The Orlando Magic had little maneuverability this offseason. Signing Jonathon Simmons completes the roster and appears to set up the Magic’s future.
For much of the free agency period, the Orlando Magic sat quietly. The team seemed set to bring back the majority of their roster with little changes. After a 29-win season, that did not seem ideal.
Adding Shelvin Mack provided some point guard depth, but did not fill any significant need for the Magic. Not really. The team still lacked offensive creators and did not shuffle the main group responsible for the team’s difficult season — or its somewhat more encouraging 8-16 finish to the season.
Magic fans were waiting for something bigger to get the team moving in the right direction. The reality was there may not have been that big splashy move to make. The Magic were going to play things patiently and wait for the right move to come around.
That right move appeared to come around as a favored target before the summer started emerged following a long journey from restricted free agency to unrestricted free agency. To many fans, Jonathon Simmons was the kind of young player (he is 27, however) waiting for a chance to expand his game. After a strong Playoff performance for the San Antonio Spurs, Simmons seemed like a big target for the Magic to take a chance on.
Orlando ended up not having to take much of a chance. His reported three-year, $20-million contract feels like a bargain considering what everyone expected it would take to get him in early July. The Spurs decision to rescind his qualifying offer was a surprise, turning him over to unrestricted free agency.
Simmons did not do anything that popped off the stat sheet last year. He averaged just 6.2 points per game and shot a 45.6 percent effective field goal percentage. Where he makes his mark is on the defensive end, where he totaled 2.1 defensive win shares and a +0.9 defensive box plus-minus.
The Spurs’ system may somewhat obscure the defensive numbers. But even a small regression to the mean suggests Simmons will be a plus defender for the Magic.
His shooting remains a concern for a team that desperately needs 3-point shooting. But something else is at work here. Something that sends a clear direction for the team as it begins rebuilding itself again.
The Magic are trying once again to build a defensive juggernaut. With coach Frank Vogel, budding star Aaron Gordon, draft pick Jonathan Isaac and now Jonathon Simmons (on a ridiculously affordable deal) forms a strong core of defensive wings. Add in Bismack Biyombo and what he is supposed to be as a rim protector, and the Magic have not reason not to be a top defensive team again.
Of course, the Magic were here last year too. They built a team centered on defense with Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo as the centerpieces. After a promising defensive start, things collapsed very quickly. The Magic turned out to be one of the worst defensive teams in the league.
And it got worse after the All-Star Break when the Magic turned to smaller lineups. Even the Jonathon Simmons signing and Jonathan Isaac drafting are not likely going to change the starting lineup very much. Last year’s starting group had an 110.6 defensive rating. Orlando still has to find an answer defensively.
And the team still has to find some shooting somewhere. The team’s top returning 3-point shooter is Evan Fournier at 35.6 percent from beyond the arc (Marcus Georges-Hunt shot 50 percent on two attempts). The Magic will still have to find a way to score — although the starting group too was good here scoring 112.0 points per 100 possessions.
If Orlando was going to stick with their group from last year, the team had to improve its depth. By adding Shelvin Mack, Jonathan Isaac and Jonathon Simmons to that bench, the Magic may have done just that.
Spending the rest of their cap space on Simmons, the Magic are likely done making any free agent moves this summer. This is likely the roster they go to training camp with.
It is an imperfect roster. The Magic seem to have shored up their depth, but a lot of questions remain. It is not entirely clear whether the Magic have improved on their 29-win season or if they will once again be heading into the high Lottery to get another draft pick. Orlando still needs some work.
It is not entirely clear whether the Magic have improved on their 29-win season or if they will once again be heading into the high Lottery to get another draft pick. Orlando still needs some work to become a surefire Playoff team.
But Simmons’ signing does represent something else about the Magic and their future.
How Orlando built its team this summer was very likely not going to be about the 2018 season. Not at all.
It was going to take some time to dig out of the hole the Magic found themselves in. With little cap room to spend, Orlando had little maneuverability to improve.
In doing so, the Magic have focused on a theme that previews the direction the team wants to go.
Simmons and Isaac both have reputations already as potentially strong wing defenders. Mack is viewed as a strong defender, even if the numbers do not exactly back it up clearly. The etchings of an identity and a style begin to form. Certainly, an archetype has emerged.
At the very least, they seem to fit more what the team tried to accomplish last year much better. Orlando is becoming a versatile, defensive team. They are using speed and length to defend rather than just brute size.
It will not happen all in one year. The Magic are not a championship or playoff team yet. They still have roster logjams to resolve and players from the previous regime who do not fit what Jeff Weltman wants to do.
Orlando remains an imperfect roster. There are holes left to fill and figure out.
But the Magic completed their roster in a seemingly better place than they left it in April. That is not because they are definitively better than they were at the end of last season. It is because the team has taken a step toward defining itself for the future.
It may still take some time for the Magic to get where they ultimately want to go and where they ultimately want to be. Orlando could surprise everyone and make a Playoff run in the watered-down Eastern Conference. Or the team could meet expectations and remain a middling 30-win team.
But Simmons and Isaac represent the kind of players the Magic want for their future. The team will work to fill in the holes in the future around this idea for the team’s future.
And having a future and path forward was the ultimate goal for this offseason.