The Orlando Magic had to be patient in the free agent market. They found two players they believe can help fill the gaps for their team.
Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman described the team’s free agent pursuit of Jonathon Simmons as something of a spiral. The team checked in with his agent at various points to get an idea of what he was thinking and test the market a little bit — likely also asking about a few other prospects in the process.
The reality was, the Magic were not quite ready to strike. Not with the San Antonio Spurs holding Jonathon Simmons’ restricted free agency rights. Orlando, both because of the team’s own limited cap room and because of Simmons supposed price tag, had to be patient.
The bug to go after Simmons remained. He was the kind of player the Magic were looking to add. Something similar the Magic found in their other free agent signing — Utah Jazz point guard Shelvin Mack.
Simmons, like Mack, was a grinder. Someone who cut his teeth defensively and did things that did not always show up in a box score. The kind of energy player that brings his teammates up just by his sheer effort.
Opportunity struck when the Spurs rescinded Simmons’ qualifying offer and made him an unrestricted free agent. The money and roster spots around the league were drying up. The spiral had come to the Magic’s door now. The opportunity came for Orlando.
And it was the kind of guy the team wanted to help take the team forward. Both Simmons and Mack fit that profile. They were exactly what the Magic were looking for.
"“I think the first element when you look at a player and trying to add someone to an organization is you want fighters,” Weltman told Orlando Magic Daily. “You want guys who are going to compete to win and make those around them better. We saw a lot of that in Jonathon.”"
Simmons, of course, is a player who had to fight his way into the league.
He famously went undrafted out of Houston and had to pay $150 for a D-League tryout. He ended up making that team and worked his way onto the Spurs roster. That culminated with him earning a rotation spot and becoming a key player during their Playoff run last year.
And that led him to the three-year deal he signed with the Magic late last week.
But it is something more than that. Simmons made his way onto the roster not just for his story, but through his grit and hard work. He made a name for himself as a tough defender and energy player off the bench. Someone the Spurs could rely on to fill in when needed and play a role when needed.
He made his name and raised the Magic’s interest for that as much as anything. Everything he does will build off that.
"“I don’t know yet [what I bring to the team],” Simmons told Orlando Magic Daily. “I know I bring defensive intensity and energy. We’ll see where it goes from there when we start.”"
Simmons said he hoped to expand his offensive game some, especially in a more up-tempo offense. He averaged just 6.2 points per game last year, posting a 45.6 percent effective field goal percentage. Simmons had a healthy 18.0 percent usage rate.
He expanded his game in the Playoffs, filling in for at times Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard in the lineup. His field goal attempts per game shot up from 5.4 per game in the regular season to 9.1 per game in the Playoffs and he averaged 10.5 points per game on 50.4 percent effective field goal percentage.
But Simmons knows in his heart what kind of player he is. That dogged defender is the player the Magic wanted. It was the kind of person they were looking for as they made their free agent decisions.
That is the kind of person Shelvin Mack is too.
Like Simmons, Mack’s statistics do not pop off the page either. He averaged only 7.8 points per game last year on 49.5 percent effective field goal percentage. His defensive metrics do not look much better either.
But Weltman described Mack as an overachiever everywhere he goes. He fits in to what his team needs as a defender and as a veteran leader. Another kind of glue guy player every growing team needs to be successful.
"“Shelvin is an overachiever,” Weltman told Orlando Magic Daily. “Everywhere Shelvin has been he seems to surprises people with how good of a player he is and how good of a teammate he is. He enters into situations and turns them into Shelvin Mack opportunities. I think those people who continually do that are unique and they help teams win.”"
Mack seems comfortable fitting in where he is needed and doing what is needed for the team. He entered point guard-crowded situations with the Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz and carved out a role for himself, helping those teams make deep Playoff pushes.
He saw the Magic situation as similar to the Jazz where the young team needed a veteran point guard to help lead them.
But ultimately it comes down to what he can contribute on the floor. Whether he can make the impact the Magic are looking for and whether his style of overachieving, fitting in or morphing into whatever his team needs can be successful.
Like Simmons, Mack sees himself as a strong defender and leader for his team with his vast winning experience. That fits what the Magic were looking for in general.
"“I take pride in coming in and competing every night throughout the 82-game season,” Mack told Orlando Magic Daily. “If you do that on a consistent basis, people will respect you. I just think I work hard.”"
The Magic did not have the money this offseason to go after many of the big fish. They were looking for players to fill out their roster. They needed grinders like Mack and Simmons who know their role and are willing to fight for their place in the spotlight.
Weltman said both players’ defensive reputations lends itself to that fighting mentality he was looking to bring to the team. Players who gain a strong defensive reputation are more about how much they “want it” and how much they want to fight.
It sounds cliche, but cliches always have a ring of truth to them.
There seems a fair amount of confidence — perhaps normal for a day when the team introduces new players — that both these players will find their fits and carve out a niche for this team. They can add the depth the team needed.
The Magic knew they needed to be patient as the spiral of free agency came their way. That patience appeared to be rewarded.
What they are ultimately asked to do may be difficult to measure. But it could make the biggest difference for this team in the end as they fight to get back to respectability.