Orlando Magic's patience in rebuilding is finally paying off for the franchise

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It has been a long, hard road to recovery for the Orlando Magic. However, it seems the rebuilding job following Dwight Howard's departure in 2012 is finally beginning to come to fruition.

That's not to say they are the finished article; far from it, but they are in a much stronger position than four years ago when the current Houston Rockets center left Florida. 

Having enjoyed the most successful spell in the team's history under the tutelage of Stan van Gundy; reaching the Finals in 2009 - losing 4-1 to the Los Angeles Lakers - and falling 4-2 to the Boston Celtics in the Conference Finals a year later. 

The landscape of the Magic was changed dramatically in the summer of 2012 as, in the space of three months, Van Gundy, general manager Otis Smith, and their franchise star, Howard, all headed for the exit door. But now, after three seasons of bottom feeding where they amassed a regular season record of 68-178 they are on the cusps of being a playoff contending franchise once again in the Eastern Conference. 

Led by a young, enthusiastic roster and a head coach intent on team play over individual glory, the Magic have produced their best season, so far, since they were eliminated by the Indiana Pacers four years ago.

The two-time Conference winners currently sit 12th in the East, five games back from the Chicago Bulls, who occupy the final playoff force. Not brilliant on the face of it, but considering their .276 average PCT over the past three seasons, a .431 win percentage is a dramatic improvement. 

But with every poor season, there is a silver lining; draft lottery picks, and the Orlando Magic have used their high-end selections perfectly to create the current, young roster at Scott Skiles' disposal. 

The rebuild actually began with the four-team trade that saw Howard arrive at the Staples Center. Montenegran center Nikola Vucevic was brought in from the Philadelphia 76ers and the Swiss-born big-man has developed into one of the NBA's finer talents at the five spot. 

He had a career year last season as he averaged 19.3 points and 10.9 rebounds. This campaign he is posting 17.8 points and nine boards, his minutes have also diminished by two minutes per outing.

With every passing draft since 2012, the Magic have added a key component to their current roster. Victor Oladipo was number one in 2013, Aaron Gordon was fourth a year later - along with Elfrid Payton who was picked up on draft night in a trade with the 76ers.

Oladipo and Payton are a backcourt for the future; the sophomore point guard is averaging 10.7 points and six assists per night, while the two-guard, in his third NBA season, is dropping 15.1 points.

Dunk Contest sensation Gordon made his name known to the world in Toronto, but back in Orlando, he has been hyped since draft night. Following some struggles with injuries he is now showing his immense talent; averaging 8.9 points and 6.6 rebounds.

Skiles arrival in the summer was coupled with European talent Mario Hezonja being selected with the fifth pick. The former Barcelona man has struggled with life in the NBA, but much like many youngsters in the league, needs time to adapt. 

Looking at the Magic on paper, they have a team full of exciting talent, players who can turn a game on its head in an instant, but they lack the killer instinct needed to see off opponents. 

They have dropped a number of games from winning positions, but that street smart style will only come with experience. 

It has taken time for the Magic to get over Dwight, it has taken years to build this young roster and they will need patience to get to the level their talent hints at.

But, even if they don't make the playoff this season, it seems good times are ahead for the Florida-based franchise. With a number of young players on long contracts, expect them to be challenging at the top end in years to come.

Eastern Conference
Orlando Magic
Southeast Division
Elfrid Payton
Dwight Howard
Houston Rockets
Southwest Division
Western Conference
Victor Oladipo

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