobody wants to lose,'' Nelson said. ''Change is tough. Obviously the season, for me, didn't go the way I wanted to go in terms of winning and things we're normally used to. But through it all, I've had fun. It's just a new chapter in my career and my life, in terms of leading and doing things differently, and being around guys that are younger.'' Among those young pieces the Magic are looking to build around are Nik Vucevic and Tobias Harris - both finishing up their second seasons - and rookie Maurice Harkless. Thanks to the Magic being out of playoff contention fairly early it afforded coach Jacque Vaughn the chance to give them all lots of playing time down the stretch. And each did their best to give the Magic fans hopes about their individual ceilings. Vucevic averaged a double-double this season, averaging 13.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. His 46 total double-doubles was the third-highest total in the league behind only Golden State's David Lee and the Lakers' Howard. With his first opportunity to play meaningful minutes Harris wore Howard's old No. 12 jersey and averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in it. And the athletic Harkless also showed lots of upside appearing in 76 games with 59 starts. ''We have good pieces for a bright future,'' Vucevic said. ''Guys are already itching to get better and have a better season next year. That's something I like about this team. We're all competitors. People here want to win. That's something that's going to be important.'' That said, with such a young roster, no veteran seems to be untouchable as far as possible offseason movement. Redick, who had an expiring contract, was traded during the season. Others could face similar fates. Forward Hedo Turkoglu will likely be bought out. He is owed $12 million in the final year of his contract, but only half of it is guaranteed. Al Harrington is due about $7 million over the next two seasons and said Thursday that he doesn't expect to remain in Orlando. Vaughn said whatever happens this offseason regarding the roster is largely up to Hennigan and that he will trusts those decisions. ''I'm a coach for the guys he has for me in the locker room, and I always keep that approach,'' Vaughn said. ''Will we have communication - yes. And making decisions together? Yes. But we'll have a group of guys who want to be in the locker room for sure.'' --- Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower.
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