The Orlando Magic made the expected move and waived C.J. Watson before the final year of his contract became guaranteed. They also signed a young center.
Watson’s final year of his three-year, $15-million contract was guaranteed for just $1 million of the $5 million he was owed if he was cut before the end of July 10. With the Magic having limited cap room and little use for C.J. Watson after signing D.J. Augustin last summer and then Shelvin Mack this summer, his waiving seemed inevitable.
Watson simply never lived up to the Magic’s hopes for his relatively reasonable contract.
For his two years with Orlando, Watson averaged 4.5 points per game and shot 37.1 percent from the floor in 17.6 minutes per game across 95 games. But his time was marked more by injuries and missed opportunities.
The Magic originally signed Watson as a veteran combo guard who could hit 3-pointers and help spread the floor. The idea was for him to give some veteran guidance to Elfrid Payton and be a steady hand to play behind and alongside with Payton. Watson was a solid defender and shooter. It seemed like he was a perfect fit for the role.
But about a month into his first season, Watson suffered a strange calf injury that knocked him out of 44 games. Watson never truly recovered. Not that his shot was particularly strong then.
Last summer, Orlando decided to sign D.J. Augustin to a long-term deal, relegating C.J. Watson to the third point guard or a third shooting guard. He played minutes off the ball, but he was nowhere near as effective as the Magic hoped.
Ultimately this signing did not provide the benefit the Magic hoped for. Watson just was not on the court long enough.
And the team moved on after being unable to find a trade to recoup some assets. With how much Watson struggled the last two years, and most of the money in free agency drying up, it was hard to see a team looking for that extra $4 million in cap room Watson might provide. And the Magic would have little space to take on a bad salary.
Report: Magic sign Khem Birch
The Magic were not done with their transactions Monday after waiving Watson.
According to Harris Stavrou, a Greek reporter affiliated with Sportando, the Magic will sign former UNLV center Khem Birch. There are no American outlets confirming the signing yet. But it is believed Birch opted out of the final year of his contract with Olympiacos to sign with the Magic.
Several other teams targeted Birch, which suggests he may be coming on a guaranteed deal and not a two-way contract, although several pundits suggested he could be an option as a two-way player.
Birch averaged 5.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in the Greek league and upped his averages to 7.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in Euroleague competition. Olympiacos reached the semifinals of Euroleague.
Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress wrote of Birch after his Euroleague showing:
"Udoh isn’t the only big to play in the Euroleague Final Four who fits this mold, as Olympiacos’ Khem Birch could very well find himself back in the NBA soon as well. Although not quite as long as Udoh (7′ 1 wingspan), Birch, still only 24 years old, has outstanding feet and impressive instincts as a shot blocker. Olympiacos used him as a switch man with great success in Istanbul, and his ability to also rim protect and rebound make him a great fit in today’s NBA as a bench big. Although not quite the passer of Udoh, Birch is a vertical spacer/lob catcher who still has some upside to grow into."
The 6-foot-9 forward showed plenty of ability to switch onto smaller defenders, as he did in the clips above. He also has great recovery and shot-blocking instincts on defense. Like many of Jeff Weltman’s acquisitions this summer, Birch is a good, versatile defender.
Birch averaged 11.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game his senior year with UNLV in 2014. He went on to play for the Sioux SkyForce after that. Birch averaged 11.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game as a D-League All-Star in 2015. He played the last two years at Olympiacos in Greece.
It appears Birch has matured some and is knocking on the door of his next NBA chance.
At this moment, it is unclear what kind of contract the Magic offered. Considering other teams may have been after him, it does not seem likely he would take a two-way contract. But he might be a perfect candidate to do so.
This would give the Magic another versatile, modern big to put into their lineup. Although, finding minutes at center or pairing him with Bismack Biyombo might be difficult at the moment.