With the season slowly approaching (slowly, being the key word), there is really only one thing left for the Magic to do.
Their young players are finally starting to grow up and reach free agency for the first time. More specifically, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris are on the final years of their rookie contracts and are set to become restricted free agents next summer. That means the Magic have until virtually the start of the season to agree to extensions to avoid this outcome.
If you are Greg Monroe or Eric Bledsoe — or even Eric Gordon — you know how restricted free agency can go. It can be a sometimes ugly and frustrating process. The team you last played for holds the right to match any contract offer you receive. This can scare off potential suitors or create tricky contract structures — like the back-loaded deals the Rockets gave Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin.
The Magic are, essentially, bidding against themselves and what they believe the market will be in preparing to make an extension offer to these two important players. Many teams allow free agents to hit restricted free agency and let the market set itself, knowing they will be able to match.
With some players, the Magic may not be able to afford to do that.
At this point, they should have enough information to know exactly who these players are and what they can bring to the team. Valuing them properly is probably most important as they wager on what the market will bring for these two young, promising players.
What is pretty clear is the Magic are entering negotiations with Harris and Vucevic over an extension throughout the summer. The process is going a bit slowly as the deadline pressure of October is still a little ways away. And restricted free agency takes away a lot of the leverage.
Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic – $2,380,594 (Qualifying Offer $3,394,727)
Harris’ camp wants a new deal this summer and the Magic have agreed to talk about the subject, but given where Orlando is at in their rebuild committing a huge number to Harris seems unlikely. Although, there is a sense that if the Magic make a reasonable market-based offer, Harris might take it.
Word is Harris is atop a number of team’s wish list, so if the Magic don’t want to pay him this summer, there is a strong chance he gets a sizable offer sheet next summer.
The Magic would be bidding against themselves in a deal now, so it’s unlikely an extension gets reached, but it does seem like Harris’ camp is open to one if the Magic will come with the right kind of offer.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic – $2,751,260 (Qualifying Offer $3,865,520)
Like Harris, the Magic are talking extension with Vucevic, and also like Harris the Magic are in essence bidding against themselves. There is a chance that a deal gets reached this summer to start locking in core pieces, but given that Orlando doesn’t have to set a price today, there is a bigger chance that both Vucevic and Harris hit restricted free agency and let the market place set their price after seeing what both contribute in a season that should be about winning games.
At this point it does not seem like any type of deal is close. Both players appear set to hit restricted free agency next summer.
Vucevic has a pretty clear-cut value though. He is a solid rebounder and an improving offensive player. He may very well lead the Magic in scoring this year or be a major fulcrum of the offense. His role is pretty well defined. The Magic know what kind of player he is.
What they may not know is the price he might fetch on the market. Many seem to think he could receive an extension or deal similar to the one Larry Sanders received in Milwaukee — roughly $44 million over four years. That seems to be the going rate for a center like Vucevic (although not nearly the athletic defender as Sanders, he is much more consistent on the glass and on the court).
Harris, on the other hand, we are still very much figuring out what kind of player he is.
He had the great 20-game stretch after he was traded to Orlando. Injuries though took away much of his effectiveness last season, as even he admitted. This is a big, big season for Harris. And that is an understatement.
It would be tough for the Magic to make any kind of serious offer at Harris right now. He just has not proven what he can do over the course of an 82-game season.
So for both Vucevic and Harris, it seems the waiting game has begun.