The Orlando Magic are fighting to become viable again

The Magic have lurched since trading Dwight Howard four summers ago . They scored well on most of their key rebuilding moves, including the Howard trade, but they never picked high enough in the right draft to nab the tentpole superstar who would define their on-court style.

In trying to microwave the rebuild, Orlando blew cap space on veterans who contributed nothing and dealt away one young core player — Tobias Harris — for two retreads who stayed only as long as their shouting coach benefactor. (Other young players who didn’t fit Orlando’s vision — Ryan Anderson, Maurice Harkless — were tossed away for almost literally nothing).

The win-now moves got them only a little closer to pseudo-contention. Orlando is the only team to rank 16th or worse in both points scored and allowed per possession over each of the last four seasons, per NBA.com. Philadelphia’s old regime sees the star-less mishmash and thinks: “This is why we trusted the process.”

In related news, that regime — including deposed GM Sam Hinkie’s hand picked management team — will be mostly gone by the end of August, league sources say. Even owners with high pain tolerance grow impatient. The Magic entered this summer with a mandate: Add defense-first veterans in their mid-20s who could lift their young core and grow under Frank Vogel — the team’s fourth head coach in 18 months, and a great accidental hire after the Vic Mackey debacle. Climb up to 45 wins, and perhaps an outside free agent will bat eyes at an intriguing team in a sunny state with no income tax.

That shaky playmaking imperils the Ibaka-Biyombo combo, about which the Magic are giddy wholesale authentic nba jerseys for sale. That duo will menace teams on defense. But swapping out Vucevic cramps Orlando’s spacing, and both Ibaka and Biyombo were among just 16 rotation players last season who averaged one or fewer assists per 36 minutes.

It is hard to run a functional NBA offense with two non-passers, regardless of what position they play. Over the last nine seasons, no pair who dished so few dimes logged even 1,000 minutes together, per ESPN Stats & Information.

Zoom out to 1.5 assists per 36 minutes, and the Ibaka/Steven Adams duo appears. But they mooched scraps from two of the league’s half-dozen best players. Payton runs the show in Orlando, and teams are going to duck way under picks against him until he proves he can hit open 18-footers at a rate that actually scares people:

“That’s a challenge,” Vogel said. “I’m not going to hide from that. It’s Elfrid’s third year. That has to develop into a money shot.”

If Payton can’t get to the rim, he gives up the ball — and transforms into a Rajon Rondo-level liability no one bothers to guard, neutering Fournier’s crafty pick-and-roll game:

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The thicket of bigs has drawn most of the scrutiny, but the Magic are really betting just as heavy on the remaining four members of their under-25 core: Payton, Gordon, Fournier and Hezonja. With Ibaka and Biyombo playing heavy minutes, they will need more playmaking from all four — and much better shooting from the first two. Good luck. Hezonja looked confused as a rookie; he shot a ghastly 34 percent out of the pick-and-roll, mostly on pull-up 2s, and turned the ball over on 27 percent of those plays — the sixth-worst rate among 178 players who finished at least 50 of them, per Synergy Sports. But he’s rangy and skilled, and he should grow into a quality wing with a smooth stroke.

The potential playmaking void is one reason the Magic are in no rush to trade Vucevic despite the logjam, league sources say. They might need his post game, and especially his passing. Last season, Vucevic quietly morphed into one of the league’s best passing centers. He assisted on 16 percent of Orlando’s hoops while on the floor, a tidy number for a big man; only five centers racked up more potential assists, per SportVU tracking data.

Orlando is confident they can give everyone enough minutes. They didn’t sign a fourth traditional big; if Vucevic, Biyombo, and Ibaka combine for something like 80 minutes per game — say 30 apiece for the starters, and 20 for the backup center — that would still leave 16 minutes for small ball with Gordon at power forward. Green is strictly a backup on a one-year deal, a fallback after Orlando cringed at three- and four-year contracts for wings like Evan Turner and Solomon Hill under the cap spike.

There is even some hope Vucevic and Biyombo might share the floor for a few minutes on some nights, with Vucevic spotting up around Biyombo’s rolls on the rim — and Biyombo defending quicker power forwards on the other end:

“We will explore that,” Vogel said. “It won’t work against a lot of teams, but it might work against some.” It didn’t work against anyone when the Magic experimented with a poor man’s version in the Vucevic-Dewayne Dedmon pairing. I’m pessimistic it will function well enough on either end.

Everyone is happy in July, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out when the games start. Orlando didn’t pay Biyombo $70 million to back up Vucevic for 15 minutes a game. That would be lunacy. Vucevic is not ready to cede the starting spot, or his role as the team’s alpha dog.

“I believe I will be the starter — the best player on the team, and the guy who has been here the longest,” Vucevic said. “I’m not taking anything away from Bismack. I just believe I should start.”

If there’s a fair criticism, it’s that Orlando, for whatever reason, hasn’t leveraged its cap space and second-tier assets as well as teams like Boston, Houston and others did during their rebuilds. When you’re lifting yourself from the muck, you have to make every asset count. Boston magicked Isaiah Thomas from nothing by using every tool — roster spots, trade exceptions, the desperation of rivals — to net extra goodies. Thomas lured Al Horford, and the Celtics are poised for another salvo.

After all that hoarding, Boston is having trouble slicing its roster to 15 players. Again: You have to shed at some point, especially when you plop a bunch of veterans atop your young core. But the Magic in too many cases sold low and early. Meanwhile, they overreached on contracts that became sunk costs; D.J. Augustin’s four-year, $29 million deal might join C.J. Watson’s contract in that pile.

They are still due one first-rounder from the Lakers, but unless they make Gordon available at some point, they don’t quite have the goods to compete in an auction for a disgruntled star.

Still: This is a solid team that should hit a baseline improvement just through maturation and coaching. That growth may include a more wrenching trial-and-error process than higher-ups expect, one that could result in major roster churn. To rise from the middle over the next two-plus years, Orlando will need either a mega-leap from one young player or an injection of outside talent — and maybe both.

That is the hard reality for at least two-thirds of the league. The Magic rebuild didn’t conjure a superstar, and management decided it was time to get daring. Now they just have to sort it all out.

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