Something strange is happening in Orlando. Starting with the trade for Ibaka and ending with their most recent free-agent signing, Bismack Biyombo, it appears as though the front office has made all the right moves. The contracts look good. Sure, Jeff Green is here for $15 million, but it's only for a year. We can cope with that. We even have a plan for the future; Oladipo got shipped for a better balance within the team and we have put our trust Elfrid Payton and his floppy hair. General Manager Rob Hennigan has made a statement of intent and It can be summed up in just two words: playoff basketball. It's coming.
It's been all change in Florida and the Magic roster has been completely overhauled following last season's disappointment under Scott Skiles. The acquisitions of Ibaka, Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, Jeff Green and Biyombo mean that new coach Frank Vogel can tackle a wide-open Eastern conference with a deep and extremely versatile roster.
I spoke about what Vogel could utilize Aaron Gordon and flexible line-ups in my last article, and that was BEFORE the addition of certified basketball unicorn that is Serge Ibaka. Losing a player like Oladipo is never easy but it was a necessary move given his struggles alongside Payton and the fact that Fournier is a much better shooting guard (outperforming Victor last season) than he is a small forward. Ibaka, in theory, should bring the absolutely best out of Nikola Vucevic. He is the perfect front-court partner for the Montenegrin center, stretching the floor so Vucevic can go to work in the post and offering his excellent help defence at the rim whenever the big man gets sliced in a pick and roll.
Originally, I envisioned this as the starting front-court with Aaron Gordon moving down to small forward, which would then allow us to go small with Ibaka at center and Gordon at power forward whenever Vucevic sits. Our rotation looked solid as it was. Then along came Biz.
I am now genuinely frightened for other teams. I am deeply, deeply concerned. If Vogel rolls out a Biyombo/Ibaka/Gordon front-court in crunch time, which he absolutely will, I think the other team should be allowed to throw in the towel right there and then. No-one is getting within 5 feet of the rim. I don't think there is a better, more diverse, rotation of bigs anywhere else in the league. I've seen people call it a logjam, but let's be real, there are more than enough minutes to go round and I think all four of Gordon, Ibaka, Vucevic and Biyombo will get at least 25 minutes per game, if not 30, as Gordon will spend time at small forward because, again, Jeff Green might be here giving us those precious 8 point 4 rebound performances some nights, maybe, if he feels like it.
At a glance, things don't look as good in the backcourt but I am confident Vogel can make it work. The starting lineup will likely be Payton/Fournier/Gordon/Ibaka/Vucevic, with Hezonja as the 6th man. Mario will hopefully be given a healthy dose of minutes at both the 2 and the 3 spot, meaning Vogel won't have to rely too heavily on D.J. Augustin's playmaking for the second unit - Hezonja should be handed the reigns as much as possible whenever Fournier and Payton are both off the floor. Jodie Meeks will do what Jodie Meeks has always done: come off the bench and shoot threes, and that is exactly what the Magic need.
Due to these solid role-player signings, the trade for Ibaka and the resigning of Evan Fournier to arguably the best contract under the new cap level ($85 million over 5 years) Hennigan must be praised for acting quickly and decisively in addressing the Magic's roster needs and giving Frank Vogel every chance of success moving forward. Questions were asked when Hennigan traded Tobias Harris last season for the ghost of Brandon Jennings and the one and only Ersan Ilyasova, he's now answered them with how intelligently he has used the cap space that deal created. Don't be surprised to see Orlando make the playoffs this season, they've finally jump-started their rebuild and it has happened without tying Chandler 'Literally Has No Knees' Parsons to an ungodly max contract. Things are finally looking up after four long years*.
*Unless we trade Vucevic. Please don't ruin it.