The beginning of the 2012-2013 NBA season this week signifies a fresh start for the Orlando Magic and their newest addition, shooting guard Arron Afflalo.
Arron joined the Magic this offseason as a part of the trade that sent the former face of the team, center Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in the offseason.
AA is no stranger to moving on after loss. He started 62 of 66 games last season for the Denver Nuggets, who, despite trading star forward Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks the previous season, played to the sixth best record in the Western Conference. In the postseason they pushed the Lakers to seven games in the first round before bowing out.
The trade to Orlando surprised Arron, who was a cornerstone for the Nuggets last season and averaged a career-high 15.2 points per game. But he met the move with optimism and is ready to be a team leader with the Magic this year.
"This opportunity is going to be good for me," he said. "I love (Orlando). It's a great environment and a great atmosphere. I'm happy to move here, live here, start something fresh and continue my career here."
Along with the acquisition of AA and departure of Howard, there were myriad other changes in Orlando this season. Only two players remain from Orlando's NBA Finals run just four years ago. The Magic also made changes in the front office and coaching, where they turn the reigns over to Jacque Vaughn, formerly an assistant in San Antonio. Arron believes that Vaughn is exactly the type of leader Orlando needs.
"He's going to be good for us. He's easy to play for. But at the same time you can tell that there's going to be some discipline commanded from him, even as a first year coach," AA said. "I'm enjoying it. I think he's having a good coaching experience so far. We're going to make it easier on each other from a coaching standpoint and a player standpoint, by handling our responsibility."
The Chicago Tribune calls Afflalo "perhaps the biggest return piece" in the Howard trade and with that large presence around the rim gone, the Magic will be forced to look elsewhere to replace Howard's 21.9 points per game over the last two seasons. Jameer Nelson, one of the holdovers from the team's Finals run, believes that what the team lost in production, can be made up to a certain degree in work and effort.
"We lost some scoring," he said, "but I think we added some guys who play a lot harder."
Orlando is a team is full of young talent, that many feel is outside of the playoff picture, but Arron believes the team is simply going through a transition, much like his Denver team did and will come out of this period better for having gone through it.
"As a team, we're going to go out there and prove our worth regardless of whether it's written down on paper," he said. "As a player, you don't get this opportunity too often to continue to grow in an environment in which expectations might be slightly lower. It gives you the incentive to do better and I think everyone is excited about that opportunity and this fresh start."
Though the expectations around the league of the Magic aren't particularly high, the team still has some reasons to believe good things are on the horizon.
Chief among them according to many is Arron. As Brooke Thomas of Fox Sports Florida writes, AA brings versatility and tenacity to the Magic at the shooting guard position and he is certainly accustomed to winning after making it to the Playoffs in each of his first five seasons.
"Afflalo on the floor benefits the Magic on both sides of the basketball. On offense, he has the ability to score in multiple ways, averaging 15.2 points last year with the Denver Nuggets. He can spot up from behind the 3-point line. He's got the touch to pull up for the mid-range jumper. He's strong enough to get all the way to the basket and finish through contact."
On the other side of the ball, No. 4 is also expected to provide a defensive upgrade over Jason Richardson, who departed for Philadelphia in the same trade that brought AA to the Magic. However, with the Magic now lacking the shot-blocking presence that they enjoyed last season, Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel writes that they will need Arron to be at his best on the perimeter in offense and defense.
"Afflalo is regarded as a tenacious player with an impressive work ethic. He's improved his offensive game markedly from his rookie season in 2007-08. Afflalo is a superb 3-point shooter, having made 40.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. he also gets to the free-throw line at a good rate. He's a tough competitor on defense."
Spelling Arron at shooting guard will be six-year veteran J.J. Redick, who started 22 games for the Magic last season and is the other holdover from the Finals team with Nelson. Brian Schmitz, Magic Insider for the Orlando Sentinel, says that with the combination of Afflalo and Redick makes the two easily Orlando's strongest position:
"Coach Jacque Vaughn probably wishes one of them was 6-8, so he could play both Afflalo and Redick at the same time. He might try to get them on the court together anyway for stretches, even if the move shrinks the Magic. They have the two-guard spot covered, with Afflalo starting and Redick in the bullpen. They aren't all-stars. But the Magic haven't been this solid collectively at the 2 since Tracy McGrady was here from 2000-01 to 2004-05."
While the Magic are certainly underdogs this year, projected 29th out of 30 teams in the NBA's Power Rankings to open the season. However, they may look to surprise a few people and make a statement early in the season, as Scott Anez of WDBO Radio writes:
"I believe this team has the ability to sneak up on its opponents early. Why? Mainly because of the fact that Coach Jacque Vaughn's offensive system, predicated on movement and screens away from the ball, is gonna be foreign to alotta teams' scouting departments. Don't forget, for the last five years, this team has played the same way -- inside-out. That will change dramatically this season."
FROM THE STANDS
— Olindo (@OlindoSays) November 2, 2012
Arron Afflalo is gonna be most improved player this year #markmywords
— Ronald O'Delphin (@RonnieDels) October 29, 2012
ARRON AFFLALO FOR MVP!!!
— Connor Muzzy (@Muzz321) October 30, 2012
— Stephane K⚽✅ (@stephfrance10) October 30, 2012
I hope our young guys workout with Afflalo.. his work ethic is amazing. #Magic
— Daley Landon (@dlandon13) October 30, 2012
THE FINAL WORD
The new season promises to be an interesting one for Arron and the Magic.
Though outside expectations are low, the team and organization aren't setting the bar any lower for themselves. Arron assures that Orlando's current group will make the most of their opportunities and help the franchise to move forward.
"Change always brings mystery. It always brings doubt, but at the same time, from a positive perspective, it brings a lot opportunity and a lot of room for growth. That's the light that I feel most of the people in the organization is looking at it and that's the way we're going to move forward."
- Power Rankings – Let the Games Begin (ESPN, Oct. 29, 2012)
- Anez Sez: My Magic Number is 35 (WDBO, Oct. 21, 2012)
- Arron Afflalo talks about coming to Orlando Magic (Orlando Sentinel, Aug. 16, 2012)
- Arron Afflalo: Newcomer adds strong work ethic, tenacity (Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 28, 2012)
- AA, J.J. in position to provide stability (Orlando Sentinel, Oct.28, 2012)
- 2012-12 Orlando Magic Preview (Chicago Tribune, Oct. 24, 2012)
- Orlando Magic Season Preview (Orlando Pinstriped Post, Oct. 29, 2012)
- Magical (Non)expectations of Success in Orlando (Orlando Pinstriped Post, Oct. 27, 2012)
- Jacque Vaughn doesn't want to talk about the Magic Rebuilding (SB Nation, Oct. 9, 2012)
- Magic hitting NBA draft lottery this season? Don't bet on it (Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 28, 2012)
- Magic's Arron Afflalo is ready to be a team leader (Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 2, 2012)
- Arron Afflalo hopeful to make preseason debut (Fox Sports Florida, Oct. 23,2012)