Finding cap flexibility should be Orlando Magic’s biggest goal

As the trade deadline approaches, the Orlando Magic should focus on financial flexibility, rather than adding veterans for the long term.

The Orlando Magic are five and a half years into their rebuild. With a current record of 12-26, playoff hopes are meek.

As the longest playoff drought in franchise history risks extension, Magic fans grow increasingly impatient. The upcoming trade deadline on February 8 asks Magic fans to be a little more patient.

While that deadline will offer an opportunity for change, it is no guarantee that change will actually come.

The smart move for the Magic in the next five weeks is to focus on creating cap relief and continuing to establish the new core going forward.

It increasingly seems like it is time for the Magic to refresh their core. And the season president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman wanted to use to evaluate is quickly drawing to its first decision point. It was inevitable the Magic would face change, now comes the opportunity perhaps to make that change.

That does not mean Orlando should make trades simply to make trades. The team has to do something with a long-term vision in play. Bad deals are worse than no deals.

The goal, for now, is simply to clear the decks of players who do not fit the team’s future and recreate cap flexibility so Weltman’s real legwork can begin.

The goal of creating cap-flexibility is to rid the team of a player’s contract. The Magic may not see much of a return for several players they may wish to move, but that is not the immediate goal.

Cap flexibility goes beyond the freedom to sign free agents. Creating cap flexibility allows the Magic to get involved in trades and acquire assets. Similar to how the Brooklyn Nets acquired D’Angelo Russell. The Nets were willing (and had the cap room) to also take on Timofey Mozgov, absorbing a single bad contract to acquire a valued young player to build around.

Cap space from a trade partner perspective is arguably more important to the Magic than free agency. The Magic are not currently a destination for free agents. They are going to have to build this team through the draft and taking advantage of other teams looking to make a trade.

The Magic will most likely extend a max offer to Aaron Gordon this summer, which will create more financial constraints for the organization.

That means the need to shed some larger contracts — like Bismack Biyombo, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross or Nikola Vucevic — is important to create this option moving forward.

Bismack Biyombo’s contract is the most obvious contract the Magic should be looking to move, despite his strong play since entering the starting lineup.

Biyombo will command $17 million per year until his contract expires at the end of the 2020 season. It would be very difficult for the Magic to move the remains of a contract like Biyombo’s.

But with the recent injury to Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo has an opportunity to showcase his skills and increase his value. Before Vucevic’s injury Biyombo was averaging 14 minutes per game. In the four games since Vucevic’s injury, Biyombo is averaging 31.0 minutes per game and posting a much more robust 9.5 points per game, 13.0 rebounds per game and 3.3 blocks per game.

Is that enough to get a team to take on the remaining two years of his contract? Not likely. But if there is someone willing to bite, it would probably be foolish not to try and jump on that opportunity.

Another high-priced contract commanding $17 million per year belongs to Evan Fournier.

Fournier’s contract expires at the end of the 2021 season. Similar to Biyombo, the length of Fournier’s contract makes it difficult to move.

Not so similar to Biyombo, Fournier is a proven starter. Fournier has shown his ability to shoot and score, but he is not a franchise changing player.

The way the Magic roster is currently constructed, the Magic have more value in $17 million in cap space than Fournier’s productivity on the court.

They may not be in a rush to trade him, but they certainly should explore if an opportunity arises. Fournier is the team’s leading scorer and its best 3-point shooter. It would be difficult to part with him. But he also seems to take possessions away from players the Magic need to develop too.

More likely to be traded is Nikola Vucevic. At least, before his injury.

Vucevic is one of the more polarizing players during the Magic’s rebuild. He has put up respectable numbers in the box score, but he has still frustrated fans. Vucevic is currently the longest-tenured player on the Magic and some may argue it has been proven he cannot be the anchor of a playoff team.

With a relatively team-friendly contract ($12.25 million in the 2018 season), Vucevic’s name has been in trade rumors for some time.

His recent injury may make it more difficult to move. If Vucevic comes back before the deadline the Magic may be able to move him to a team looking to make a deep playoff run. But those odds seem longer and longer.

The most interesting decision facing the Magic this summer likely belongs to Elfrid Payton and his restricted free agent rights.

Unlike fellow draft classmate Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton has not shown enough growth to secure a future with the Magic.

Although Payton is still young at 23 years old, his lack of progression and subpar shooting ability will diminish his trade value. Payton has improved his 3-point percentage this season at 36.7 percent. But he is still averaging 12.6 points per game which is roughly the same as last year.

The Magic seemed to play their best basketball of the season this year while Elfrid Payton was on the shelf and D.J. Augustin was filling in as the starter. It is hard to foresee the Magic getting a lofty return for Payton. But they may be willing to take anything if the new front-office does not deem him the point guard of the future.

The Magic will rightfully be active in the trade market. They are in need of some change. And even while searching for cap flexibility, they need to find players who fit their long-term vision.

Orlando could focus on young players in need of a change of scenery, such as Stanley Johnson or Nerlens Noel. They may be available at a reasonable price and could benefit from a new situation if the Magic were to make the necessary transactions that provide them an opportunity or be willing to invest long-term in them.

Point guard is arguably the biggest need for the Magic but that will most likely be addressed this summer.

Magic fans can expect the team to be active up to the trade deadline. But keep in mind teams make their biggest adjustments in the offseason. That might be when teams are willing to take a bigger risk with some of the players the Magic currently have on the shelf. Not to mention players like Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic will enter the final year of their contracts.

Going through the rest of this season will give new management the chance to fully evaluate their team. But maybe that evaluation will end come February.