Harkless decision backs rebuilding plan

Magic keep struggling rookie in lineup

The Magic chose tomorrow over today when they made the decision to keep rookie small forward Maurice Harkless in the starting lineup.

They chose player development over winning games, which is frustrating but prudent, in a rebuilding process.

Next step? The Magic better: 1) get Harkless more involved; and 2) stand by their decision with Harkless once Hedo Turkoglu returns from injury.

With this move, the Magic have informed Turkoglu that he will be a reserve behind Harkless.

And with this signal, the Magic have reminded their other veterans that nurturing Harkless trumps winning.

And if fans were wondering how the dominos might fall, given the Magic's mildly surprising start, there's your answer (barring injuries).

It's a crystal-clear message.

There's an intriguing dynamic at play in the Magic's locker room.

Vets such as Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis, Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick desperately want to win now. Their post-game comments after losses seldom reflect the reality of rebuilding.

They had no choice but to buy in to the player-development aspect before the season started. But once the real season began and professional pride kicked in, they all hit the competitor switch.

This was bound to happen when the two worlds collided.

If you gave them lie-detector tests, I'd wager the vets would all want Turk in the lineup.

Turning 34 in March, Turk obviously would make more of an impact than Harkless, 19, especially with his offensive versatility.

Turkoglu would give the club another playmaker and scorer. The Magic must wait until Redick comes in to receive that spark at times, particularly with their habitual slow starts.

The Magic also would be more potent with Redick starting at shooting guard and Afflalo at small forward in a smaller lineup. Coach Jacque Vaughn and GM Rob Hennigan have nixed that idea in sticking with Harkless.

With Turk joining Nelson, Afflalo, Davis and Nik Vucevic in the starting five, the Magic are a fringe playoff team.

But again, developing a youngster like Harkless and second-year center Vucevic from the Dwight Howard trade is more crucial to Orlando's future than claiming the No. 8 spot. It also keeps the Magic in the lottery hunt.

Now the vets know they must play better to win — mostly avoid silly turnovers — and help bring along Harkless, Vucevic and rookie Andrew Nicholson in this test lab.

This is not to point fingers at Harkless. I pushed for Moe to be in the lineup shortly after Turk broke his hand in the season-opener. But if he's watching four teammates play and losing confidence, starting him serves little purpose.

Moe's involvement and minutes should see a spike. He needs to experience success — and failure. He can no longer make cautious cameo performances in the first and third quarters, effectively giving more time to Redick.

 

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