The 2015-16 season for the Orlando Magic didn’t quite go as planned. Upon hiring a new coach in Scott Skiles, the goal that the franchise set was clear: make the playoffs.
A quick glance at the final standings for this season will show the team made a 10-game improvement compared to last season, but it still wasn’t quite enough to make the playoffs as they came up nine games short of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The team had been rolling through the first two-plus months of the season as they posted a 19-13 record through the end of December, which was good for fourth place in the East. After roaring out to that solid start, the rest of the season was a completely different story as the Magic went 16-34 over the remainder of the season and quickly fell down the standings.
Now the team is tasked with perhaps their most important offseason since trading away Dwight Howard. The Magic have now missed the playoffs in four consecutive seasons, tying the franchise mark for most seasons without a postseason appearance. Having a great summer is key into getting back on track in 2016-17.
Look at Trading the Draft Pick
As 16 teams are in the full swing of the playoffs, 14 other teams have already turned their attention to the 2016 NBA Draft. Although those teams not in the playoffs can officially execute trades, the draft typically serves as the unofficial start to trade season, as we often see deals consummated on draft night.
The Magic head into the draft in a position that they haven’t been in recently. This is the first draft during their current four-year rebuild where their pick will likely fall outside of the top-10. As things stand going into the draft lottery on May 19, the Magic have the 11th-best odds of landing the first pick.
This year’s draft class is generally considered to be extremely top heavy, with no real franchise-changing player outside of the top-five or so. The Magic have been able to build its core through the draft as they’ve held a top-five selection in each of the past three drafts. They also had another lottery pick two years ago that they eventually used to obtain the draft rights to Elfrid Payton.
Given that there likely won’t be a great option for the Magic when they draft, the team should look at trading that pick. Adding another young player that will likely need a few seasons to develop may not necessarily help the Magic win now. The team wants to make a deep run in the playoffs and adding a player that is a few years away may not be the solution.
While nothing is set in stone regarding the Magic and this draft pick, the team should consider packaging this pick in a deal that would bring back a veteran player. Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said during exit interviews last week that the team will be as aggressive as any team this summer. It’s likely that they have already began looking at their options with this draft pick.
There were reports around the trade deadline that the Magic were among those that inquired about Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls. Given the Bulls’ recent comments on Butler last week, it doesn’t seem like he is untouchable. Acquiring a guy like Butler (or another top-tier player) is worth exploring as it would be a big step in the right direction for the franchise.
Be Smart in Free Agency
Virtually every team this summer will have a lot of money to play with. The Magic will be among 20 or so teams that will have enough cap space to sign a max-deal player. They are also one of about six teams that will have enough cap space to potentially sign two max-deal players.
In recent years, having that much cap space was huge for a team. The problem for the Magic is they’ll have to convince free agents to choose Orlando over some of the more established destinations out there since there will be so many teams with cap space. Would a highly-coveted free agent choose the Magic – a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in four years – over a team that is currently in the playoffs right now?
Given that logic, the team will likely need to overspend a little bit to lure one of those top names to Orlando. We saw the team do this previously a few years ago when they signed Channing Frye to a four-year, $32 million deal. Many thought the team overpaid a bit for Frye, but it was likely the extra few million dollars that convinced Frye to choose Orlando over teams in championship contention.
It’s clear at this point that the Magic need some more veteran guidance on the roster. The team’s downfall after December was having to rely too much on their younger players. We saw those players go through bouts of inconsistency late in games and we saw them drop several close games down the stretch. Had some of those close games gone in their favor, they could have possibly made the playoffs.
The team added some veteran leadership at the trade deadline when they acquired Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova from the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Tobias Harris. Those two players can potentially come off of the books this summer as Jennings is an unrestricted free agent and Ilyasova is on a non-guaranteed contract next season. This trade was designed to help in the team’s playoff push and to also create cap space this summer.
It will be important for the Magic to be smart in free agency. Just because the team has money to spend, doesn’t mean they have to spend it. Players like Al Horford, Chandler Parsons, DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal, Mike Conley, Rajon Rondo, Kent Bazemore and Marvin Williams (among others) could all become free agents this summer and are all among the players that seem obtainable (though some are much more obtainable than others).
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside headline this summer’s free agent class, but those players seem unrealistic at this point to sign with Orlando. In any case, the Magic will need to be smart in who they bring in, something that Hennigan has already mentioned.
Decide on the Future
The Magic will have several players set to hit free agency this summer. Players like Jennings and Jason Smith will be unrestricted free agents, while Evan Fournier, Andrew Nicholson and Dewayne Dedmon can be restricted free agents once the Magic extends qualifying offers to them. Ilyasova and Devyn Marble are on non-guaranteed deals for next season.
As things stand going into next season, only seven players are on fully guaranteed contracts. The team will need to decide which players they want to bring back among those upcoming free agents. They could ultimately decide to renounce as many contracts as they can in order to maximize their cap space and make a big splash through free agency.
Perhaps their biggest decision will be with Fournier. He’s a player that has played well when given the opportunity, and because of that, likely drove his price tag up substantially. It’s unclear what the Magic would be willing to match, but it was reported that Fournier rejected a four-year, $32 million deal at the beginning of the season. The key thing to remember with Fournier this summer is the team can keep all of their cap space by re-signing Fournier last. The team’s estimated $50 million cap space includes Fournier’s cap hold of $4,433,683, so they can go over the cap to re-sign him since they hold his Bird Rights.
Starting this summer, the Magic will also be able to re-sign Victor Oladipo as he is set to become a restricted free agent next summer. Both Fournier and Oladipo play the same position, so would Orlando want to retain both players? The team could also opt to eventually re-sign both players in order to keep them as assets and ultimately trade them later as we saw them do this season with Tobias Harris.
It’s often been said that no player on the Magic is untouchable, and they would be open to moving one of their core players for the right price. Would they elect to part ways with a core player if it meant returning a top-tier player?
It’s clear that this summer is going to be a big offseason for the Magic. The team wants to be aggressive, but will they be able to make a big splash in free agency or through trades? Adding players like Horford or Parsons (or others) could be what puts them over the top and into the playoff race next season.
A welcomed sign for the team is they can add players through free agency and still keep their core intact if they want to. Bringing in a couple of key veteran players to a team that includes Payton, Oladipo, Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja could make a dangerous core that sticks around for a long time.
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