Each day this week, NESN.com will take a look at a team that is virtually assured of having a worse record than the Celtics this season — thereby standing in the way of Boston landing the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NBA draft.
We start with No. 6 on our list of lottery ballhogs: the Orlando Magic.
Stare at the Orlando Magic’s roster long enough, and it is possible to imagine things not always being so terrible for them. The NBA’s worst team last season by a full four games, the Magic did their best to build a promising roster while being hampered by salary constraints that kept them from completely moving on from a veteran core.
As a result, intriguing long-term projects like Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless (pictured) and Nik Vucevic are sprinkled among former borderline All-Stars like Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Arron Afflalo. With only a few sleights of logic, one could see the Magic being competitive again in two years or three years, when they finally rid themselves of Nelson, Turkoglu, Afflalo and Glen Davis, their four highest-paid players.
It’s easy to foresee that happening eventually — just not this year.
The Magic are likely to be pretty bad again this season, even while occupying the putrid Southeastern Division. They lost all three meetings with the Celtics last season, and while that was a very different Boston team, keep in mind that the Celtics won the first meeting without Avery Bradley and won the last two without Rajon Rondo — with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett playing limited minutes in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
Coach Jacque Vaughn may have the toughest job in the organization trying to meld the young pieces general manager Rob Hennigan added through the draft or trades with the veteran holdovers from a previous era, when Dwight Howard manned the middle and the franchise held out at least a little hope of deep playoff contention. Harris, Harkless and first-round draft pick Victor Oladipo have to see the court. Vucevic, who grabbed 20.2 percent of all available rebounds when he was on the floor last season, has earned his way to playing time. Kyle O’Quinn, Mickell Gladness and Andrew Nicholson are among seven frontcourt players with three or fewer seasons of NBA experience. The Magic are so green, they should consider swapping it for silver as one of their official team colors.
If anybody in Orlando cares to notice — although they usually don’t — they have themselves the makings of a pretty promising ballclub there. Yet as much as Oladipo’s defense entices and for all Harris’ slick offensive moves, the Magic will be hard-pressed to win more games than the Celtics. The toughest competition the Magic give the Celtics this season might be in the race for Andrew Wiggins.