Our “Fixing” series here at Basketball Insiders continues with the Orlando Magic. The Magic underwent a facelift this past summer when GM Rob Hennigan was let go, and Jeff Weltman and John Hammond were brought in. Under Hennigan, the Magic made several short-sighted moves in an attempt to speed up the rebuilding process. It ended up doing more harm than good.
With Weltman and Hammond at the helm, it appears as if the Magic are more willing to embrace a longer rebuilding period in hopes that it will pay off down the road.
What is Working
For the Magic, not a whole lot. They’ve been in the lottery for the past six seasons and hardly have anything to show for it. One bright spot they have had, however, has been the development of Aaron Gordon. The Magic had been shifting him back and forth between both forward spots, but have finally seemed to understand that he is a power forward.
Gordon’s played exclusively at power forward this season and he’s responded with a career-year despite the Magic’s futile season. He’s only 22 years old with his entire career ahead of him. He’s also about to hit restricted free agency, giving the Magic a big decision they’ll need to make.
Along with Gordon, the Magic seem to have done well with this past summer’s draft. Both Jonathan Isaac and Wesley Iwundu look like they could be key contributors for the Magic in years to come. Neither one of them have received much playing time this season, and Isaac has been hampered by an ankle injury. Isaac has shown incredible defensive potential but remains a work in progress offensively. It’s a similar situation with Iwundu. If their offense eventually comes around, they’ll be nice members of the young core.
In perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the season, the Magic have managed to get real contributions out of Mario Hezonja. On the verge of possibly falling out of the league, Hezonja has turned in his first productive season. You’re always a bit wary when players have breakout years when they’re about to hit free agency, but Hezonja is at least proving he might belong in this league.
What Needs to Change
The Magic haven’t always embraced the tank in recent years despite not having a prayer at the playoffs. Chatter at the trade deadline saw rumors that the Magic were willing to move Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, and even Aaron Gordon. If that was true, it’s a sign that Weltman and Hammond are not afraid of a tear-down and longer rebuilding process.
Compared to the rest of the league, the Magic don’t have a very high payroll. They’re going to have to make a decision on Gordon, but regardless of what they decide to do, they should look to move some of their higher paid veterans if possible. Guys like Fournier, Vucevic, and Bismack Biyombo should be shopped around to playoff teams that could use their services.
Focus Area: The Draft
The Magic are currently slated to draft sixth in this summer’s upcoming draft. They have identical records as the Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks, and Sacramento Kings. This draft is shaping up to be a top-heavy draft, which bodes well for the Magic. Smart teams with a capable front office never draft for position, they always go with the best player available. That’s exactly what the Magic need to do.
There are a few guys who are all in the mix to be selected with one of the top 5-6 picks. The Magic can’t go wrong with any one of DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr, or Mohammed Bamba. Any of those players would make a great addition to the Magic’s growing young core.
Although they’ve had lottery picks for the past several years, the Magic have not had much to show for it. Two of their picks, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, they traded away in the mistake that was bringing in Serge Ibaka. They also just traded Elfrid Payton, another lottery pick. Each pick they get from here on out, they need to keep.
Focus Area: Free Agency
This offseason should be quite simple for the Magic when it comes to free agency. They should not look to tie up veteran guys with long-term contracts. If they do add a veteran player or two, it should be on a minimum contract like they did this past offseason with Marreese Speights.
They should also continue to scour the market for youngish guys on bargain contracts looking to break out like they managed to do with Jonathon Simmons. They could also look to their G-League team, the Lakeland Magic, to find cheap, young talent as they did with Rodney Purvis.
The Magic will have some key decisions to make though in free agency. The first thing they’re going to have to do is decide on Aaron Gordon’s future. Gordon is approaching restricted free agency and will likely draw interest from other teams. He’s having a breakout year, but is he going to be a potential building block? It would be a good idea to keep him, but ultimately Weltman and Hammond are going to have to decide whether they want to retool the roster or tear it down and build it from scratch in their image.
They also need to decide what to do with Hezonja. His play has shown that he can produce at the NBA level and he too will draw free agent interest. The Magic declined to pick up his fourth-year option and the start of the season, and rightfully so. Up to this point, Hezonja had yet to prove he could contribute at this level. If they want to re-sign him, they’re now going to have competition for his services. If they can retain him on a cheap, cap friendly contract, they should do it. If not, then it’s time to part ways.
It’s going to take some time for the Magic to get back to the level they once were where they’re contending for the playoffs. They’ve got a capable team at the helm with Weltman and Hammond. They’ve got a few nice young guys who look like they could develop into key pieces. They’ve got a fairly high draft pick coming up in a top-heavy draft. But it’s still going to be a process.
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