The Orlando Magic need to make changes to improve their roster after last season. But free agency is not the place to do it as they seek flexibility.
The stream of tweets in the hours leading up to free agency came in two waves. Orlando Magic fans were reacting along with the rest of the NBA to news as it came in real time. The news as shocking as it could be for a franchise that has been down on its luck for a half decade and hungry to see changes for the better.
The first came with the reporting from Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post the Magic planned to offer Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles a four-year, $60-million contract. It is the kind of overpay the Magic made last year in chasing after Bismack Biyombo and D.J. Augustin.
But that is kind of what the Magic have to do to gain traction with any good free agent. This is a 29-win team after all with just one 30-win season in five years. It takes a little blind faith.
Ingles ended up signing a four-year, $52-million contract to remain in Salt Lake City.
The next Twitter stream came when Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com reported the Oklahoma City Thunder had acquired Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Yes, the same package the Magic used to acquire Serge Ibaka a year ago had been flipped to acquire Paul George.
It was not a good look for the franchise for sure, even if the situations were completely different. It created a lot of frustration for fans as free agency was about to begin.
And even in the first few days of free agency, there has been nary a word about the Magic’s interest in free agency. Not a peep or rumor.
It would seem the Magic are planning to sit on their cap room, striking in free agency later in the period or looking for trade partners when the main free agent targets die down. It might be frustrating for fans to watch everyone but the Magic are right to wait in free agency. They should not commit more long-term money to make a quick fix. Rather, they should bide their time to create flexibility to shuffle the deck.
Patience for the Magic is a virtue. Even with all the work the team has left to do. They are not going to be able to move mountains with the resources they have. Time is their best asset. As is their cap room.
This slow trickle of news was somewhat expected. The Magic have about $10 million in cap room to spend this summer. That is not a lot to make significant improvements. The team could use that cap room and then use the nontaxpayer mid-level exception of roughly $8 million. Again, hardly enough to make a big impact and find a starter.
Orlando has 13 players on its roster already with Wesley Iwundu yet to sign a rookie contract. The Magic can create some room by cutting non-guaranteed contract players like Patricio Garino, Marcus Georges-Hunt and Stephen Zimmerman. There is room to add more players to the roster.
But fans do not want to hear about the machinations of freeing up cap room or freeing up roster space. Fans want the bottom line. They want a reason to believe they can win and improve off last year’s disappointing 29-win season.
And staying put is largely not an option. There was a bit of optimism for the Magic at the end of the season. But likely not enough to believe the team is about to turn the corner toward contending for the Playoffs. Although the Eastern Conference has done a good job falling down to the Magic.
Everyone knew the team needed to upgrade at several positions. The question was how they would go about doing it.
Free agency was not going to afford the ability to do that. The Magic would not have the cap room to pursue any starters. The team was already pretty capped out with big salaries — for better and much more likely worse.
Spending another summer lavishing free agents with long contracts would only seemingly be repeating the mistakes of last summer.
Orlando, with max cap space last year, opted to use it on resigning Evan Fournier (a high price, but a decent one for the market) and then to add D.J. Augustin ($7.3 million), Bismack Biyombo ($17 million) and Jeff Green ($15 million). Jeff Green is a free agent this year and not likely to return. But Augustin and Biyombo still have three years left on their deals.
Tying up more long-term salary will only leave the Magic in their current situation down the road — capped out with little maneuverability to make real improvements. They will find it difficult to move their long-term deals and find little space to go after the players they want.
Like with the NBA Draft, president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and the Magic staff should have players they want to pursue. But it should be a short list of players who fit the team’s long-term vision and culture. Players who will make an impact for the team rather than a shot in the dark. The Magic have to use their limited resources well.
And the best use of their resources in free agency this year is to sit and wait. The best use of the Magic’s resources is to let the dust settle a bit and look for opportunities in the trade market. Even if that trade does not happen this summer.
By holding on to extra cap room, the Magic can become a conduit for trades. They can agree to take on salary and contracts along with other future assets when teams begin to get desperate and make moves during the season. It can give Orlando the time to evaluate the players on its roster and judge their marketability too.
Right now, Orlando is going to have a tough time convincing anyone to take on the players they want to trade while simultaneously improving the team. Recreating long-term flexibility and a way to make moves down the road is likely the right path for the Magic in the long term.
It may look passive and it may look like the team is twiddling its thumbs after a 29-win disaster. But the right move for the Magic is to sit and wait. With their cap situation and their roster, they should not be looking to free agency as the main path to salvation. They should be sitting on their cap space and waiting for trade opportunities to open up.
This is the only way to make the kind of roster moves the Magic need to be successful in the future. It is the only way to shake up the current starting lineup and create a pathway to improve.
And it is what is best for the Magic now. Orlando can still learn something about its current group of players. If not pump up their value for better deals in February.
It may sound counterintuitive, but staying put will ultimately help the Magic more in the long and short-term than spending their cap room just to spend it. That will help the team improve more in the long term.