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The Orlando Magic currently sit 8.5 games out of the Eastern playoff picture with 36 games left on their schedule. They have the league’s third-worst record (14-34) and sixth-worst efficiency differential (-5.1 points per 100 possessions), per NBA.com.
The stingy defense that fueled their early season success has all but dissipated. The Magic have allowed an astonishing 111.9 points per 100 possessions over their last 23 games as the team has gone 2-21 in that stretch, per NBA.com. To put that number in perspective, the Charlotte Bobcats’ league-worst defense allows 108.3 points per 100 possessions.
It begs the question — is it time for Orlando to tank?
It seems somewhat absurd to ask if a 14-34 team should aim lower, but the idea of tanking in the NBA isn’t limited just to losing. From roster moves to coaching decisions, there are a host of options that would be immediately hurtful yet beneficial to the long-term fortunes of the franchise.
Here’s a look at some moves Orlando can make that would fall under the tanking umbrella and how prudent making those moves would be at the present.
Play the youngsters
Jacque Vaughn has done a fairly decent job giving future pieces burn so far, but there is still more room to grow.
The linchpin of Vaughn’s developmental plan so far has been second-year center Nikola Vucevic, who has started every game and leads the team with a 17.9 Player Efficiency Rating. Vuc has already improved by leaps and bounds since last season, and Vaughn deserves a lot of credit for it.
However, when it comes to the Magic’s next two long-term prospects, there is more that could be done. Maurice Harkless went through a short stint in the doghouse during January, which is borderline indefensible for a team that was already far out of playoff reach by then. The desired trend is the one we’ve seen in the past four games, when he played 30 or more minutes in each contest, including a very impressive showing against Milwaukee on Saturday (19 points, 14 rebounds, and four steals — all career-highs).
Even with Hedo Turkoglu back in the rotation, there is nobody on the roster that should take minutes from Harkless at this point.