Orlando Magic’s free agency strategy one of risk or caution

Sep 29, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan talks with media during media day at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan talks with media during media day at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic will be faced with some key decisions this offseason as they try to pursue free agency aggressively to improve the team.

Rob Hennigan has always been cautious in his approach.

His strategy to rebuild the Orlando Magic has been one of pragmatism, waiting for his opportunity to strike and remaining flexible to take advantage of whatever opportunity comes across his desk. The idea was not to get caught or backed into a corner — essentially stuck with a roster he cannot escape from.

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The rebuild would center on the Draft. This is where the core for the team would come from. Free agency would supplement the team.

The big contracts he has handed out were not onerous.

A four-year, $32-million front-loaded deal to Channing Frye was supposed to bring in some much-needed shooting and it did not quite work out. The Magic dumped Frye and freed up cap space before the end of his second year under contract.

After failing to sign Paul Millsap to a max contract last summer, the Magic handed out a four-year, $64-million deal to Tobias Harris with the most expensive year coming in the second year. They traded that before the end of the first year.

A four-year, $48 million extension to Nikola Vucevic is seen as a virtual bargain.

The Magic have maintained flexibility through the contracts they have doled out and by being patient through the draft. That has not generated wins though.

That goal, now entering the fifth year of this rebuild since trading Dwight Howard in August 2012, may be the overarching theme of this offseason. Orlando has made it pretty clear the team wants to make the Playoffs this year — the same thing it has said for the most part in the last two years.

The Magic made that Tobias Harris deal to clear up cap space and could free up enough room to sign two max players. That part is not likely, but the Magic should be active and aggressive to pursue all opportunities to fill out and improve the roster.

Hennigan has made it clear he is seeking experience to supplement the young core the team has drafted in the last four years. New coach Frank Vogel has highlighted toughness.

But in each time Hennigan has spoken to the media about the upcoming free agency period, he has delivered a small word of caution. The team will be aggressive, but will not be reckless.

The Magic will go after the big fish, but what happens if they do not get any of the big fish?

Orlando is in a strange spot. The team clearly has the cap room to make a big move. But it may not have the team to attract that big player. Frank Vogel said it during his introductory press conference. Free agents want to win.

The Magic won 35 games last year and seem to be trending in the right direction. But it would take a leap of faith in this core for a big-name free agent like Al Horford, for instance, to sign up and join with the team. Hennigan made this pitch to his teammate Paul Millsap last summer and it was not enough yet either.

Throw on top of that, Evan Fournier‘s free agency — and who knows what he will get in this crazy free agency market — and the Magic are suddenly faced with some more uncertainty than ever before.

Having cap room is one thing, spending it is another. How the Magic spend it could determine the direction the team goes.

There are plenty of strategies about how to do this. On a recent episode of The Game Theory Podcast with Sam Vecenie, he spoke to Derek Bodner of Philly Magazine about the 76ers’ draft pick and offseason. He raised an interesting point for a team like the Magic that are on the outside looking in and looking to make a splash.

Philadelphia too may be looking to add veterans to its young core to take tangible steps forward in addition to owning the top overall pick. What Bodner and Vecenie discuss is how a team in Philadelphia’s position can entice free agents.

Essentially there are two responsible paths to take, both filled with risk. Both may become necessary.

There is taking the risk and leap on a player. Not only is a player taking a leap on the team, but the team is taking the leap on a player.

When the Magic signed Tracy McGrady in 2000, McGrady was not even a full-time starter. McGrady had a strong Playoffs and did well off the bench when the Magic gave him a max.

That faith in him was rewarded as he became one of the best players in the league. But it was a huge risk on an unproven player to get tied to him for seven years.

Contracts are much shorter now — the max is four years — but the team could certainly throw its weight behind an unproven player ready to take on a bigger role and feature him. They could match Evan Fournier if he gets a max, as Bodner suggests the Sixers might offer him, and go into the season with a high-priced player still looking to prove himself.

Or they could go the other route. Continue to play it safe. Hold onto the cap space and be smart with how they spend. Instead of using a max contract because they have the room, they spend the money on smaller contract — perhaps overpaying some — to bring in a veteran role player to support the core the team has.

This too could fail. That is essentially the strategy the Magic have had. And they have struggle to hit on the right veteran and complementary player to put the team over the top.

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With so many teams having cap room this summer, the uncertainty only grows. The Magic may have to spend some of that flexibility to chase their goal for 2017.

It would not be surprising to see the Magic stay the course some. The team improved by 10 wins and that should open some doors to veterans who are willing to believe more in this group.

Hennigan has always been pragmatic about his decisions. Even with the pressure to win now, it does not seem he would lose sight of the big goal. After all, flexibility serves to create opportunity and perhaps extend lives as a general manager.

There will be intense competition for just about every free agent this summer. The Magic are not a team to go for broke, so to speak.

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They are a team that will evaluate and take calculated risks where they are called for. If they miss out on those chances, they will proceed cautiously, believing in the group they have built with so far. And believing with even minor tweaks, they can continue to improve.