Orlando Magic facing patient free agency

Apr 10, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) dribbles the ball against Chicago Bulls guard Jerian Grant (2) during the second half at the United Center. Chicago defeats Orlando 122- 75. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 10, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) dribbles the ball against Chicago Bulls guard Jerian Grant (2) during the second half at the United Center. Chicago defeats Orlando 122- 75. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are facing a summer where the team does not have much cap room to work with and a big need to improve at many positions.

The Orlando Magic figured they would have a lot to do to improve their roster following last year’s disaster of a 29-win season.

The process would begin with the NBA Draft. This is a period when activity around the NBA heightens as teams begin discussing how to improve. And the Draft indeed saw a flurry of activity and rumors ahead of free agency. That will only continue as teams try to position themselves and look for ways to improve.

The Magic’s first goal in the Draft was to use the sixth pick to draft a player who would grow into a key part of the team’s future. This is a top prospect with tremendous upside.

Orlando, otherwise, was fairly quiet on Draft night. They kicked some of their picks down the road, acquiring a future first-round pick and a future second-round pick to trade out of two spots later in the Draft. But no other major moves were made.

The roster from last year remains fully intact with the additions of Jonathan Isaac and Wesley Iwundu.

To be sure, though, the Magic are not done changing their roster. They still have to assess players on their current roster and figure out exactly how they want to shuffle the deck. More or less everyone agrees the team cannot return as presently constructed or else see a repeat of last year’s 29-win team, with many slight improvements for consistency and the Isaac addition.

It seems coach Frank Vogel and president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman are on a similar page of which players they want to acquire and how they envision the team. They want a team filled with length and the ability to switch and play multiple positions.

Looking at the roster, it is clear there are players who do not fit this vision. Whether the Magic will be able to do anything about it is another matter.

With the Draft in the rear-view mirror, the attention for the offseason turns toward free agency. Here, the Magic are facing a very difficult challenge to improve their team.

Reports leaked out saying the NBA told teams to prepare for the salary cap to come under recent projections at roughly $99 million. The Magic were already going to operate with little cap space before this $3 million reduction in the salary cap.

Orlando has $77.9 million in guaranteed salary for next season, according to Basketball Insiders. That does not include the roughly $4.2 million cap hold for Jonathan Isaac, or the $3.1 million cap hold for Fran Vazquez (yes, that still exists). It also does not include Jodie Meeks‘ $12.4 million cap hold for the Magic to retain his Bird Rights (for now, assume they renounce that).

This all means the Magic have roughly $13.8 million in cap room to use this summer. That could reduce to $9.9 million if the Magic choose to retain Stephen Zimmerman, Patricio Garino and Marcus Georges-Hunt. Zimmerman’s contract becomes guaranteed at the end of the free agency moratorium on July 6. Garino and Georges-Hunt’s contracts become guaranteed on opening night.

The other tools available to the Magic are dependent on what direction they go with their other acquisitions this July.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Orlando may also have the $3-million room exception. If the Magic are below the salary cap by $3 million, they may use the room exception to add another player and go over the cap.

If they would go over the cap, the team may use the nontaxpayer mid-level exception of $5.8 million. To use the nontaxpayer mid-level exception, a team has to be above the cap after they use it, but using it has to put them below the luxury tax line or below the apron ($4 million above the luxury tax line).

The Magic could not use both of these tools. And using either one would put the Magic under a hard cap for the season. That should not be a huge issue for the team.

It is all to say, the Magic do not have a lot of money to spend in free agency. It might all amount to roughly $15 million in available funds, but $5.8 million for one player used at the end of free agency.

This creates a tight window of resources for the team to use in free agency.

Looking at their depth chart, there are clearly needs to fill to add depth to the bench. But the best way to improve the team is likely through trades.

The Magic likely could use some power forward help somewhere. Unless the plan is to play Jonathan Isaac behind Aaron Gordon or keep Mario Hezonja at power forward full time. The team could probably use another wing player too. And most would point out the Magic’s need to upgrade at point guard.

There is a lot to do. And not a lot of money to spend to get there.

That is why the Magic are more likely to be active in the trade market. They will most likely shop Nikola Vucevic, Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin (although his $7.3 million contract for the next three years is harder to move). The Magic can use their available cap room to acquire more salary in a trade.

This is most likely the path the Magic will take to improve their team. There just is not another way to make the team demonstrably better — or to create the flexibility to improve further on down the road. The Magic do not have the money to compete for big-name free agents. They will be stuck scrounging the bargain bin if they go the free agency route.

Without a ton of money to spend, the Magic will have to be patient and opportunistic with who they go after and what opportunities they pursue. It will take some smart and shrewd moves to make the roster better this year.

Next: Draft Grades Roundup: All eyes on Jonathan Isaac

It may take just cutting losses on some formerly key players and moving on.