Assessing Magic’s Long-Term Future

Orlando took on a lot more money in this weekend’s deals and will now comfortably pay one of the highest payrolls in the NBA for the next few years. As much money as Orlando was paying before the trade, the team took on a lot more in the deal.

But the Magic are not really concerned with how much things cost right now. Their main concern is winning a championship — and doing whatever it takes to win a title. The generally admitted sentiment within the Magic front office is they want to win a title before Rich DeVos, who is 93 years old, passes away.

“It’s an indication of the family’s commitment in my mind, their commitment to win and win at a high level to give us the ability to go out and find the talent it takes to win a championship,” said Smith on Saturday after the trade. “That’s the goal. It doesn’t necessarily change because we’re sitting here at 16-9. And actually you crank it up a little bit because you’re sitting there at 16-9. You make changes that are going to give you an opportunity to do that. And I think these changes actually give us an opportunity to do that.”

So money appears to be no object for a while. Still, it is not hard to be a little concerned with the amount of money the Magic are spending and think to the future. Orlando is beginning to feel like the LeBron-era Cavaliers, trying to mix and match veteran players without regard to price in hopes of keeping Dwight Howard satisfied with the team and its progress.

Like with Cleveland, there is no questioning the franchise’s commitment. But also like Cleveland, the results are all that will matter. And as the Cavaliers found out it is not so easy to recover.

The latest edition of ESPN’s Future Power Rankings came out on Dec. 16 (before the trades) listed the Magic as sixth. And at that point, they were rated 29th as far as money. Orlando is not in a very good position to add pieces, although Otis Smith has shown the ability to move immovable contracts. To be sure, Smith is tying his future — and this franchise’s future — to these moves.

John Hollinger and Marc Stein wrote on the Magic: “Orlando is a small-market team that’s well into the luxury tax, and it’s likely to remain capped out for the foreseeable future. Combined with an aging core, that’s a recipe for problems.”

They like Orlando’s “stable” ownership and management in Otis Smith. But the bad news is they felt the team had lots of tradeable assets. A lot of those assets are gone and now Orlando is saddled with long-term deals.

As I wrote during the summer, Orlando was in a somewhat good position to re-sign Dwight and if they didn’t to get another big-name free agent in relatively quick order thanks to Dwight, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson’s contracts all expiring the same summer.

That will not happen now. When Dwight Howard has an early termination option in 2012, Orlando will still be on the hook for potentially two more years for Hedo Turkoglu (he has a player option in 2013) and will face the potential of Arenas picking up a two-year option in 2012.

These could severely hamper resigning Dwight, who would be due much more than the $17.9 million he would make in the 2011-12 season under the current collective bargaining agreement. Believe it that all these moves have an eye toward next summer when Howard has the option to end his contract and become a free agent. The Magic now have a lot of money tied up in veteran players. It might keep Orlando more competitive than Cleveland currently is — the market to attract additional free agents might be better — but potentially losing Howard is a scary thought for all Orlando fans.

Nothing short of winning a title in the next two seasons will guarantee winning a title. And despite some financial handicaps for the near future, this team is in complete win-now mode. Future salary cap ramifications will not matter too much.

“We have a window here at the Magic I believe to win a title,” Smith said. “We are in that window. Our ownership believes we have a window and we’re in that window. And they are allowing us to do what we have to do in order to compete.”

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily