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There weren’t many bright spots for the Orlando Magic in the 2013-14 season, but one of them was certainly the emergence of Arron Afflalo.
Afflalo joined the team in the notorious Dwight Howard, 12-player trade, and as the primary option on a lottery-destined roster in 2012-13, he struggled out of the gates. Being the focal point of the team took some adjusting and questions began to arise about whether or not Afflalo could fulfill a bigger role than the 3-and-D one he had in Denver.
Nevertheless, he treated it as a learning experience, and in his second year with the team, any concerns about his ability to be a go-to scorer were quickly put to bed. He posted career numbers across the board, averaging 18.2 points per contest on 45.9 percent shooting from the floor and 42.7 percent from 3-point range. He finished the season as the Magic’s leading scorer, and heading into the All-Star break, he was a sleeper to represent the Eastern Conference as a reserve.
However, with two years remaining on his team-friendly contract ($7.5 million each year), the Magic are at a crossroads with what to do with him. As they look to turn the corner and add a final piece to their post-Dwight Howard-era puzzle, Afflalo sticks out like a sore thumb: A veteran in his prime on a rebuilding team. While the Magic are hoping to turn the corner next season and pull themselves out of the lottery, they’re still a few years removed from making any legitimate noise in the Eastern Conference — ones that extend beyond Afflalo’s prime.
At this stage of his career, Afflalo would be better suited fighting tooth-and-nail with a playoff team; not one hoping to be at that stage sometime in the next three-to-four years. Likewise, the Magic are starting to build their roster around their cornerstones, Victor Oladipo and whomever they nab with the fourth pick in the upcoming draft, not Arron Afflalo.
With Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, and Jabari Parker expected to go in the top three of the 2014 Draft, it’s assumed, at this point, that the Magic will get dibs on Dante Exum. The combination of Exum and Oladipo would, undoubtably, be the future of the franchise, and it would therefore make Afflalo even more expendable — both Oladipo and Exum are high usage guards, which, in turn, means less opportunities for Afflalo.
Seeing as he’s coming off a career year, the Magic’s time to sell high is now, and adding a younger asset and/or draft pick would fit in better with their long-term plan. Even if the Magic don’t draft Exum and acquire someone more NBA-ready, like Julius Randle, they’d be joining the team with the long-term — not immediate — future in mind.
Looking beyond that, it’s unlikely that the Magic will even sign Afflalo to an extension when his contract expires in 2015-16, because key contributors like Vucevic, Harris, Nicholson, and O’Quinn will all be up for extensions, too.
Let’s say the Magic do draft Exum to play alongside Oladipo. Afflalo can still fit in the short-term picture. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective — nearly 20 percent of his offense this season came from spot-up opportunities. On the contrary, he’s capable of creating his own shot, too, which is a nice luxury to have when you’re breeding two young guards. He ranked in the top 10 in isolation scoring, and was reliable on post-ups (0.97 points per possession) and in transition (1.07 points per possession), per Synergy Sports.
To add to that, Afflalo can play both the two and the three (he almost split time in those positions this season evenly, near 50-50) and despite being slightly undersized for a small forward, he matched up well defensively against them this season. His opponent posted a 14.6 PER at the small forward position this season (15.7 PER at shooting guard), per 82games.com.
Seeing as Oladipo and Exum are combo guards, sliding Afflalo to the three wouldn’t impede either one’s development. Similarly, he’d be a good mentor for both of them. At the back end of his first season with the Magic, Afflalo took the likes of Maurice Harkless under his wing, pointing them in the right direction and advising them on how to improve their game. It’s something Harkless credited for helping him take a jump in Afflalo’s absence last season.
To piggyback off of that, there are still some questions marks surrounding this roster.
Tobias Harris, for one, was all over the place this season thanks to a high ankle sprain he sustained in the preseason. While he regained his form late in the season and had Magic fans drooling again, where he fits in best is up in the air — whether it’s as a starter or sixth man. Unlike Afflalo, he needs the ball in his hands to be effective and it could take some time for him to find his optimal role.
Andrew Nicholson also has something to prove — he got off to a great start this season, but fell into the deep end after his minutes started to dwindle down.
And after a promising rookie season, Maurice Harkless stagnated in his second year. While he has the potential to be a valuable 3-and-D role player in the future, he’s still a few years away from being a reliable contributor.
Keeping Afflalo around for at least another season hurts neither side. His presence won’t stunt the growth of younger players like Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, and whomever they get in the draft, and he brings a sense of leadership that this budding team needs. He’s reliable, and when they hit a rut — which all young teams eventually do in the grueling 82-game season — it helps having someone who has been around the block to bring them back on track.
But most importantly, his contract has no ill-effect on their payroll. As it currently stands, the Magic only have $45.9 million committed to their roster next season (assuming they bring everyone back), and seeing as they aren’t losing anyone of real value, management has plenty of room to acquire even more talent to build on this promising core.
Afflalo is a staple, binding this team together, and he is someone the Magic can lean on as they prepare themselves for a new era. The Magic should be exploring every avenue with Afflalo, but at the same time, they shouldn’t be in any rush to ship him off elsewhere.