Orlando Magic should look to reshape roster at trade deadline

Feb 4, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) is defended by Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) in the third quarter at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 113-86. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 4, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) is defended by Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) in the third quarter at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 113-86. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are expected to be very active and try to do big things at the trade deadline. But a more conservative approach might help the team grow.

With the trade deadline looming ever larger, the Orlando Magic remain among the teams most likely to make a move between now and Feb. 23.

While fans dream of swinging for the fences and bringing in a big-name player, there is a case to be made for a more conservative approach. An approach that would see the Magic think smaller, albeit with long-term success in mind.

They are, after all, currently far from a choice destination for big names. And so this year’s trade deadline is an opportunity to right the wrongs of this season and get their rebuild back on track.

Haunted by inconsistency, their record stands at 20-34 – not quite what the front office had in mind coming into the season. Especially as the offseason moves they made were supposed to make the Magic better.

Put simply, though, they are anything but.

Despite being only five games back of the eighth seed, the gulf between them and the 24-28 Detroit Pistons seems insurmountable. And the team continues to blow the opportunity to build momentum.

As a result, almost everyone on the roster appears to be up for grabs, particularly Serge Ibaka.

The veteran power forward is set to become a free agent this summer and will, at this rate, most likely avoid re-signing with the Magic. This gives general manager Rob Hennigan two possible alternatives: trade him for the best return possible, or watch him walk at the end of the year.

While fans would love the Magic to net a player like Terrence Ross or Wilson Chandler (both of whom have been linked to the team of late) in exchange for Serge Ibaka, simply getting him off the roster and recouping some value has to be the priority at this stage.

He is, after all, still eating up valuable minutes at the 4, while Aaron Gordon (likely a long-term piece) continues to play out of position at the 3.

As the team’s playoff hopes continue to fade this makes little sense.

According to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, Ibaka is doing his best to block out the trade chatter. But that cannot be easy, especially as the team continues to struggle.

While the media has linked him to every competitive team in the NBA, the big problem Orlando has is opposing GMs around the league know just how desperate Hennigan is to make a move right now.

The team is, after all, 14 games under .500, with a glut of moveable parts that do not fit together.

At this point in time a low first round pick and a young shooter looking for a fresh start is probably about the best Orlando can hope to get for a serviceable player like Ibaka.

A good benchmark is the trade that saw the Magic deal J.J. Redick to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013.

The Magic got Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih out of that one, while dumping the salaries of Ish Smith and Gustavo Ayon. And although the deal seemed to work in Milwaukee’s favor at the time, Harris quickly proved himself a surprisingly worthy return.

A similar deal might allow the Magic to free up some space in the front court between now and the end of the season, while also clearing the cap space to have a go at a big-name free agent this summer or to shore up some depth on the market.

And if that is the route Orlando intends to take in order to push this rebuild to the next level, it may also pay to seek out trade partners for Mario Hezonja, Elfrid Payton and Nikola Vucevic too.

It is, after all, unclear as to whether any of these players fit with the club’s long-term plans.

Mario Hezonja has dropped through the rotation like a stone this season. All the while Elfrid Payton continues to struggle for consistency. And Nikola Vucevic, who has been the Magic’s most consistent player in recent years, has taken a step back, numerically at least.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Of the three, Hezonja seems most likely to find himself on the block.

Despite showing a little flair every now and again, the Croatian swingman has failed to convince coach Frank Vogel of his value to the team. He has also struggled (or not been given the chance) to take minutes off veteran Jeff Green, even during Green’s worst spells.

And yet it still seems to make sense to give him more time, especially as Jeff Green is set to become a free agent this summer.

The same could also be said of Payton and Vucevic, both of whom are young enough and on contracts affordable enough to be warranted more time unless an opposing club makes an offer too good to refuse.

These are the names getting the headlines. But this may not be the direction the Magic need to go.

Instead, Hennigan should be thinking about guys like D.J. Augustin and C.J. Watson, who are set to earn a combined $12.25 million next season (Watson’s contract is non-guaranteed next year, however).

This is a substantial amount to be paying two players who fulfil similar roles. And if the Magic could move one of them (preferably Watson, who is older and contributes less) before the deadline (potentially as part of the inevitable Ibaka deal), that would certainly help the Magic set up the offseason. Especially, as the expiring contracts of Jeff Green and Jodie Meeks are already set to free up about $21 million worth of wiggle room.

Orlando is a team that still has the ability to reshape itself, despite dishing out a handful of long-term deals last summer.

And that is exactly what Orlando should be looking to set in motion this trade deadline.

By thinking small and getting their house in order at the trade deadline, the Magic should be able to fashion a new identity around Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Bismack Biyombo, Elfrid Payton and whomever they draft with their own first round pick – the value of which increases with every loss.

Next: Trading Serge Ibaka now is right move for Orlando Magic

This approach will not necessarily put the team where it needs to be. But it will go a long way toward fixing the mess the front office made last summer.