For the first month of the season, the Orlando Magic had been rolling through their schedule. The team had jumped out to a 19-13 start and were sitting fourth in the standings in the Eastern Conference following their 100-93 win over the Brooklyn Nets on December 30.
Fast forward three weeks later, and the story has been the complete opposite. Through nine games in January, the Magic are 1-8 and they are coming off of last night’s embarrassing home loss to the last-placed Philadelphia 76ers.
For one reason or another, the team just hasn’t performed as well as they previously were. After experiencing several high points thus far this season, last night was by far rock bottom for a team that has playoff aspirations. It’s a reality check that the team may not be as close to competing as initially thought.
With the trade deadline exactly four weeks away, one question should be asked regarding the Magic: is it time for a change?
From now until the February 18 deadline, trade rumors will be surfacing quite a bit. By this point in the season, we know which teams will be buying and we know which teams will be selling.
So, where does Orlando stand? Following that loss to the Sixers, the team is 20-21 and just one game back of eighth place in the East. By no means is the team eliminated from the playoff race. One win could be what’s needed to get the team back on track.
Equally, the season could begin to spiral out of control soon. Among Orlando’s games left before the All-Star break are contests against San Antonio (twice), Atlanta (twice), Boston (twice), Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers.
With the trade deadline looming, here is where each player on the team stands. It should be noted that these updates are merely opinion-based after being around the team for the majority of the season.
Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris
Both players entered the 2015-16 season in the first year of their respective long-term deals. Vucevic’s deal will pay him $48 million over four years, while Harris will earn $64 million over the next four years. Because the team just committed to these players and both guys are now getting paid a higher salary, it seems unlikely either player would be moved before the upcoming trade deadline.
While both players are a significant part of the team’s younger core, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan has said in the past that no player on the team is untouchable. However, in the case of Vucevic and Harris, it would likely take a huge offer for the team to move either of them.
Payton could be as close to untouchable as it gets on the Magic. It would take a huge deal in order to pry Payton away, and is there a team out there that wants him that bad? Likely not.
Payton has become one of the most valuable players to the Magic this season. He’s proven this season to be just as valuable on the defensive end as he is on the offensive end. He recently missed four games earlier this month with a couple of sprained ankles, and the team went just 1-3 in his absence. Payton has the tools to become a special player in the NBA, and figures to be a huge part of the Magic’s future.
It seems as though there could be a point within the next year or so that the Magic will have to decide if they want to keep both Fournier and Victor Oladipo. Both players are shooting guards and both will be seeking long-term deals. Fournier will be a restricted free agent this summer, while Oladipo will be a restricted free agent the following summer.
As far as Fournier goes this year, it’s possible that a team would trade for him in order to have him as a restricted free agent under their watch this summer. That’s what the Phoenix Suns did last year by acquiring Brandon Knight and re-signing him over the summer when he was restricted. It’s also possible that any team overly intrigued in Fournier could just make him an offer this summer if they feel the Magic won’t want to match it. It remains to be seen if Fournier will stay with Orlando long-term, as he could be moved or he could be out of Orlando’s price range this summer.
Oladipo’s trade value likely is as low as it’s ever been. A knee sprain has kept him out of the Magic’s past two games, and he has been listed as questionable for tomorrow’s game against the Charlotte Hornets. Outside of the injury, Oladipo has had an up-and-down season to this point. He began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bench at the end of November and has remained there for the most part.
He started five games prior to suffering the knee injury in place of Elfrid Payton, and was playing some of his best basketball of the season. But, even with his improved play as a starter during that five-game stretch, the team posted just a 1-4 record. The Magic are 13-7 this season when Oladipo comes off of the bench, compared to just 6-11 when he starts. He’s currently posting career-lows in points (13.5), assists (4.0), steals (1.3) and field goal percentage (40.5 percent). Given his injury and inconsistent season, Oladipo likely isn’t going anywhere.
This seems to be the part of the roster where anything could happen. Gordon played just 47 games during his rookie season after suffering a broken foot. He’s almost eclipsed that mark this year, and has made some improvements. Gordon can be a change-of-pace player that can come into games and give the Magic a spark when needed.
It’s clear that he still has work to put in and is a work in progress. The Magic just used a very high draft pick on Gordon last year so they clearly value him. However, if the right deal came along, it’s possible Gordon could be had. He could be an attractive piece in a package deal that could land a notable player in Orlando. He was the team’s fourth overall pick in 2014, so it would still take a lot for the Magic to part ways with Gordon.
Nicholson’s time with the Magic has been spotty. During his first two years with the team, he played in nearly every game; last season, he played in just 40 games. He saw a bigger role under head coach Scott Skiles last month, but now appears to be out of the rotation again. Nicholson doesn’t figure to be a part of the Magic’s long-term plans, and is likely being shopped.
He can be a restricted free agent this summer if the Magic make him a qualifying offer. Once they make him that offer, he counts against the team’s cap space, so they may not opt to do that since he doesn’t appear to be a part of their future plans. Nicholson has shown some flashes this season that he can still be a viable option off of the bench. So, if the Magic can flip him to a team in need of bench depth for a draft pick or contributor, they likely take that deal.
Frye has been frequently mentioned as one Magic player that could be had. Entering the season, his price tag was reported to be fairly low. But, when the team made the move to bring Oladipo off of the bench, Frye became a starter. And he was a viable starter for the Magic. He provided the team with floor spacing, which opened things up for other players. During the month of December, Frye shot 47 percent from three-point range.
January has been a different story. In nine games this month, Frye has shot just 16 percent from three. Since his struggles, the trade talks could intensify with the trade deadline just a month away. Frye is owed just under $16 million over the next two years, so the Magic could look to dump his contract in order to spend it on younger players. Equally, Frye’s $8 million salary could look good for a team in need of another scoring option for a playoff run.
Smith has been very solid this season for the Magic. He’s given the team productive minutes off of the bench. He’s known to be a grit-and-grind type of player and has played extremely hard this season. He signed over the summer on a one-year deal worth $4.3 million deal and could be an attractive option to a contender looking for frontcourt depth or to a team looking to shed some cap space this summer. Given that Smith has been one of the team’s better bench options, it would seem likely that it would take an attractive deal for the team to trade him.
One of the biggest offseason signings for the Magic was Watson. They valued his veteran leadership in that backup point guard spot behind Payton and thought he could help the team. The team tried to sign and trade for Watson prior to this season, but were unable to strike a deal. The two finally came together over the summer, signing a three-year deal worth $15 million. He’s a guy that they like and want to be a part of the team.
A calf injury has limited Watson this season to just eight games played, and his return to the floor is not yet known. He was said to be improving, but recently suffered a setback. Given his uncertainty with the injury, Watson has no trade value for the Magic. It was likely that he may not have been a trade option if we has healthy.
The injuries to Payton and Oladipo opened up some playing time for Hezonja recently. He had played under 13 minutes per game through the end of December, but is now averaging about 18 minutes per game in January. He was the team’s fifth overall pick in last year’s draft and remains a work in progress.
He’s shown flashes thus far of the type of player that he can be. He can shoot and drive the hole, but his defense and decision-making needs further work. It’s seem highly unlikely Hezonja is traded as the Magic knew he would be a player that would need time to develop when they drafted him.
Napier was acquired over the offseason in a cost-cutting move by the Miami HEAT. The terms of the deal included the Magic sending Miami a second-round pick, but it’s highly protected and will likely never have to be surrendered. So, the Magic acquired Napier for basically nothing. The team exercised its option on Napier, keeping him under contract through next season.
The Magic have been looking for a backup point guard given the injury to Watson, and so far they haven’t had any luck finding that player. Napier had a role with the team in November, but has since fallen out of the rotation. He could be a player to keep an eye on that gets packaged in a bigger deal.
Dewayne Dedmon and Devyn Marble
Each of these players don’t figure to be a part of the team’s future. Dedmon and Marble are guaranteed through this season. Dedmon can be a restricted free agent this summer, while Marble’s deal for next season is non-guaranteed. They could be used as filler pieces as well. It’s worth noting that recent 10-day signee Keith Appling cannot be traded.
It’s clear that the Magic are still an elite player away from seriously competing. It would take a large package of players and likely picks for Orlando to land that kind of player. Free agency could be the best bet for the team to bring in a star player, and perhaps the team would want to trade away some unnecessary contracts to make that happen.
As things stand today, they’re looking at about $30 million in cap space, figuring in a projected $90 million cap next season. That number could change depending on how they handle their upcoming free agents (Fournier, Nicholson, Smith, Dedmon). The team will need to shed some salary in order to bring in a max-level player, so they could be active in the coming weeks.
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