Many teams will have cash to compete in free agency, but few have trade assets like the Magic do to make runs at stars like Jimmy Butler and Blake Griffin.
It is no secret the Orlando Magic are getting ready to attempt a step forward in 2017 after four straight losing seasons.
Free agency will provide some opportunities for improvement, as the Magic have potentially cleared enough cap room for two max-contract free agents, depending on how the team handles its existing players. But if the Magic are going to swing for the fences, free agency almost certainly will not hold the answers.
The two biggest fish — LeBron James and Kevin Durant — are likely to stay put on their current teams for at least one more year, and probably would not consider the Magic even if they were to ponder greener pastures. The other available free agents are nice pieces, but not franchise-changing players.
For the Magic, a home run will probably have to come in the form of a trade.
If there is a silver lining to all of the lottery trips these past few years, it is that the Magic are now stocked with assets (the sub-optimal Tobias Harris trade notwithstanding) that rebuilding teams like getting in return when trading star players – namely, young/developing/cheap players who will not immediately get them back into the playoffs (therefore allowing for future lottery picks), but whose growths will coincide with when the team wants to be competitive again.
The Magic’s first-round lottery pick is also an attractive asset that will likely be on the trading block because of the team’s urgency to win, and the trade exception from the Channing Frye trade might too come in handy if the cost of acquiring a star includes having a bloated contract dumped on the team.
This summer, there is a chance to capitalize on two teams that might be looking to rebuild by shipping out an embattled star, both of whom the Magic reportedly danced with at the trade deadline: The Chicago Bulls (Jimmy Butler) and the Los Angeles Clippers (Blake Griffin).
A season of constant tension between Butler, point guard Derrick Rose, and head coach Fred Hoiberg has led many around the league to speculate the Bulls will be making Butler available for the right price, especially given that the turmoil likely played a role in the Bulls seemingly quitting on a playoff run down the stretch this year.
The Magic reportedly inquired about Butler in February, and would be smart to do so again if the Bulls show signs of opting for a rebuild. Many expect them to do so.
Acquiring Butler would soften the blow of a potential Evan Fournier departure, giving the Magic a bona fide two-way player at small forward. However, the Bulls reportedly asked for Victor Oladipo and the Magic’s first-round pick along with another player — possibly Nikola Vucevic — during the deadline negotiations last year, a heavy asking price that the Magic balked at in initial discussions.
They could revisit them again, but the Bulls have also begun sending messages out that Butler may not be freely available again. A league source told A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England that the Bulls are inclined to keep Butler this offseason.
The other star that is perhaps most likely to be traded this summer is Blake Griffin.
After getting in a physical altercation with a beloved Clippers staff member and being hurt for much of this past season (not to mention some questions as to how he fits spacing-wise with DeAndre Jordan in the frontcourt), it is safe to say the Clippers would at least entertain the idea of shopping Griffin around.
While Griffin’s quadriceps injury is a bit of a concern, given how often he beats opponents with his explosiveness, the chance to acquire an A-list offensive fulcrum like him (remember how prolific he was when Chris Paul was injured two years ago?) seems like one the Magic need to consider, even though two of the team’s largest needs would remain unfulfilled (outside shooting and rim protection).
Indeed, the Magic reportedly spun the tires on getting Griffin at the deadline, and although the Clippers rejected the Magic’s reported offer of Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon at the time, the Clippers could be a bit more desperate this time around after another early playoff exit.
Some other high-profile players might be on the block this summer too, but are a bit trickier to acquire.
For example, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have had their issues with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they might be harder for the Magic to pry away because the Cavs would likely be looking for “win now” pieces, not up-and-coming players. DeMarcus Cousins is also perpetually somewhat available given the dysfunction of the Sacramento Kings organization, but he brings many off-court questions the Magic might not want to deal with, and there is nothing suggesting he is more available now than usual.
As for which Magic players would be most untouchable in trades, Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja seem to be the players with the most star potential and therefore would have a high asking price. On the other hand, a player like Nikola Vucevic is a bit more expendable given he is part of the team’s rim protection issues, but is a decent trade asset due to his very reasonable contract (signed before the 2016 salary cap boom) and polished offensive game.
Trading one of the team’s backcourt players (Oladipo, Elfrid Payton) is also an option given the spacing issues created by having two inconsistent shooters at the guard positions, although to his credit, Oladipo has shown potential in becoming a decent shooter.
The saying goes “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The Magic could not work out trades for Butler or Griffin at the deadline, but circumstances are always changing and the Magic should take another swing at those two, even if it means emotionally tough decisions on prized players.
No one should be off limits if the Magic are as serious about winning next season as they say they are. Not only is acquiring a star good in and of itself, it would also increase the chances the Magic could then lure a big-time free agent this summer to further accelerate the team’s rebuild.
Free agency will be competitive this summer because many teams are going to have cap space. However, few teams have trade assets like the Magic do (e.g., the Boston Celtics are comparable), so that is where the Magic need to flex their muscle.
For Jimmy Butler and Blake Griffin, the Magic should try, try again.