As the trade deadline looms, Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton‘s future with the team is in doubt.
Although he may make headlines for his intrusive hairstyle, Payton has shown improvement in many facets of his game. Offensively, he has become a go-to option as injuries have piled up. He remains a solid facilitator.
His 13.1 points per game and 55.2 percent effective field goal percentage are both career highs. His 6.2 assists per game are in line with his career averages. Statistically, Payton has been as good as he has ever been.
But despite his improved play, Payton may not be long for this Magic roster. The Magic’s new front office has admitted they could be active in the trade market and Payton is a logical target.
With a new front office in tow, it is inevitable Orlando will move on from the former first-round pick. Especially before his restricted free agency.
Back in 2014, Orlando saw Payton as their point guard of the future. Almost four years into his career, it is clear he is not a central franchise piece. He is a nice player who has an elite skill in his playmaking. But he is not a starter for a contender.
Payton is an athletic guard who can come off the bench and bring a unique boost to a second unit. With a career-high in effective field goal percentage (55.2 percent) and a 40 percent clip from three, Payton’s team-friendly contract could garner interest. His up and down play may also make him extremely affordable to retain in restricted free agency this summer.
Then again, teams may not see much value in Payton, who has a handful of damning flaws to his game.
The real issues with Payton are on the defensive side of the ball. When compared to guards that have started in more than 14 games, Payton has the third-worst defensive rating out of the group, 113.0. A lot of that might be a product of the Magic’s poor overall team defense. But his -0.2 defensive box plus minus does not inspire much confidence either.
Payton has solid numbers in terms of steals, 2.4 per game, but he takes foolish risks and cannot navigate screens well. He also leaves his centers on an island and it forces the entire unit out of position.
There is a common misconception about Payton’s ability to play defense. Many assume because he is athletic and is limited offensively, that he has to be a good defender. That just has not been the case his entire career.
He also has not taken any steps towards becoming better on that end. The same problems Orlando saw in his rookie year are still apparent.
Payton has also proven he cannot lead the Magic. The veteran D.J. Augustin has done a comparable job at point guard and has been nothing more than a role player for his entire career.
Although he has concerns, Payton is definitely an NBA player. He may not be a piece to build around, but he has plenty of value to other teams.
The timeline for a Payton trade may be the biggest question. There seems to be some belief the Magic might retain Payton in restricted free agency if the price is reasonable and he is willing to accept a bench role. There is a greater chance he gets moved at the trade deadline to ensure the Magic get some value for him.
But, due to the crazy spending of teams in the free agency of 2016, most teams are in cap hell. Picturing Payton’s free agent market is a bit unclear.
Payton again would provide a cheap upgrade. Any team that acquired him would be able to match any offer in free agency with his restricted free agency rights.
Odds are, the Magic will look to upgrade at point guard. It is a glaring need and with a top pick, a guard could change the fortune of a franchise that has not had a winning season in six years. Orlando could also use free agency to find an upgrade, essentially closing the door on Payton.
It is becoming clearer and clearer the Magic are preparing to move on from Payton. Despite his career year, he has not delivered the play the Magic have needed.
When it comes to what the possible return may be for Payton, it does not appear Orlando is looking for a Draft pick. If the Magic can get a young developmental piece that fits their vision might be enough to get a deal done.