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Now What? The Orlando Magic

Bobby Krivitsky examines what’s next for the Orlando Magic, who, at the trade deadline, moved on from a core group of players who led them to two consecutive trips to the postseason in hopes of launching a more successful rebuild.

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After two consecutive years of being the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and quickly exiting the playoffs after an uncompetitive first-round series, the Orlando Magic broke up the core of those teams at this year’s trade deadline.

Gone are stalwarts like Nikola Vucevic, who became a two-time All-Star during his time in Orlando. The same goes for Aaron Gordon, a former fourth overall pick, who, for as valuable a role as he occupies, never developed into the player the Magic were hoping for when they drafted him. And while Evan Fournier’s game blossomed in Orlando, developing into one of the team’s leading scorers, at the deadline, the Magic moved on from him as well.

As difficult a decision as that may have been, doing so increased the odds of Orlando securing one of the top picks in this year’s draft. Since the trade deadline, the Magic are 3-14 with the second-worst record in the NBA. That has them on pace to be one of the three teams with the highest odds of getting the top pick in this year’s draft. Even if they don’t win the Cade Cunningham sweepstakes, they’d have a 52.1 percent chance of getting a top-four selection. Doing so would put them in a position to take one of this year’s other tantalizing top prospects, such as Jalen Suggs, Evan Mobley, or Jonathan Kuminga.

The moves the Magic made at the deadline have also improved the outlook on their future cap sheets. After this season, Vucevic still has two more years left on his deal at over $20 million each. Gordon’s owed $16.4 million next season and, after that, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent who won’t come cheap. Al-Farouq Aminu, who went to the Chicago Bulls with Vucevic, is scheduled to make $10.2 million next season. Sure, Gary Harris Jr., who Orlando acquired in the deal that sent Gordon to the Denver Nuggets, is on the Magic’s books for $20.5 million next season, but it remains true that the moves they made have cleared future cap space that can aid their rebuilding efforts.

The third feat the Magic accomplished at the trade deadline was acquiring multiple young players the franchise finds intriguing. Wendell Carter Jr. was selected one pick after Mo Bamba in 2018 and began his career by displaying the two-way impact that made the former Duke Blue Devil one of the top centers in his draft class. However, thanks in part due to injuries, Carter’s career has gotten off track. Still, he turned 22-years-old this month and he’s under contract for next season, giving the Magic more than merely a brief opportunity to see if they can help him grow into their center of the future. Carter’s presence could also light a spark under Bamba.

Then, there’s R.J. Hampton. After playing 25 games with the Nuggets, the 24th overall pick in this year’s draft has nearly matched that figure since relocating to Orlando. In his 16 games with the Magic, Hampton’s averaging 9.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists and nearly a steal per game while shooting 50 percent from inside the arc on 5.9 two-point attempts per game. He’s come off the bench in all but one game for Orlando and that figures to be the case next season. But given his first-step quickness and body control, as a raw talent who turned 20 in February, he offers intriguing upside, especially if he ever turns into a shooter defenders have to respect from beyond the arc.

Like with Carter and Bamba, Hampton’s competing for minutes with a fellow first-round pick from his draft class in Cole Anthony. The former North Carolina Tar Heel’s struggling to find his shooting touch in his first NBA season, connecting on just 31.7 percent of his three-point attempts and 39 percent of all of his field goals. Still, he’s found ways to average nearly 12 points per game while also contributing 4.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists. While Anthony’s started the majority of the games he’s played in, he may ultimately prove more valuable coming off the bench. The Magic don’t have to choose between Hampton and Anthony this offseason but, if neither player improves from beyond the arc or seizes control of a starting spot in Orlando’s backcourt, the Magic will probably be better off trading one of them.

Then there’s the case of Markelle Fultz. On the eve of the regular season, the Magic signed him to a three-year $50 million contract. The hope was that his growth would combine with the team’s continuity to push them higher up the standings this season. The boost Orlando’s offense got from his court vision and playmaking were reasons to be optimistic about that coming to fruition. However, eight games into the 2020-21 campaign, Fultz tore the ACL in his left knee, bringing an abrupt end to his second season with the Magic. Fultz turns 23 in May, so time is on his side, but he’s only played in 121 games the last four seasons, excluding exhibition and Summer League contests. Even with his innate feel for the game, missing that much time during critical years in his development will make it hard for him to live up to his new contract.

Injuries have also plagued Jonathan Isaac. Since Orlando made him the sixth pick in the 2017 draft, he’s missed 162 regular-season games and played in 136. When Isaac’s on the floor, he can be an elite defender with the versatility to switch in most instances. But because he’s been more likely to be in street clothes than in uniform, Isaac remains raw offensively. He shot 34 percent from beyond the arc last season. If he can become a reliable spot-up shooter who can space the floor and work as a dynamic pick-and-roll partner who can produce points diving to the rim and popping behind the three-point line, he’ll provide considerable value on both ends. That’s a development that would make him a foundational building block for the Magic moving forward. 

Another promising prospect in Orlando’s frontcourt is Chuma Okeke. He sat out last season while recovering from an ACL tear he suffered in college, but the rookie forward’s demonstrating more of an offensive feel for the game than the majority of the Magic’s first-round picks of the last decade. Like Isaac, Okeke’s best suited to play the four, but as long as the former’s healthy next season, Orlando will be able to see how effectively they play alongside each other. Isaac’s defensive versatility and Okeke’s ability to make the game easier for his teammates offensively could allow them to work well together.

As the Magic embark on their rebuild, they’re going to need veteran leaders to help guide the team’s younger players. That’s why it’s in their best interest to re-sign Terrence Ross. He’s spent five seasons in Orlando and helped them end a six-year playoff drought. However, he’s still an effective scorer who can produce points in bunches, so he may not want to stick around for a rebuild.

The Magic’s rebuild began at the trade deadline and the draft is of critical importance to their future outlook. Luckily, they’re in a position to get a top prospect. Unfortunately for them, there are too many instances where that hasn’t worked out. But they moved on from a core group of players who were beloved by their fans and could get counted on to reach the postseason so they could reinvigorate the franchise and build a team that can go further in the playoffs. To accomplish that, it’s paramount they draft based on who’s the best player available rather than emphasizing who fits in with their current roster. They don’t have anyone who’s established themselves as a foundational player.

Lastly, the Magic need to ask themselves how far removed they are from becoming an attractive destination to marquee free agents. It’s happened in the past with Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill. And they nearly landed Tim Duncan. They’re in a warm climate and there’s no state income tax, top-tier free agents have taken their talents to Orlando before and it can happen again. For that to happen, the culture needs to be appealing, they’ll need promising players and it may require having the necessary cap space to bring in a star tandem. They can accomplish each of those tasks and the moves they made at the deadline are a step in that direction. But it’s much easier to tear something down. Now, it’s time for the most challenging parts of launching a rebuild that’s more successful than what they’ve done the last two years.

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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.

“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.

In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.

Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.

NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.

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Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons

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According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.

However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.

Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.

On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.

Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.

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