How will the Orlando Magic fare this season?
You'll hear a range of predictions as Friday's regular-season opener approaches. John Hollinger of ESPN.com forecasts the Magic will go 16-66. David Steele, the Magic's television play-by-play voice, thinks the team will contend for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.
But everyone seems to agree that this will be a fascinating season in Orlando. Here are some of the most interesting issues to monitor as the year progresses.
Just how low will the team go?
The Magic will take a step backward without Dwight Howard. Everybody knows that. As one popular blog recently noted, there's a reason the team's new marketing slogan is "We Will" instead of "We Are." But you can argue that this team has more talent overall and more interior depth than the one that was competitive when Howard missed games due to injury last season.
How long will this team stay together?
It's difficult to figure out a win total because it's unclear whether the Magic will retain their veterans all season.
Al Harrington, 32 years old and due about $8.4 million in guaranteed salary combined in 2013-14 and 2014-15, doesn't fit into Orlando's long-range plan. J.J. Redick will be a free agent after this season, but would the Magic be willing to sacrifice some salary-cap flexibility to keep him long-term?
Harrington and Redick could draw interest from contending teams that consider themselves one productive player away from a title run.
The NBA's trade deadline looms on Feb. 21.
Can they defend?
The offense should be productive and entertaining as long as players remain committed to Jacque Vaughn's system, which emphasizes movement, cutting and sharing the basketball.
But Orlando could struggle significantly on defense without You Know Who. Arron Afflalo will be an upgrade over Jason Richardson on the wing, but the Magic lack a shot-blocking presence.
How will the team endure losing if the most dire predictions come true?
Magic players and Stan Van Gundy's coaching staff grew closer and more determined after they were written off following Howard's season-ending surgery last April.
But what if the losses pile up this season?
Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu, Afflalo, Redick and Harrington will have to set a positive example.
How much playing time will the rookies receive?
The Magic's best path to rebuilding their team is to develop as many players into assets as possible — either to become productive for the franchise long-term or as eventual trade chips.
Magic officials were pleased with power forward Andrew Nicholson's development during the preseason, and they love swingman Maurice Harkless' potential.
Orlando has nothing to lose by giving them significant minutes. Initially, Vaughn will try to boost their confidence by putting them in spots where they will succeed.
How will Jacque Vaughn grow?
Speaking of Vaughn, he received rave reviews from players during the preseason.
His job will become tougher once the regular season begins, however.
He is a rookie head coach, and he, too, should develop as the year progresses.
How high is Nik Vucevic's ceiling?
Vucevic, a 7-foot center in his second NBA season, has room to develop.
During the preseason, he showed some refined low-post moves, and he excelled as a rebounder. But everything gets tougher once the regular season begins, and the biggest question mark about him is his defense.
Who will be the backup point guard?
Either E'Twaun Moore or Ish Smith will spell Nelson at the point. This could be a fluid situation as the year goes on.
How will fans respond?
The Magic sold out their last 131 regular-season games.
It's possible that streak will come to an end this season.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun