Back in October, weeks before the season began, before we really had any idea what would lie ahead of us in the year to come, I made a whole bunch of predictions about what would happen in the NBA over the course of the next nine months. I do this every year, with increasingly comedic results, but even though it never stops being embarrassing to come back to the moronic things I thought would be true all the way back in in the fall, I can’t help but think that readers sure do enjoy a good cold take.
And that’s what these are, essentially—a subzero bucket of dry-ice-freezing cold takes. I nailed some, as I usually do, but the misses are pretty nasty. Read, enjoy, and berate without prejudice. Here they are, my 50 predictions for the 2016-2017 NBA season, revisited:
James Harden is going to lead the league in scoring with over 31.0 PPG.
WRONG. I meant to say Russell Westbrook, obviously. I got everything right except the name! It’s not like Harden wasn’t close, though. He finished second among all scorers with 29.1 PPG.
Hassan Whiteside is going to lead the league in blocks with over 3.8 BPG.
WRONG. Not even close. Whiteside finished fourth in blocks per game, averaging 2.1 per game. Even the league leader, Rudy Gobert, finished with just 2.64 BPG. Nobody came close to 3.0 per contest this year, let alone 3.8.
Jonas Valanciunas will finish among the top rebounders in the league.
RIGHT. Valanciunas finished with the 12th most rebounds in the NBA this year with 779, behind all the usual mainstays but ahead of Nikola Jokic, Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Andre Drummond, however, will once again lead the league in rebounds, this time with over 15 RPG.
WRONG. Whiteside did lead in this category, with Drummond and his 13.8 RPG finishing in second place.
Last year’s assist king Rajon Rondo (11.7 APG) will see his assists-per-game average drop under 10.0 per game.
RIGHT. Harden, Westbrook and John Wall were the only players to average double-digits in assists this year. Rondo averaged only 6.7 APG in the regular season.
Kevin Durant will score fewer than 25 PPG for the first time in his career since his rookie season.
WRONG. But barely. In 62 games this year, Durant averaged 25.1 PPG, still his lowest scoring output since his rookie season.
Karl-Anthony Towns will make his first All-Star team.
WRONG. While Towns had a perfectly lovely season, the loaded frontcourt position out west and team woes for the Wolves kept him out this year. It’s coming, though, and soon.
Zach LaVine will win the Dunk Contest for the third consecutive year.
WRONG. His injury kept him from even competing. To be fair, though, had he competed he would’ve won that horrible dunk contest by a bajillion points.
Derrick Rose will play in fewer than 60 games.
WRONG. This is getting frustrating. Rose played only 64 games, which is more or less what I expected to have happen this season. I just undershot those missed games by four.
The Golden State Warriors will win fewer than 70 games.
RIGHT. They may have won 70 again had Durant not gotten hurt, but there’s nothing wrong with 67.
As a team, the Boston Celtics will lead the league in rebounds.
WRONG. I’m trying to figure out what I was thinking here. With most of these predictions, especially the ones that I missed, it’s easy to think, “Yeah, but I can see what he was thinking.” Not with this one. Boston was near the bottom of the league in rebounding this year. It’s not like Al Horford was going to add a lot of boards per game. I’m an idiot sometimes.
The Utah Jazz will average over 101 PPG.
WRONG. The sound you just heard was me punching through the drywall in my living room. Utah averaged 100.7 PPG as a team this year.
The Houston Rockets will attempt more three-pointers per game than the Golden State Warriors.
RIGHT. And so did the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets. The Rockets led the league with an insane 40.3 three-point attempts a game, while the Warriors finished fifth in that category with 31.2. The Rockets, for what it’s worth, also knocked down an extra 2.4 threes per game, too.
For the second consecutive year, the Phoenix Suns will lead the league in turnovers.
WRONG. The Sixers took home the turnover crows this year, with 16.0 per night. Phoenix at least was kind enough to finish fourth in this category with 14.9 turnovers per game.
The San Antonio Spurs will lead the league in defensive efficiency.
RIGHT. The Spurs topped all teams with a defensive efficiency of 100.9. Not surprising when they’ve got a two-time Defensive Player of the Year on the roster.
The Chicago Bulls will finish among the top six in team assists.
WRONG. The Bulls were nowhere near sixth in the NBA in assists. In fact, they were 17th with 17.0 APG per game, which probably is a byproduct of lots of isolation offense and entirely inefficient point guard play all season long.
Ben Simmons will not play a single game for the Philadelphia 76ers this season.
RIGHT. I hate that I was right about this, but it’s sort of a Sixers tradition to have a rookie sit the whole season. What kind of person would Simmons have been to have broken that? Markelle Fultz is currently walking around Philadelphia with queen-size mattresses wrapped around his knees.
Buddy Hield will lead all rookies in three-pointers made.
RIGHT. And it wasn’t even close. Hield dropped in 148 three-pointers this season, while the second-place rookie shooter from deep, Jamal Murray, poured in 115.
Kris Dunn will not play as many minutes as Ricky Rubio in Minnesota.
RIGHT. Rubio almost doubled Dunn’s floor time, 32.9 MPG to 17.1 MPG.
Thon Maker will show flashes, but won’t make much of an impact in his rookie season, failing to haul in either five points or five rebounds per game.
RIGHT. Maker grew increasingly effective as the season wore on, even starting games in the playoffs, but in his 57 regular season games this year he averaged only 4.0 PPG and 2.0 RPG.
Brandon Ingram will score well, but will not lead all rookies in scoring.
RIGHT. He wasn’t even close. Hield, Murray, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Malcolm Brogdon and Yogi Ferrell all scored more points per game than the No. 2 overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. There will be a day when it will look ridiculous that he wasn’t higher up on that list.
The Toronto Raptors will not have homecourt advantage in the first-round of the playoffs.
WRONG. After finishing with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors earned homecourt in their first round matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Charlotte Hornets, meanwhile, will be a top-four team in the Eastern Conference.
WRONG. Yeah, no. That didn’t happen.
The Indiana Pacers will play in the Eastern Conference Finals this year.
WRONG. Nor did this.
The Dallas Mavericks will not make the Playoffs.
RIGHT. I was correct on this account, however. An aging Dirk Nowitzki and relatively thin talent in other areas meant the Mavs weren’t able to sneak into the 2017 postseason.
Neither will the Memphis Grizzlies.
WRONG. At the time I made this prediction, I was thinking that Memphis’ style was antiquated and that the roster was uninspired. Despite all that, they still ended up four games above .500 and slotted a 7-seed against the San Antonio Spurs.
This year’s Finals will be a rematch of last year’s Finals between the Golden State Warriors and defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
RIGHT. Not the riskiest prediction, but here we are.
Yes, the Golden State Warriors will win the championship.
RIGHT. But I don’t have to be happy about it.
Joel Embiid will win Rookie of the Year
WRONG. Easily the leader among rookies in points and rebounds, Embiid would have run away with the award had he played anything remotely close to a full season, but with only 31 games under his belt it was impossible to give him the accolade. Instead, it went (rather surprisingly) to Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon.
Russell Westbrook will be named the MVP
RIGHT. He dominated the first-place votes in a year when he averaged a triple-double. I made this prediction thinking he’d go into what Bill Simmons calls “F You Mode,” but no one really thought he’d actually average a triple-double. What a year from an amazing player, the first in decades to win MVP for a sub-50-win team.
Zach Randolph will be named the 6th Man of the Year
WRONG. In most cases, when a player pours in 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game off the bench, he gets consideration for the year’s top accolade for reserves, but Randolph wasn’t even a finalist. He had a solid year as a reserve, but not as good as the actual winner, Eric Gordon.
Kawhi Leonard will be the Defensive Player of the Year for the third time in a row.
WRONG. Finally, it was Draymond Green’s time to “steal” this one away from Kawhi (get it?). Either guy could have won the award, but it was time to spread the love. Green absolutely deserved the award.
Brad Stevens will be the Coach of the Year
WRONG. Even though the Celtics shockingly finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference, Stevens wasn’t a finalist for this award, which make sense considering the years Mike D’Antoni had with the Rockets and Erik Spoelstra had with the HEAT.
Kenneth Faried will be shopped but ultimately will remain a Denver Nugget for the entire season yet again.
RIGHT. Somehow, someway, Faried made it through the year as a Nugget.
The 76ers will find a place for either Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel this season.
RIGHT. It looked like Okafor was going to be the one shipped out, but ultimately it was Noel who got the boot. If Philly can find a taker, Okafor will be out the door this summer, too.
Brandon Knight will be unhappy and underutilized in Phoenix, but despite that he will not be traded this season.
RIGHT. Phoenix has a loaded backcourt, but they haven’t done anything with Knight or Bledsoe, yet…
This is the year that Sacramento finally trades Rudy Gay. It’s happening.
WRONG. Had he not gotten hurt this absolutely would have happened. Damn the basketball gods!
This is not the year that Sacramento finally trades DeMarcus Cousins, however. Players that good are too important to let walk.
WRONG. This prediction was the setup, and the actual trade was the punchline.
The Orlando Magic will trade one of their frontcourt players before the deadline.
RIGHT. Too many cooks in that kitchen led Orlando to send off, of all people, the newly-acquired Serge Ibaka for very little in return. They essentially let Victor Oladipo walk to get their mitts on Terrence Ross. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a downgrade.
The Chicago Bulls will lead the league in attendance.
RIGHT. I won’t stop making this prediction until it stops being right.
The Brooklyn Nets will win the draft lottery.
RIGHT. Unfortunately they didn’t get to keep the pick. It ended up going to Boston, who traded it to Philadelphia.
There will be a new collective bargaining agreement in place before the end of the season.
RIGHT. And praise all of the gods that people praise for so swift a resolution. Nobody wanted another strike.
While not all of these distinguished writers are still with Basketball Insiders, they were back in the fall, and they each made a prediction of their own. Here’s how those panned out:
Oliver Maroney: James Harden will be MVP.
WRONG. If only Oliver were as smart as me when it comes to picking MVPs. It’s fine, though. At least he has something toward which to strive.
Ben Dowsett: The Memphis Grizzlies will miss the playoffs.
WRONG. They got in.
Jonathan Concool: The Minnesota Timberwolves will make the playoffs.
WRONG. They did not.
Jesse Blancarte: Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson will play at least 70 regular season games.
RIGHT. Of all the bold predictions, this one may have been the boldest. Gordon and Anderson are two of the most injured players of their era, and their prolonged health this season is a big part of why the Rockets were so good all year long.
Jabari Davis: The Minnesota Timberwolves will win more games than the Oklahoma City Thunder.
WRONG. My colleagues are nuts. This one was every bit as bad as the one about the Celtics leading the league in rebounds. Okay, so maybe not that bad.
Alex Kennedy: Russell Westbrook will record 25 triple-doubles this season.
RIGHT. We all know Westbrook broke the NBA record this season and racked up 42 triple-doubles. The real win here is that Kennedy actually was right about something for once.
Cody Taylor: The Miami HEAT will finish about .500 and make the playoffs.
WRONG. Oh, Cody. So close. Just like the actual .500 Miami HEAT and their playoff hopes, dashed by a tiebreaker.
Lang Greene: Dwight Howard will be named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
WRONG. Howard earned no such accolade this year. He averaged 13.5 PPG and 12.7 RPG this year, but there weren’t even whispers about him potentially making the All-Star team when voting was wrapping up. He wasn’t even close.
Come fall, I’ll be back in the saddle, making insane predictions. This year, I was 21 for 42 in my predictions, frankly one of my better win percentages ever, while my colleagues were just 2 for 8, but we’ll all try to improve next year. What’s an NBA preseason without a few hot takes, after all?
NBA Daily: Luke Walton’s Uncertain Future
Could this be it for Luke Walton in Sacramento? David Yapkowitz examines.
There’s one big question surrounding the Sacramento Kings this season: what, exactly, will become of head coach Luke Walton? Walton, in the second year of a four-year deal he signed back in 2019, has often headlined the group of coaches that are thought most likely to be let go next.
Brought in by the previous regime, Sacramento’s situation has changed considerably since they brought in Walton. Former general manager Vlade Divac has since stepped down and been replaced with Monte McNair. And, often, new management will look to build their team, coaching staff included, in their own mold — that’s nothing really against the current personnel, just that different voices sometimes have different visions and want to construct a team within that vision.
If the team plays well, the new management team may be inclined to ride it out with the current staff. In a somewhat recent example, when Masai Ujiri first took over in the Toronto Raptors front office, the Raptors started surging in the standings and Ujiri held on to Dwane Casey for a while before ultimately replacing him with Nick Nurse. Casey had been hired by former executive Bryan Colangelo.
The Kings are in an interesting scenario in that, despite being a perennial bottom-dweller, expectations have existed for the team for over a decade now, the main expectation being that they would eventually improve beyond that bottom-feeder status. Now, that expectation may be more warranted than ever, as Sacramento has some seriously talented pieces in place, including franchise cornerstone De’Aaron Fox and Rookie of the Year contender Tyrese Haliburton.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Kings looked like they might actually be turning things around. On a four-game win streak, with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, they looked like a different team.
Since then, unfortunately, they’ve reverted to the Kings of old. Now, they’re on an eight-game losing streak, their first such skid since 2019.
There are plenty of good teams in the Western Conference and, because of that, at least a couple of them are going to be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Of course, it can be hard to fault teams that show consistent effort and improvement. But that just hasn’t been the Kings, for quite some time now.
The main area of concern for the Kings where they haven’t shown real improvement is on the defensive end. They were already among the bottom half of the league on that end before their most recent skid, while it’s been significantly worse during their last eight games.
It’s always a possibility to bring in a defensive-minded assistant to help with that end, much like Sacramento tried to do on offense this past offseason. To spark the team on that end of the court, the Kings added Alvin Gentry to Walton’s staff and for the most part, it’s worked out: Sacramento is 12th in the league in scoring, up from 22nd last season. They’re also shooting better from three-point range while playing at a quicker pace.
But in order to win in this league, you need to do it on both ends. And that’s something the Kings haven’t shown the ability to do.
Sacramento is allowing 119.6 points per game, dead last in the NBA. Their defensive rating of 118.7 is also last. And, at this point, simply adding an assistant might not do the trick; at this point, it might just be easier (and more effective) for management to simply cut ties with Walton and set up a new staff under a new head coach.
Walton’s popularity and potential as a head coach first piqued during the 2015-16 season with the Golden State Warriors. When he stepped in for Steve Kerr, who took leave from the team to recover from back surgery, Walton guided the team to a 24-0 start and a 39-4 record upon Kerr’s return. While the Warriors were in their second of what would be five-straight runs to the NBA Finals and had a strong foundation already in place, Walton’s involvement in the feat can’t be discounted, while it opened the league’s eyes as to his potential as a head coach.
But later, during Walton’s years as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team showed slight, if minimal improvement each year at best. In fact, those Lakers were similar to these Kings in that they were a young team with no real experience just trying to get better. And, obviously, it’s much easier to look good when you already have an established unit.
Coaching in the NBA is a tough and often thankless job. When things go right, they get little credit. When they go wrong, the blame lies almost squarely on their head. As with players, sometimes a coaching situation just isn’t the right fit for either party; maybe this Kings’ roster just isn’t built to maximize Walton’s system.
That said, in this particular case, it would probably be best for the Kings to ride the current situation out. Sacramento has shown some improvement from last season and Walton deserves some credit for that. He’s shown constant faith and trust in his rookie, Haliburton, while he has Fox playing at a near All-Star level and Richaun Holmes looking like one of the NBA’s best in the painted area (and an absolute steal, given his contract).
Going forward, it’s worth rolling the dice and seeing if they can’t end this skid and get back to their strong play earlier in the year. Further, it might not be that great an idea to make such a radical structural change halfway through the season when your team might still have a realistic shot at the postseason.
That said, should the team continue to struggle, then it would be wise to revisit the matter in the offseason. If they do, it wouldn’t be much of a reach if McNair decides that two years is enough and that he wants to bring in a head coach of his own choosing.
NBA Daily: Where Does John Collins Really Fit?
Since the Atlanta Hawks and John Collins were unable to agree to an extension in the offseason, rumors have swirled about the 23-year old big and his future. Ariel Pacheco breaks down which teams might be the best fit for Collins should he and Atlanta decide to part ways.
John Collins has been the subject of trade rumors all season long. The Atlanta Hawks are reportedly seeking a “lottery level pick” in return for the talented big man. With Collins set to be a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason, any team that trades for him must also be willing to either offer an extension that will likely be north of $100 million or lose him for nothing.
This cuts down the list of potential suitors to just a handful of teams. These teams will have to be willing to part with draft capital and/or young players. Here’s a look at where John Collins could fit in.
San Antonio Spurs
Few teams are as good of a fit for Collins as San Antonio. The Spurs are off to a surprising start at 16-11 and the sixth seed in the Western Conference. That said, they are in desperate need of a floor-spacing big with some upside and Collins is just that. With the 35-year-old LaMarcus Aldridge set to be a free agent and his play dropping off, Collins can slide right in as the team’s big of the future.
The Spurs have multiple young guys and their draft picks. The question is how much would they be willing to part with. There are a couple of iterations that the Spurs could send out to Atlanta. A trade centered around Derrick White and a protected pick could be something that interests the Hawks. They might also be interested in a deal that includes Lonnie Walker, salary filler and a protected pick. Again, it depends on how far San Antonio would be interested in going in their pursuit of Collins.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have quietly been a competitive team this season, possibly more so than they want to be. With a young star they certainly want to build around in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Collins would represent an intriguing co-star to lead the franchise into the future. At the very least, the fit between the two would be beautiful to watch. Oklahoma City has a number of young, high-upside players they like in Lugentz Dort, Isaiah Roby, Darius Bazley and Theo Maledon. Adding in Collins to compliment them would significantly accelerate their rebuild.
The Thunder also happen to have a war chest stuffed with draft capital. They have 16 first-round picks and 13 second-round picks through the 2027 draft. It’ll be impossible for them to select a player with every one of those picks and, while they are unlikely to just offer them recklessly, using some of that capital to swing a trade for a young talent with All-Star potential in John Collins would be a great use of resources.
Yes, Cleveland just added Jarrett Allen. But that shouldn’t preclude them from a potential move for Collins.
The Cavaliers have struggled after a nice start to the season. While they seem to have settled on a core centered around Allen, Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, they are in need of a frontcourt scorer who can space the floor for their guards. Collins might prove the perfect fit, as he can play alongside Allen and should prove a threat with both Sextan and Garland in the pick-and-roll. And, given his upside, the Cavaliers’ future would shine even brighter.
The difficulty here is finding a deal that works for both sides. If a deal were to happen it would more than likely have to be a three-team deal. The Cavaliers just aren’t a natural trading partner with the Hawks. A third team would be able to give both sides what they are looking for. Cleveland could also bet on Collins not signing an extension with a new team; in that event, they would be better off waiting until free-agency to offer him a deal.
Sacramento struck gold in this past year’s draft with Tyrese Haliburton. Alongside De’Aaron Fox, the Kings have their backcourt of the future firmly in place. Marvin Bagley and Buddy Hield have both been rumored to be unhappy in Sacramento, involving one or both of them in a trade for Collins could give the Kings a lot more upside and add some frontcourt scoring.
This is another situation where, given their personnel, the Kings and Hawks aren’t ideal trade partners and would probably need to involve a third team. Sacramento has shown some growth this season and an upgrade in talent could help make their playoff aspirations more attainable. The Kings own all of their first-rounders and should look to be aggressive in improving their roster.
Pursuing a Collins deal is unlikely for Boston, who has shown to be very reluctant in parting with future assets in recent seasons. Still, Collins would add a pick-and-roll threat Boston just doesn’t have. The Celtics would then be able to build around an extremely strong core of Collins, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
The Celtics would have to pay Collins in the offseason, however, making them even more unlikely to swing a deal for Collins. Already paying Kemba Walker, Tatum and Brown over $100 million each, Boston would almost certainly have to and the same to Collins, further restricting their ability to fill out a roster that, beyond those three, has been lacking this season. On paper they are a great fit, but there are just too many extenuating factors that make a deal unlikely.
Plenty of other teams could (and should) put their hat in the Collins-ring but are also unlikely to do so due to various factors. The Houston Rockets, Charlotte Hornets and Denver Nuggets could all swing a deal for the big man, but they either have younger guys at his position or wouldn’t be willing to pay him.
Collins is a talented 23-year-old big man with All-Star potential. It’s not often someone of his caliber at such a young age is available on the trade market and teams should be aggressive in their pursuit. If Collins doesn’t get traded, teams will have a chance to sign him to an offer sheet in restricted free agency. He will likely command a $100 million deal, with any team that trades for him essentially ponying up for the first shot to pay him.
NBA Daily: Should Orlando Sell?
Injuries have once again foiled Orlando’s plans for success. Chad Smith assesses the situation and details why it is time for the Magic to finally blow it up and fully embrace the youth movement.
As the All-Star break approaches, the Orlando Magic find themselves in an all-too-familiar position. They are the basketball equivalent of a treadmill. Hell-bent on moving full steam ahead, they continue to squeeze out wins but, in the end, they are going nowhere.
There are a variety of reasons why Orlando continues to dwell in the quicksand, injuries being chief among them. There is plenty of young talent on the roster, but they just can’t seem to stay on the floor. Rookie guard Cole Anthony and star Forward Aaron Gordon are both dealing with injuries and will not return until after the All-Star break. It goes much deeper than just this season though.
Jonathan Isaac is in his fourth year but has played just 106 total games. He is expected to miss the entire season after appearing in only 34 games last year. Worse, just when it seemed as though Markelle Fultz had turned his career around, he was lost for the year with a knee injury just eight games into this season.
While injuries may be out of their control, Orlando hasn’t done much to help themselves, control the things they can control, either.
Drafting is a tricky puzzle, for sure, as there are always busts and sleepers that are only be realized years later. But, while Orlando has had the luxury of picking near the top every summer, they have yet to nail the star they have longed for (and desperately need). In back-to-back years they had the sixth-overall pick, which they used on Isaac and Mohamed Bamba. In 2015 they selected Mario Hezonja fifth-overall. None of their second-round picks in that span have contributed to this team, either.
The Magic have seemingly always lived in mediocrity. Despite having one of the easiest schedules in the league, they currently sit 12th in the Eastern Conference. While he obviously hasn’t had the group at full strength, head coach Steve Clifford’s team ranks near the bottom in virtually every statistical category. Player development is something that must be taken into consideration, which puts Orlando in a position where they must make a major decision.
Should they continue with their current nucleus and try to build on another lottery selection next season as they return to health, or sell off their talented veteran players now and embrace a full-on rebuild?
Orlando’s biggest asset is obviously Nikola Vucevic, the All-Star center in the midst of a career year. In year two of a four-year contract worth $100 million, Vucevic’s salary actually declines by $2 million each year. And, at the age of 30, Vucevic will no longer be in his prime once the Magic are relevant again.
Taking advantage of desperate teams that need help at the center position, like the Boston Celtics or Golden State Warriors, could net them multiple first-round picks and or a young player in return. The free agent class for next season is lukewarm at best, so teams may decide to explore trading to acquire top-tier talent. If Orlando puts him on the trade block, their phones will be ringing off the hook all the way up to the March 25 deadline.
Nikola Vucevic tonight:
He joins Nikola Jokic as the only centers with a 30-point triple-double on 0 turnovers since 1985.
It’s also his 3rd career triple-double, more than every other Magic center in franchise history combined. pic.twitter.com/HLSWMfzPjn
— StatMuse (@statmuse) February 20, 2021
Should the Magic decide to move their best player, it would open the window of opportunity for Bamba. The seven-footer is still under contract for one more season so he could be easily dealt if the franchise decides to hold on to Vucevic. Several suitors have already been knocking on Orlando’s door about his availability. With Bamba’s name already in trade rumors, it could signal that the team is headed in a different direction.
Gordon’s name is one that has already been in trade rumors even before the season tipped off. The fourth-overall draft pick in 2014 doesn’t have the same explosion and athleticism that he once possessed, but he is still just 25-years-old and would be a valuable piece for any team.
Despite his regression, Gordon’s value remains high for contending teams looking to add a piece that they believe will put them over the top. The return for Orlando will not be a huge bounty, but moving on from Gordon could be wise as he has one year remaining on his contract at just $16.4 million, which should be very enticing to interested teams.
After suffering 15 losses in 19 games, Orlando has now won three in a row and four out of their last five. While none of those victories came against top-level teams, it is a sign that perhaps the Magic aren’t ready to just cut their losses in the midst of an injury-filled season.
Orlando does have two Disable Player Exceptions, worth $6.1 million and $3.7 million, respectively. This would allow them to add another player but they are just $2.8 million below the luxury tax. That being said, there isn’t a player available that is going to turn Orlando’s season around. They will face the Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, and Atlanta Hawks before the break.
After missing the postseason six years in a row, Orlando has made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. The problem is they haven’t done much after getting there. In those two years, they have only won a total of two games; both first-round exits. The year-to-year improvement just hasn’t been there, as Orlando seems to have hit their ceiling with this core.
In the best-case scenario, the Magic would have a healthy Isaac and Fultz to pair with their two talented big men. They would have another lottery pick to add to their pool of young talent. Anthony avoiding the sophomore slump and the continued development of Bamba and Dwayne Bacon would be of major help for the future of this franchise as well.
Odds are, even with all of these coming to fruition, however, the team wouldn’t amount to a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.
Evan Fournier is another name that could be on the move. The veteran sharpshooter will be a free agent this summer and would like to play for a contender, per Zach Harper of The Athletic. The Magic aren’t keen on the idea of re-signing the veteran scorer, as they will have to pay Isaac and Fultz. Finding Fournier’s new home this season could benefit both sides in the long run.
Orlando’s organizational philosophy has always been to compete for the playoffs, with all indications showing that will not change this season. But, with the trade deadline a month away, there is still a chance they could reverse course on that. Every organization starts a new season with the goal of reaching the postseason. But, at some point, the future must take precedence, even if it means suffering in the short-term for the long-term gain.
Orlando’s best route to long-term success would be to cash in on their talented veterans now. Investing in the future and going young is a blueprint that many teams have committed to. The Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets and New Orleans Pelicans are all oozing with young talent and have bright futures. The Magic have the opportunity to add either another top draft pick or two or some young established players to their promising young core and they should seize it.
Sneaking into the playoffs and getting smacked in the first round once again is not going to improve this team in the long run. There is no added value in playing four or five additional games after the regular season. This franchise must see the big picture and position itself to succeed using a different path.
The goal for Orlando should not be making the playoffs again. Their goal should be to finally escape NBA purgatory. The plan should be to embrace the youth movement and accumulate some assets, while they still can.