Grades: Magic painting a new identity after landing Bismack Biyombo
The Magic have agreed to sign unrestricted free agent center Bismack Biyombo to a four-year contract worth $72 million, according to Yahoo Sports and ESPN.com. Biyombo, 23, averaged 5.5 PPG, 8 RPG and 1.6 BPG while earning $3 million for the Raptors last season. From a financial standpoint, the 2011 lottery pick is one of this summer’s biggest winners, as he opted out of a $3 million player option to accept a fully guaranteed contract with an average annual value of $18 million. Toronto, anticipating a strong market developing for Biyombo’s services, selected 7-footer Jakob Poeltl in the lottery as a potential replacement.
Orlando’s thinking, for once, is pretty clear: New coach Frank Vogel prioritized defense throughout his tenure in Indiana, and he needed better personnel if he was going to help the Magic improve from their No. 17 defensive ranking last season (which was up from No. 25 in 2014-15). This signing, coupled with a draft day trade for Serge Ibaka, gives Vogel two legitimate back-line rim-protectors to stabilize his defense.
The best part: Ibaka’s three-point shooting range and comfort on the perimeter on offense sets up the possibility of playing Ibaka and Biyombo together, giving Orlando an absurdly long and athletic duo that will surely wreak more than its fair share of havoc. After years spent struggling offensively, defensively and everywhere in between following the Dwight Howard trade, the Magic have seemingly landed on a new identity as an inside-out defensive squad. That’s good, because many of their young perimeter pieces need regular cover.
Biyombo’s arrival does muddy the picture a bit in Orlando’s frontcourt given the presence of incumbent starter Nikola Vucevic. After backing up Jonas Valanciunas last year in Toronto and pulling in this mega-offer, Biyombo has every reason to believe he should start. The same can be said for Vucevic, who quietly plugged through some lean rebuilding years with the Magic, posting dozens of double-doubles along the way.
The Magic have at least three options: 1.) they can start Biyombo and shift Vucevic into a lead scoring option off the bench, a la Enes Kanter in Oklahoma City, or 2) they can start games with Vucevic and close games with Biyombo, a la Toronto last season with Valanciunas, or 3) they can trade Vucevic and fully commit to the Ibaka/Biyombo combination while opening up more time for Gordon at the four. There’s no doubt that this is a positional logjam, but the real question is how much urgency the Magic will feel to clear it up after four straight lottery trips.
While Biyombo’s strong postseason—highlighted by a 26-rebound performance and some spectacular blocks in the East finals against Cleveland—certainly inflated the terms on this deal, his contract nevertheless compares favorably with other centers on the market. Given his age and positive impact for a solid and much-improved Raptors defense, Biyombo’s $72 million looks like a far better investment than Joakim Noah ($72 million) and Timofey Mozgov ($64 million), and he’s a preferable option at their prices than Ian Mahinmi ($64 million) too.
Orlando’s busy summer has been filled with moves both sensible and questionable, and there’s no strong evidence that all the action has produced a significantly better team. Nevertheless, Biyombo is a piece who works with the coach’s vision, who should make an immediate impact next season, and who should deliver value on his deal for its duration. Something probably has to give in the Magic’s frontcourt, but that’s a better problem to have than, “We can’t protect the paint so we are doomed to fail.”