When Orlando Magic players gather Tuesday for their first practice of the 2013-14 season, they'll face fewer overarching questions than they did a year earlier.
They'll know what to expect from coach Jacque Vaughn and the assistant coaches. They'll know the strengths and weaknesses of most of their teammates. And they'll also know the franchise's general direction.
Season Two of the rebuilding effort will resemble Season One. Young players will receive extensive playing time. If the team's win-loss total suffers as a result, then so be it as long as the youngsters continue to grow.
"I felt like we were able to lay a decent foundation last season and we feel like that foundation has evolved a bit over the summer," General Manager Rob Hennigan said. "Our goal is to allow that foundation to continue to evolve."
That foundation includes 22-year-old center Nik Vucevic, who finished last season second in the NBA in rebounding; 20-year-old swingman Maurice Harkless, who might develop into a defensive stopper; 21-year-old combo forward Tobias Harris, who poured in points after he joined the Magic in mid-February; and 21-year-old guard Victor Oladipo, the second overall pick in June's NBA draft.
"We have some experience under our belt," Harris said. "A lot of young guys on our team have played last year and have gained experience. So taking that with us and taking that into this season is a big step for us."
Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson and veteran shooting guard Arron Afflalo will have to steady the team on the court — at least during the season's early going.
Power forward Glen Davis, the team's defensive linchpin, hasn't been cleared yet for basketball activities following a surgery in July to promote healing in the left foot he fractured last season, Hennigan said.
Several days ago, a foot specialist cleared Davis to begin some controlled conditioning work, and team officials will make sure that Davis doesn't do too much, too soon.
It seems likely that Davis will miss at least the beginning of the regular season, although team officials wouldn't put a timetable on when they expect him to play.
"We're bringing him along slowly and cautiously, and that's by design," Hennigan said.
The team also will part ways with 34-year-old Hedo Turkoglu — either through a buyout agreement or waiving him outright or a trade — no later than Jan. 7. That's the deadline when players with nonguaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts must be waived for teams to avoid paying their entire salary.
Team officials and Turkoglu have agreed that Turkoglu won't be around the team.
His absence and Davis' rehabilitation will translate into more playing time for the youngsters and probably will translate into more growing pains for the team.
Last season, the Magic finished with the league's worst record, 20-62, and the best chance of winning the 2013 draft lottery.
The 2014 draft class is expected to include swingman Andrew Wiggins, power forward Julius Randle and swingman Jabari Parker and guard Dante Exum. The group already is rated as one of the most talented draft classes in years.
Many NBA experts project the Philadelphia 76ers to finish with the NBA's worst record in the year ahead.
Next year's draft is the last thing on Magic players' minds, of course.
"Naturally, we want to get better than we were last year," Harkless said. "Nobody wants to lose games, but I think we all feel pretty confident that we can win a lot more games than people expect us to win this year. So I think we're going to surprise some people."
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