Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
There is an elephant in the room in Magic camp as the 2013-14 season gets ready to commence. Actually, there are two elephants — Glen Davis, who is about as big as an actual elephant, and Arron Afflalo, a slightly smaller one.
The big question as the second year of Orlando’s rebuilding phase begins is this: what direction do the Magic want to go? What is the identity of this team?
On the one hand, youth looks great. There’s nothing more exciting for a franchise than having young, talented legs. Especially when those legs are trending towards improvement and occasionally winning games along the way.
But on the other hand, a team full of rookies and sophomores is rendered precarious without the helping hand of some savvy veterans. This is one of those times that I’m glad I’m not a general manager that’s trying to reconstruct a roster.
This brings us to the subject of Afflalo and Davis.
First off, they are both good players on relatively fair contracts, which give them solid trade value.
Second, neither of them is good enough to be gobbling up minutes from some of the younger players who need room (and time) to develop. That’s not a slight on either guy. It’s just that both of them probably are better suited in a very specific role (a la Davis in Boston and Afflalo in Denver).
Lastly, they are likely not part of the long-term plan in Orlando, which makes them categorically different than, say, Jameer Nelson, whose contract can come off the books next season (only $2 million is guaranteed until July 15, 2014) and therefore is not an elephant of any kind.
In fact, and this is just an aside, Jameer fits in very well and is precisely the type of veteran a rebuilding team needs. He’s in a mentoring position and can platoon with the younger guys seamlessly while continuing to lead vocally. Also, if you have to give him 35 minutes a night, you won’t regret it.
So trade Big Baby and Arron Afflalo, right?
Well, dealing them blindly might not be as shrewd a move as you might think. The early Oklahoma City years, and even the early Derrick Rose years in Chicago, showed us what happens when you push youth to the max and neglect the importance of strategically sprinkling in some key veteran presence. The rebuilding process can stagnate.
It’s been proven that a coaching staff is not going to fully develop young players without the help of veteran teammates. So even if you have star-studded prodigies, you absolutely need veterans to help guide them along.
A happy medium is to try to figure out how to deal Davis and Afflalo laterally. That is, finding a trade that brings in other veterans who will get a fraction of the minutes that these two are getting. Put differently, you want the seasoned vet in the locker room. You even want him in the game sometimes. But you don’t want to have to depend on him to provide big minutes. Needless to say, that idea severely limits Rob Hennigan’s options.
The other option, and probably the best move for the Magic, is to go after more youngsters. After all, Hennigan has shown a great ability to get young players who are being underused in their current situation. Just look at Tobias Harris, who was underutilized in Milwaukee. He entered the picture when the Magic were willing to deal a veteran. And while Magic fans were sad to watch J.J. Redick leave, Orlando scored a promising player.
Make no mistake, those types of players are out there, and if and when Hennigan decides to deal Afflalo and Davis, he has shown competence in acquiring solid youth.
The good news for Orlando in the short term is that they are fully equipped (even with Davis and Afflalo) to start distributing more minutes to the youngsters. Victor Oladipo will immediately be thrusted into the action, and both Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson will carry a much bigger load out of the gates as well.
So it’s possible, even if just early on, that Jacque Vaughn can find a way to lessen the workloads of Davis and Afflalo. Admittedly that would be a cruel and unusual, but they could then optimize their talents by doing less. These two weren’t meant to be the anchors of a rebuild.
We know what Glen Davis is capable of on a contender, and Afflalo has had far better seasons than the one he showed in Orlando last year. It’s simply a case of wrong place and wrong time for both of them. The two were forced to do things they shouldn’t have to do. They were forced to carry a ridiculous amount on their shoulders. The results weren’t pretty.
There will be a point in time when Rob Hennigan needs to figure out what to do with Davis and Afflalo. Not for dislike of either veteran, but for the sole purpose of fulfilling the identity of a successful rebuilding organization. The clock is ticking.