The Orlando Magic are not where they expected to be.
When the 2015-16 season opened, the Magic believed they would be firmly in the hunt for the playoffs and slightly better than the eighth seed in the East. For most of November and December, they looked exactly like that team – ending the 2015 calendar year in the fourth spot in the East with a 19-13 record.
Since the calendar flipped, the Magic have gone on to an 8-22 record and now find themselves a full five games out of the postseason with 20 games left to play. To make matters worse for the Magic, their remaining schedule includes 12 road games and 14 games against teams with an above .500 record.
The postseason, which seemed all but assured 68 days ago, now seems all but unreachable.
So what happened to the Magic?
The biggest change occurred mid-season when head coach Scott Skiles moved guard Victor Oladipo to the bench and started to play Channing Frye as a starter. While that helped the team to some wins, it also created a bit of a crisis of confidence and questioning of roles among some of the young guys.
What started as bruised egos swelled into self-preservation and a group that was looking at their coach for answers began to doubt motivations. When teams start looking over their shoulder, things usually don’t turn out well.
The other part was the NBA caught up to what the Magic were doing; teams began to exploit areas of weakness in how the Magic played defense, and when the defense disappeared so did the flow in every other part of the game.
What’s been the hardest to swallow for the Magic is that despite lapses on defense and guys not playing as cohesively as they were in the first 60 days of the season, Orlando was right there in so many games – having lost nine games by three or fewer points and 12 games by five or fewer points. Even if you split the difference on the five or fewer losses, adding six games to the win total is the difference between being in the dance and watching from home.
Skiles sort of predicted this possible outcome in late December, saying that in his experience, with such a young team they can either come together after a solid start or fall apart. The Magic fell apart. It was one of the big reasons the Magic searched for major trades at the trade deadline, ultimately settling in on the deal that sent forward Tobias Harris to the Detroit Pistons and brought in veterans Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova. The hope at the time was two veterans that had a lot to play for could infuse the Magic roster with some veteran blood, but even with new faces the outcome for the Magic on most nights has been the same: good but not good enough.
A planned by-product of the Harris and Channing Frye trades was to create financial flexibility for the upcoming free agent class.
The Magic have been pretty adamant that having flexibility this summer was important, which is why they made many of the moves that they have made. The Magic are now positioned to have what could be as much as $45 million in cap space for free agency while also retaining the restricted free agent rights to guard Evan Fournier, who will likely be back with the Magic next season on a new deal.
The problem with the Magic’s cap space is they will not be alone in pursuit of a very small pool of top level talent, since as many as 17 teams project to have a full maximum salary slot with five teams having the ability to create two full maximum salary slots. In total, there could be 24 maximum salary slots available this summer, which may be the largest pool of cap space the NBA has ever seen. This means that the Magic will have some heavy competition for talent, even if they are willing to overpay to get a top-level player.
When the Magic opened this season, they believed they would be in the playoffs. That’s not likely going to happen this year. The question is, will the Magic be in a better situation next year after another run through the NBA Draft and free agency?
There is no doubt that this will be a critical offseason for the Magic, especially if the current roster continues to underperform.
Tony Wroten and The Knicks
The New York Knicks are closing in on what’s likely to be a two-year deal with free agent guard Tony Wroten. Wroten has been on the Knicks’ radar for some time, with the team bringing him in for a meeting and a workout a couple of weeks ago.
While Knicks fans have been clamoring for help at the guard position, it may not actually be coming with Wroten this season, as the Knicks hinted that Wroten may not be healthy enough to play after coming of an ACL injury a year ago.
“If he’s not healthy to play, we can evaluate him over summer,” Knicks interim coach Kurt Rambis told Marc Berman of the New York Post. “We see potential in him. Now we have his rights. He’s a penetrating guard. He was somebody who can really break down defenses and attack the basket, but I haven’t seen him play in a while.
“A lot of management reasons to do something like that that still holds value to the team, even if he’s not actively playing the rest of the year. It’s a management and medical decision right now.”
The prevailing thought is the Knicks wanted to get Wroten into their process now and evaluate what he could mean to the team going forward, structuring a deal that would allow the Knicks to hang on to Wroten next season if they like what they see for the final 18 games.
While the exact details of the Wroten deal are not yet clear, Wroten will have the balance of this season fully guaranteed at the NBA minimum, with the possibility of some guaranteed money if he is not waived going into free agency.
The Knicks have been somewhat reluctant to change up their lineup too drastically, even though the results suggest its likely time to start giving the younger guys more minutes.
The Knicks seem to be on track to finalize the Wroten contract today and get him with the team, although its looking more and more likely that he may not play – especially right away.
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