With the NBA playoffs behind us, the 2017 off–season is here and many teams must make massive decisions. CBA expert Danny Lerouxbreaks down the major challenges and opportunities for theOrlando Magic in The Crossover's NBA Summer Preview series.
While other teams received more attention for their blunders, Orlando had one of the most disastrous off-seasons in the league last summer. Beyond trading Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the 11th overall pick for Serge Ibaka, former Magic general manager Rob Hennigan gave out lucrative long-term contracts to Bismack Biyombo, Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin with decidedly mixed results.
That combination of moves forced Aaron Gordon to play out of position and will tie up their financial flexibility for years to come. With Hennigan out of the picture, a new general manager will have to pick up the pieces but will also have the opportunity to overhaul the team yet again if they feel so inclined.
Here are three key storylines to watch for the Magic this off-season:
No. 6 Pick: Orlando was the biggest loser of lottery night as their own pick dropped from fifth to sixth and they also lost the Lakers’ 2019 first-rounder, receiving two second-round picks instead. Still, the Magic has an opportunity to draft a difference-making young talent. Turnover in the front office opens the door for selecting someone at virtually any position since the new GM will not be wedded to players like Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon like Hennigan was. This year presents a great opportunity to draft a point guard to develop since this is an unusually deep crop and high quality veterans are always expensive.
Extensions for Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton: Orlando’s ongoing obligations to players like Fournier, Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic make it more palatable to extend Gordon and/or Payton since they are not sacrificing 2018 cap space to do so. However, it will be hard to establish an agreed-upon value for either of them due to up and down careers and a lack of clarity for how they fit in with the next great Magic team.
Center Logjam: The Magic have committed about $30 million per season for the next two years to Biyombo and Vucevic, which was not exactly an inspiring center combination for head coach Frank Vogel last season. Moving either of them, even for a player with a somewhat unsavory contract at a different position, could help balance the roster. There could be teams interested in Vucevic, who has two years and $25 million remaining on his contract, but the center market is intensely oversaturated so Orlando should not expect a significant return for a valued contributor. That may lead them to keeping the duo for at least one more year as they sort out the rest of the roster.
Potential Free Agents: Jeff Green (Unrestricted), Jodie Meeks (Unrestricted), C.J. Watson (Partial Guarantee), DamjanRudez (Restricted) and C.J. Wilcox (Unrestricted)
Likely Summer of 2017 Cap Space: $14.5 million
Realistic Maximum Summer of 2017 Cap Space (using $101M estimate): $15 million
2017 Draft Assets: Own first (6th overall) and second (35th) round picks, plus the 25th overall choice from Toronto and 33th from the Lakers.
Potential Targets: In today's NBA, $15 million does not go nearly as far as it used to, considering the projected $101 million salary cap for next season. That should be enough for a fringe starter or a useful bench player if the Magic want to use it all in one place. Naturally, who they select with the sixth pick will loom large here, particularly if it is a point guard. With center likely off the board, Orlando could use their cap space on a combo forward who meshes with Gordon. If he were willing to take that salary, Danilo Gallinari would be a great fit skill-wise as he spaces the floor and Gordon could fulfill Vogel’s defensive vision by guarding opposing small forwards. Unfortunately, the Italian does not fit in with Orlando’s timeline as he turns 29 this summer. Alternatively, the Magic could look at restricted free agents Tony Snell, Jonathon Simmons and Joe Ingles, each capable of strengthening their rotation.
Pressure Scale: 6. Orlando has an opportunity to lay the groundwork for their next successful team this summer, but a lack of urgency and resources pushes down their pressure relative to other teams. Making the right pick at No. 6 and then at least one strong choice with 25, 33 and 35 would make a huge difference for the franchise’s future and agreeing to a team-friendly extension with either Gordon or Payton would make their ledger much more stable. However, they can wait on those new deals until restricted free agency and do not have the cap space to make a major splash this year, so the front office could put the team in a holding pattern of sorts beyond making those draft picks.
Waiting has its merits, since the new GM will want to evaluate their talent and many of their contractual obligations will look better in a year simply by being closer to expiration. Spending money this summer on a player like Gallinari would make the team better in the short term but limit their flexibility moving forward for a player who will not age well alongside their young talent. That lack of urgency makes their summer a little less challenging, while the potential for wholesale change still matters.
State of the Franchise: To Be Determined. The Magic is in a fascinating position because their new general manager can make wholesale changes immediately but does not have to at this point. A quick decision on Gordon and Payton would open up different opportunities for trades or extensions, but waiting makes some sense, too. The same logic applies to veterans like Vucevic and Ross, who both have two seasons remaining on their contracts. Both can help the Magic next season or become part of larger trades to re-make the team. That could even be the case for Fournier, who could interest a franchise closer to relevance at a price tag of $17 million per season.
The most prudent path forward would be to engage in wide-ranging discussions with other teams and go where the offers take them. Drafting the best prospect available should be the plan no matter what, and the front office should explore moving up and down to maximize those assets. But their specific circumstances do not affect that thought process. The only irreversible decisions to make are using the cap space or agreeing to a lucrative extension, and both can be deferred to a degree. As such, Orlando becomes a wild card in the proceedings this off-season since they can either join the fray or bide their time until the trade deadline or next summer.