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NBA AM: Ending Contracts To Watch At The Deadline

With the NBA Trade Deadline just a few days away, it’s smart to keep an eye on the notable ending contract players.

Steve Kyler

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The Ending Contracts

With the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline approaching on Thursday, February 23 at 3 p.m. EST, there is more and more chatter in NBA circles, and the biggest questions facing NBA teams is what to do with their ending contract or possible ending contract players.

The bulk of deals done at the deadline usually involve players on expiring contracts that their incumbent teams feel could walk as unrestricted free agents or get priced out of a range that makes sense for them. While there are more than 70 players that fall into this category, there are some top tier guys worth watching and a few in the next tier that could be attractive in a trade.

Top Of The List

Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors – $12,112,359

If there was any doubt in your mind, let’s set the record completely straight. Steph Curry is re-signing in Golden State. He’ll qualify for the new Designated Veteran contract and will ink for more than $210 million in July. As much as people in Charlotte or New York dream of Curry, it’s not likely to happen.

Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers – $22,868,827 – $24,268,959

The same is basically true of Chris Paul. He’ll opt out of his final $24.26 million and ink a new deal with the Clippers for north of $200 million. While Knicks fan often dream of a Carmelo Anthony-Paul tandem, it’s not going to happen. Sources close to the process said that it’s already been verbally agreed to and it’s simply a function of the calendar and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement kicking in.

Jrue Holiday – New Orleans Pelicans – $11,286,518

Several teams were hoping to pry Holiday out of New Orleans, however, with Sunday’s DeMarcus Cousins deal, the Pelicans have gone all in on this roster and are comfortable with where they stand with Holiday, mainly because they can give him the largest deal in free agency. The Pelicans are prepared to do a max or near max deal for Holiday (according to sources) and that salary value may be too rich for other suitors, especially given Holiday’s injury history. While nothing is done until it’s done, the Pelicans are prepared for the risk of losing Holiday but feel like the outcome of the season post-Cousins trade and a hefty offer could help them sway Holiday back for another deal.

Gordon Hayward – Utah Jazz – $16,073,140 – $16,736,710

One NBA executive joked recently that it was a two-horse race as it pertains to Hayward’s future, suggesting he’d only meet with the Celtics and Jazz in free agency and if he makes an All-NBA team, then the decision gets easier. Hayward has a $16.73 million player option that he is expected to decline. The Jazz will have to face the facts that Hayward can’t really commit to them long-term until this summer and he won’t know if he’ll qualify for the huge payday of a designated veteran until after the season. The Jazz are, at this point, turning away anything with Hayward attached, but there is a reality to all of what Utah will have to come to grips with. League sources doubted seriously that Utah trades Hayward and concede that although there is a risk, it will be tough for Hayward to get an All-NBA selection this year, despite being named an All-Star.

Kyle Lowry – Toronto Raptors – $12,000,000 – $12,000,000

The recent struggles with the Raptors got some NBA people wondering if Lowry would commit to the Raptors long term. Over the NBA All-Star break, it was said pretty dramatically that Lowry is all in with the Raptors and the team is prepared to get him a huge new deal this summer. It’s one of the reasons they traded for the Bird rights of Serge Ibaka, as they know full well that Lowry will garner a ton of attention, especially from his hometown Philadelphia 76ers—who have nothing but cap space. They also have nothing to lose in throwing a full max offer starting at $30.6 million on the table. Sources close to the Raptors said this weekend there was almost no scenario in which the Raptors wouldn’t pony up the money unless Lowry told them directly that he does not want to be there. Today, though, that is not the case. Lowry does have a player option worth $12 million, but he is obviously expected to decline it.

Derrick Rose – New York Knicks – $21,323,252

The New York Knicks could trade Derrick Rose before the deadline (maybe to Minnesota). League sources have said he is completely available. The problem is that he’s owed so much as a salary cap charge, moving him would be hard. There have been more than a few insiders that wonder if the Knicks would take on some salary in exchange for moving Rose as a mechanism to obtain a player they maybe missed out on signing. However, Knicks sources said they covet the flexibility more than any of the players the Knicks could obtain at the deadline. It’s not out of the question that Rose is ultimately moved, but it’s not viewed as very probable.

Taj Gibson – Chicago Bulls – $8,950,000

Gibson has been in the rumor mill for most of his career, so now that he’s at the end of his deal, the amusing note from Bulls sources is that ultimately, they would like to re-sign him. While on the surface that may seem comical given how long his name has been out there, the Bulls have been reluctant to move Gibson this year (although he is said to be available). League sources said it might be inevitable for the Bulls to move Gibson, mainly because there is a belief he’d like to move on in free agency and could walk from Chicago for nothing in return. While most of the chatter around the Bulls has been about the future of Jimmy Butler, Gibson might be the only guy they seriously move.

Greg Monroe – Milwaukee Bucks – $17,145,838 – $17,884,176

The Monroe situation is one worth watching, mainly because the Bucks have shopped him aggressively for over a year. The fact that he has a player option on his deal makes extracting trade value for him a little tough, but with the deadline upon them, the Bucks need to decide whether to cash him out or risk him walking away for nothing. The Bucks’ stance on Monroe was that they found a groove for him, but with the chance at losing him for nothing, he’s a name to watch as the deadline approaches.

George Hill – Utah Jazz – $8,000,000

The general vibe from the Jazz is they will re-sign Hill in the offseason, but like many of the players on this list, there is a risk that Hill walks away. Sources close to the Hill situation say he’s really happy in Utah and staying long term is not at all out of the question. What becomes real for the Jazz is at what price. While the 2017 NBA Free Agency class has a number of point guards in it, most are likely to stay where they are. That may mean that Hill becomes one of the better options for teams searching for help, which means he could end up at a price point that doesn’t make sense for Utah. The Jazz do not seem open to moving Hill, but his contract situation makes him a name to watch.

Blake Griffin – Los Angeles Clippers – $20,140,839 – $21,373,952

Like teammate Chris Paul, Griffin’s next deal is all but done. One executive who tried to engage with the Clippers on a Griffin package got absolutely nowhere, saying it was not a conversation the Clippers were willing to have. Griffin has some media ventures in Los Angeles that he’s involved with and has expressed a desire to stay near them. While there was some talk of him heading to Oklahoma City, sources near Griffin said he finds the couple of games he plays there as a Clipper to be draining because of all the family and friends commitments. The idea of playing there full time is not desirable, especially considering how much the Clippers are prepared to pay him to stay in L.A.

Paul Millsap – Atlanta Hawks – $20,072,033 – $21,472,407

The Hawks kicked the tires (now twice) on trading Paul Millsap and found he’d return far less than what he brings to the team. There is a still a chance the Hawks move him before the 3 p.m. EST deadline, but during the All-Star break, more than a few people suggested Millsap may opt out of his $21.47 million option year. If he does, however, a new deal in Atlanta is not out of the question. Given that the Hawks did this same thing last year with Al Horford and lost him to the Celtics, will the Hawks play the same game twice?

Dwyane Wade – Chicago Bulls – $23,200,000 – $23,800,000

Wade’s future is far from set. If the Bulls pull the trigger on moving Jimmy Butler, there is a belief Wade will be moved, too. Wade has said he may opt out of his $23.8 million option year, but finding anyone in the NBA willing to come close to that number in free agency may be hard, especially with Wade saying he did not want to bounce from team to team. There is no questioning that Wade will be gone via free agency if he’s not traded and Butler is. There is a scenario in which both are back with the Bulls and the big change come at head coach, though, as that’s something several executives believe made more sense than trading Wade and Butler.

Kevin Durant – Golden State Warriors – $26,540,100 – $27,734,405

Much like Steph Curry, if you think Durant is leaving Golden State, let’s set the record straight. He’s not leaving. The question is what his next deal looks like. Durant becomes eligible for 30 percent of what’s likely to be a $102 million salary cap in July, but to get there, the Warriors need cap space. To get cap space, it means virtually every expiring contract must go. If Durant opts into his final year of $27.73 million, the Warriors can keep everyone on the roster now if they wanted to. Durant is also eligible for 102 percent of his previous year’s salary, which means he could opt out and sign a new deal starting at $31.8 million. He could also do another one-and-one to get a raise and keep the team together. This is basically what LeBron James did in Cleveland until the combination of a rising salary cap and Bird rights caught up to him. The prevailing thought is Durant plays ball with the Warriors to keep the team together, so the question is: How much and how long?

J.J. Redick – Los Angeles Clippers – $7,377,500

The Clippers have been in the market looking for depth, and while Phoenix’s P.J. Tucker is a prime target for them, one player the Clippers seem unwilling to entertain deals on is J.J. Redick. Several league sources labeled Redick as a non-starter for Rivers and company and there is a belief that Redick already has committed to re-sign in July. Like Griffin and Paul, Redick is viewed as a core piece, and while his $7.3 million price tag is likely going way up, there is a belief that Rivers and the Clippers are ready to pay it. The problem with that is they won’t control it, so things could get interesting at the deadline, but the sense is Redick is staying put.

Jeff Teague – Indiana Pacers – $8,800,000

When the Indiana Pacers traded for Jeff Teague, both sides of the equation said the match was about more than just this season. With the Pacers somewhat middling this year, there are some in NBA circles that wonder if the Pacers would blow it up and start fresh around Myles Turner. Some of that is where the Paul George rumors stem from. Pacers sources found the idea of blowing up the team laughable, but admitted they were getting interesting calls that they had to at least look at. If the Pacers do something drastic, moving Teague could factor into that, however, both sides say that Teague leaving as a free agent is not a big consideration because the Pacers knew what it would likely cost to retain him when they pulled the trigger in the first place.

Serge Ibaka – Toronto Raptors – $12,250,000

Much like Teague, the Raptors knew the price range Ibaka is going to seek this summer and did the deal with Orlando knowing full well they had the inside track on keeping him. Ibaka is not someone to consider as a re-trade candidate. The Raptors feel like he and Patrick Patterson are going to be a potent tandem together.

Here are some of the next tier ending contract players, and their current NBA salary:

Amir Johnson $12,000,000 Patty Mills $3,578,948
Andre Iguodala $11,131,368 Shaun Livingston $5,782,450
Andrew Bogut $11,027,027 Shelvin Mack $2,433,334
Brandon Jennings $5,000,000 Terrence Jones $980,431
Deron Williams $9,000,000 Thabo Sefolosha $3,850,000
Ersan Ilyasova $8,400,000 Tony Allen $5,505,618
James Johnson $4,000,000 Tyreke Evans $10,203,755
Jeff Green $15,000,000 Zach Randolph $10,361,445
Jodie Meeks $6,540,000 Willie Reed $1,015,696
Jose Calderon $7,708,427 Marreese Speights $1,403,611
Kyle Korver $5,239,437 Luc Mbah a Moute $2,203,000
Patrick Patterson $6,050,000 Dion Waiters $2,898,000
Michael Beasley $1,403,611 C.J. Miles $4,583,450
Nene $2,898,000 Rudy Gay $13,333,333
Omri Casspi $2,963,814 Danilo Gallinari $15,050,000
P.J. Tucker $5,300,000 Pau Gasol $15,500,000

All trades must be completed and submitted to the NBA for validation by 3 p.m. EST on Thursday February 23. Basketball Insiders will drop our annual Trade Deadline Diary featuring the latest NBA news, notes and rumors all in one constantly updated page.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett and @CodyTaylorNBA .

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NBA Daily: Playoff Implications In Week One

Douglas Farmer takes a quick look at a few matchups this NBA opening week that could have notable implications in playoff seeding, or lack thereof, many months from now.

Douglas Farmer

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When the Los Angeles Clippers lost to the New Orleans Pelicans in last season’s first week, they had no way of knowing how costly the defeat would be. Flipping that 116-109 defeat, or any single one of the Clippers’ other 33 losses, would have kept Los Angeles from the buzzsaw of the Golden State Warriors in last spring’s first round.

That seems obvious now when every game feels important because it has been so long since any game has happened. But in no time, this week’s games will be diminished with “early season” qualifiers. They should not be. An October win has the same worth as an April victory. Losing before Halloween is as costly as falling after St. Patrick’s Day.

Some nights heighten those stakes even further. Facing the closest competition in the standings can have double the effect. With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at a few matchups this opening week that could have notable implications in playoff seeding, or lack thereof, many months from now.

Tuesday: Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 p.m. ET – TNT.

To err on the side of obvious, as this is arguably the most-hyped game of the week, more than inane home-court advantage could be on the line in the second game of the league year. Neither Los Angeles team will have its full arsenal at its disposal, but that is part of the importance to the game: Both the Lakers and the Clippers have distinct hopes of managing their workloads this season. Getting off to a strong start is crucial to those intentions.

Consider last year’s Houston Rockets: If they had not struggled so mightily in October and November (not getting above .500 until Dec. 17), they would not have had to go pedal to the metal throughout the spring just to get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Better seeding or fresher legs may have spelled better postseason fortune.

Wednesday: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers – 7:30 ET p.m. – ESPN.

The Eastern Conference pecking order is expected to separate these two, the Celtics among the also-rans while the 76ers chase the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 1 seed. For both, though, each game will matter. Boston will have the Toronto Raptors, the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat all looking to slip by it, while the Bucks will inevitably rattle off enough wins to make Philadelphia’s pursuit a difficult one.

On top of that, studying how the wings of the Celtics fare against the size of the 76ers could be informative for both seasons.

Wednesday: Denver Nuggets at Portland Blazers, 10 p.m. ET – ESPN.

Perhaps only out of deference to continuity, both the Nuggets and the Blazers are trendy picks to finish among the top-four of the West. A year ago, they finished a game apart, only one game separating second-seeded Denver from falling to fourth in place of Houston.

Putting too much emphasis on one game the second night of the season may sound absurd, but the head-to-head matchups in this series will very likely determine playoff seeding among the league’s best. That is as true on Oct. 23 as it is on April 9.

Friday: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics – 7 p.m. ET.

Activate your League Pass subscription. While the defending champions may have lost a lot this summer, they still have playoff aspirations. By no means do those expectations equate to slipping in among the Eastern Conference’s barely-competent middle class. The Raptors anticipate fighting for home-court advantage. The Celtics hung on to such by one game last season. There is no reason to expect that gap to be bigger this year.

Friday: Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Pelicans, 8 p.m. ET – ESPN.

The legitimacy of these playoff hopes may as much hinge on fall-off elsewhere in the West as the progress of these upstarts, but the odds of both the Mavericks and the Pelicans reaching the playoffs are slim. With or without Zion Williamson this week – and it’ll be without – New Orleans will need to boost its record while knocking Dallas’ early if it wants to find the postseason at the dawn of the Zion Era.

The Mavericks, meanwhile, are looking to prove the viability of the Luka Dončić and Kirstaps Porzingis pairing. Floundering into the draft lottery will not do much in the eyes of prospective free agents.

Friday: Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 p.m. ET – ESPN.

Much akin to the Nuggets and Blazers, the Jazz have stayed in the contention conversation because of continuity more than anything else, while the Clippers jumped into it via their active offseason. At some point, some of these teams have to end up in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoffs. That’s just math.

Last season, two games separated the fifth seed from the eighth. Los Angeles may be without Paul George right now, but how it does without him will thus directly impact what awaits George in the spring.

When the Clippers lost to the Pelicans 12 months ago, their leading scorer was Tobias Harris, who tallied 26 points yet was still a minus-3 while on the court. By the playoffs, Harris was working for the 76ers, but his showing in October still altered Los Angeles’ spring.

The same can be said of many games this week, early season or not.

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NBA Daily: Five Breakout Players To Watch — Pacific Division

Shane Rhodes takes a look at players in the Pacific Division that have a great chance to take a significant leap in the upcoming season.

Shane Rhodes

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Anything can happen in the NBA.

Every season, there are so many things that seem to come out of the blue, whether it be a team that was or wasn’t expected to be competitive or big trade that no one saw coming. There is just too much randomness involved in the day-to-day to be certain about anything.

But, if there is one thing consistent in the NBA, it’s that there are always a few breakouts every season.

Pascal Siakam, Montrezl Harrell, Victor Oladipo, Nikola Jokić are a few that have made stepped out from behind the curtain and made their way to the NBA’s center stage over the last few seasons.

Basketball Insiders has already looked at the Atlantic, Central, Southeast, Northwest and Southwest — but which players could step into those shoes from the Pacific Division?

Landry Shamet, Los Angeles Clippers

After the Philadelphia 76ers traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers, Landry Shamet shined in a primary role. And now, after the Clippers’ serious roster improvement, the game should come even easier to Shamet in his sophomore season.

In 25 games with Los Angeles, Shamet averaged 10.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists while he shot 41.4% from the floor and 45% from three-point range with relatively little room to operate. On the season, he shot 42.2% from three, good for 11th-best in the NBA.

Now with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard expected to draw much of the defensive attention, Shamet – and the entire Clippers’ roster on the whole – should have plenty of room to operate.

Given weapons of George’s and Leonard’s caliber, opposing defenses should be stretched quite thin against Los Angeles; although he proved he was a plus-shooter, Shamet may find that other teams pay him relatively little mind when he has the ball. And, because of that, a jump in efficiency is firmly in Shamet’s range of possible outcomes in 2019, however hard that is to believe.

The Clippers won’t need Shamet to be a world-beater, just good enough to keep defenses honest when faced with George, Leonard and others. So, he may not see a meteoric rise in his total touches or field goal attempts per game, but it would be a surprise if there wasn’t a leap in his counting stats, namely points and assists.

If Shamet can take that boost and maintain a spot near the top of the league in three-point percentage, expect the NBA to take notice.

Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

Deandre Ayton had quite the impressive rookie season for the Phoenix Suns. Unfortunately, it went unnoticed by most because of the hype machine that was Luka Dončić.

Now in his second season, his first with a capable point guard on the roster, the NBA may not be ready for him.

Ayton averaged 16.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and shot 58.3% from the floor as a rookie in an offense that lacked a floor general and, outside of Devin Booker, struggled to create space. While Ricky Rubio isn’t an elite guard, he is more than capable of injecting some life into a Suns offense that was one of the worst in the NBA, both in terms of scoring and turnovers.

What does that mean, exactly? Some cleaner looks underneath should allow for a few more field goals, while the added spacing from Rubio, Cameron Johnson, Dario Šarić and others should open things up even more down on the block.

While he isn’t a marquee addition, Aron Baynes could also play a pivotal role on the Suns if he can get Ayton to buy in on the defensive end.

If he can step up his game on that end of the court, and take the necessary steps that are expected of him on offense, Ayton could prove one of the best young players in the NBA this season.

Bogdan Bogdanovič, Sacramento Kings

Like Ayton, the Sacramento Kings’ Bogdan Bogdanovič had quite an excellent, if not under the radar, rookie season. The 6-foot-6 wing averaged 14.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists in his second season and played a major role in the Kings’ turnaround after years of poor results.

That may seem like a breakout in and of itself. But, unfortunately, Bogdanovič’s play went largely unnoticed on the national stage because of his teammate, De’Aaron Fox, who had a breakout season of his own a year ago.

That said, with another offseason in the books, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Bogdanovič elevate his game further.

Bogdanovič should spend much of his time with the second unit. And, as the leader of the bench, he certainly shouldn’t lack for touches. Likewise, against opposing second units, Bogdanovič should come into his fair share of open shots or easy plays.

With Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes clogging up space in the starting lineup, Bogdanovič may never see enough time to break out to a more national audience — barring a sixth-man role rise ala Lou Williams. That said, if he can maintain his efficiency, Bogdanovič’s play should prove competent enough to put him squarely in the conversation for Most Improved and, maybe, even Sixth Man of the Year.

And in his third season, if that isn’t a breakout for Bogdanovič then what is?

Avery Bradley, Los Angeles Lakers

It’s been an arduous journey for Avery Bradley.

In his last season with the Boston Celtics, Bradley was regarded as one of the NBA’s premier defenders and was more than capable on offense as he averaged 16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists.

But since? Bradley has bounced between three different teams while his stats have dropped off and his defense has worsened. In two seasons between the Clippers, Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies, Bradley managed a meager 11.8 points per game while he averaged a defensive rating of 113, by far the worst of his career.

That said, Bradley’s stint with the Los Angeles Lakers could see a return to form. While the “best shape of his life” story is a yearly cliché, Bradley may truly be in the best shape of his life, having lost 40 pounds between his trade from Los Angeles to Memphis and the start of free agency.

Alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, a healthy Bradley should prove more than capable as a secondary scorer, a role which would afford him enough energy to wreak havoc again on the defensive end.

He may not post a career year, but expect Bradley to once again look like the player he was for seven years in Boston as opposed to the question mark that has taken the court over the last two seasons.

Marquese Chriss, Golden State Warriors

Marquese Chriss, the No. 8 overall pick back in 2016, has been a flop to this point in his NBA career. But with the Golden State Warriors, Chriss may be in line for his best season as a pro and a potential breakout year.

There’s a reason the Suns regarded Chriss so highly as a prospect too — while at Washington, he showed he had the tools necessary to play the role of the NBA’s modern, floor-stretching big. He averaged 13.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and shot nearly 57% from the field and 35% from three-point range.

In Phoenix’s always dysfunctional system, Chriss struggled. After a production dip between rookie and sophomore seasons, the Suns cut bait and he bounced from the Houston Rockets to the Cleveland Cavaliers. There, Chriss showed some of that spark that made him a top pick, thought

Now with the Warriors, Chriss has impressed enough in training camp to push Alfonzo McKinnie from the roster. With little frontcourt depth beyond Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Willie Cauley-Stein, there is a clear opportunity here and a role for Chriss to fill.

If he can take advantage, Chriss would certainly prove a worthwhile gamble for the Warriors and a nice surprise this season.

Any player could find themselves on the fast track to NBA stardom. Fox, Harrell, Siakam and D’Angelo Russell represent a few prime examples from a year ago; players can come out of nowhere to make their mark on the NBA stage, and that could prove true again this season.

But these players, via a combination of opportunity and or talent, would seem to have a greater chance to do so – maybe more so than anyone else – in the Pacific Division. If they step up or show out, don’t be surprised – their respective teams certainly won’t be.

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How Magical Can Orlando Be?

In an Eastern Conference full of unknowns, the Orlando Magic stand out as one of the most prominent in that category. Matt John takes a look at the three players who should play a role in their progress this season.

Matt John

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As it stands right now, the Eastern Conference is wide open.

It definitely has its favorites, like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. But even they have their question marks.

There are teams who could be at that level, or possibly higher should things break their way, like the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. But, that remains to be seen; how they do depends on if their previously injured stars are back to normal and how much their young talent progresses.

Then there are others like the Brooklyn Nets, who honestly may have to wait a year before they’re put in the conversation, and the Miami HEAT, who just got their biggest free agent since LeBron James and could sneak their way into the conversation if they make the right moves.

And then, there’s the Orlando Magic.

There’s a lot of optimism coming out of the Magic Kingdom. And why shouldn’t there be? Orlando made its first playoff appearance in seven years, they had one of the best records in the league following the trade deadline (18-8) and they brought pretty much everyone back and even some reinforcements.

And yet, of all the teams in the East, Orlando’s the one that has no consensus. Or, more specifically, no one knows where they will fall in the conference. They might just be the biggest wild card in an Eastern Conference that already has plenty of them.

If all their hopes and dreams come true this season, the Magic could very well be right up there with the Bucks and the Sixers. If it goes the opposite way, they could find themselves back in the lottery.

But this Orlando team is good. They can make the playoffs, but they should be wary of their other competitors. The Toronto Raptors may have lost Kawhi Leonard but, as of now, they’re not going anywhere. Same goes for the Detroit Pistons. There is also a lot of buzz around two particular and young up and coming teams- the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls.

If the Magic are to prove themselves better than those teams and as good as those aforementioned ones, they’ll need contributions from several particular players. They already know what they’re going to get out of Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Al-Farouq Aminu, Wes Iwundu and DJ Augustin, but for the following players, Orlando’s odds of getting to that next level depends on their individual progressions.

Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon has already proven himself an above average player. He’s an excellent athlete, a hard-nosed defender, has improved his three-point shot over the years and, in this past year alone, has shown improved playmaking ability, as his assist percentage shot all the way up to 16.6.

But now, entering his sixth season in the NBA, he still has yet to prove that he’s a truly special talent. We’ve been waiting for a couple of years to see an explosion from Gordon, the transition from raw talent to the superstar we anticipated he’d be. It’s not entirely his fault; previous Orlando management forced Gordon to play out of position for too long, which may have hurt his growth as a player.

It didn’t ruin his career, but it didn’t help one bit. Two years later, Gordon has some playoff experience under his belt. His first go-round was honestly quite solid for a playoff rookie. 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists while putting up 47/40/52 splits is promising, but those are satisfactory stats for a complementary player.

Gordon’s ceiling right now is still that of a future star. And, at 24-years-old, there is still plenty of time for him to reach that level. Last season, Steve Clifford wanted the young player to be more a defensive specialist, a role in which Gordon performed very well in. Now with higher expectations from the team, Gordon should be expected to take his game another step further.

We got an explosion from an athletic, defensively stout power forward who showed off the three-point range last season that we keep expecting from Gordon, but it came from Pascal Siakam. If Gordon is to take that next step, he should look at Siakam’s last season as an example to build his game on.

Jonathan Isaac

Jonathan Isaac is only 22-years-old. He’s 6-foot-10. He has a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He plays more like a wing but does things on the court that any big would be capable of doing. When people think of Isaac, they think of raw talent.

Following an injury-plagued rookie season, Isaac did okay offensively in his first full year, averaging 9.6 points on 43/32/81 splits while also averaging 5.5 rebounds. Defensively, there was a lot to be excited about, as Isaac averaged 1.3 blocks and 0.8 steals while also putting up a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 1.13.

With his insane physical measurements, there’s a lot to like about Isaac’s game and potential. His body frame has garnered comparisons (albeit unfairly) to Kevin Durant, but the potential he has makes it hard not to see a great future for him.

He knows how to use his length to bother his opponents; there are just too many advantages he has physically to not already be a good defender. Offensively, he’s not at the same level. But, every so often, Isaac showed he was capable on that end. There were even times where he took over games last season.

As of now, Orlando already has Vooch, Fournier, and Ross to handle the scoring load. If they want to take that next step, Isaac’s offensive progression would not only vault them higher in the standings, but it would also add a whole new dimension to the team.

There’s no rush for him to become a star, but if Isaac can show even more improvement in year three, then the Magic should become a lot harder to stop.

Markelle Fultz

Now this is where the Magic’s ceiling gets interesting.

Markelle Fultz was a project from the day it was announced that he was traded to Orlando. It was clear he no longer fit Philadelphia’s timeline and that he needed his own timetable to get his game back on track. That said, he’s a project worth investing in; Fultz was a top overall pick for a reason.

Unlike Anthony Bennett, whom Cleveland reached for back in 2013, Fultz has the tools to be something special. It’s only been injury and mental gymnastics that have held him back. Now he has a fresh start and a team that can afford to be patient with him.

Because of all the off the court drama that was going on with Fultz, there’s no concrete data to support anything that he could do this season. All we have now are just preseason videos to see what Fultz can do. But, in the few preseason games that we’ve seen, the returns look promising.

With or without a reliable jump shot, Fultz is definitely an NBA-caliber player. He has good court vision.

He can attack the basket.

And he has shown good instincts on the defensive end of the floor.

Then there’s his jumper. His jump shot looks… better? It doesn’t look like it’s completely fixed, but when your jumper is so ugly that it would have made Shawn Marion grimace, you have nowhere to go but up.

We’ll have to see how his new and improved jump shot will fare when the real competition starts. If it’s for real, then Markelle becomes a much more lethal scoring threat. He’s already shown that he can be a useful tool in the offense. His abilities as a scorer would make him all the more dynamic.

The reason why Fultz’s potential could pay more dividends than Gordon or Isaac this season is that the one area where the Magic desperately need improvement is at the point guard spot. DJ Augustin had one of his most efficient seasons ever last season, but that didn’t exactly take Orlando that far. If Fultz is to show that he was worth the top pick – which, at this point, may be unrealistic – then Orlando becomes so much better.

Gordon’s and Isaac’s improvements would definitely take the Magic up a notch. Fultz could vault them up so much higher.

We’re not going to include Mo Bamba on this list because, as long as Vooch is around, Bamba won’t be relied on to do much besides be a back-up five. Even in that role, he has some competition.

Now say these guys all progress enough to stay promising, but not enough that the Magic would take a major leap forward. Then comes the possibility of trading some of their youth for an established star.

Orlando has the assets to acquire someone good. Players like Blake Griffin or Bradley Beal could be had if they have an offer sweet enough to entice their respective teams, but it all depends on the progress of the roster as a whole. They may have to decide whether to try and open a win-now window by pairing Vucevic and Fournier with an established star or to build for a more glorious future around Gordon, Isaac, Bamba and Fultz.

Either way, this Magic team should be up next. What is left to be determined is how “up next” they truly are.

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