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.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN