The Orlando Magic were unable to do very much at the trade deadline. This summer, they will be cautious with a tight free agent market and little cap room.
The NBA’s trade deadline creates uncertainty. It is really the only time during the long course of a NBA season where teams take a step back and consider the big picture. The reality of wins and losses today take a back seat for many teams to what comes in the long term.
There are teams that have to decide whether to push all in and give up their future for short-term playoff glory. There are teams that are clearing cap room and give up their high-priced players for pennies. Everyone has their own goals and their own desires at the trade deadline.
That eye on the future remains firmly fixed at the trade deadline. And the future this summer is going to be a unique and strange one.
The salary cap spike in the league from the new media rights deal exploded the salary cap in the last two years. And teams around the league spent — including the Orlando Magic, handing out that albatross deal to Bismack Biyombo and big long-term contracts to Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin.
Orlando was not alone. Everyone else spent too and that is going to create a crunch of cap space this summer. Few teams have cap room to sign players — some estimate five or six teams with max cap room.
And the Magic have one of the prized free agents of this offseason in Aaron Gordon. There will be teams chasing after him but Aaron Gordon may not get the full salary he might in an otherwise normal market.
Still, Orlando had to survey the market. President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman, generally speaking about the trade process and negotiations, that teams often survey the league to see what their value is. This suggests they asked around about players like Gordon just to get a sense of his value and what might be fair market this summer.
That is normal for the trade market. But for where the Magic are at — transitioning from one general manager’s group of players to another — they had to explore everything.
And they found it tough at this trade deadline to make the moves they needed to create financial flexibility.
The Magic knew they could not bring the same team back still. And so they flipped Elfrid Payton… for a second-round pick. It is a deal that is still frustrating Magic fans. Payton was surely worth more. Indeed, the Magic will not get a better player with that second-round pick than Payton.
But that is what the market dictated. And the Magic were determined to get something.
"“I think it is an interesting question in the respect that we have to fit this into the context of our team and the context of the league,” Weltman said after the trade. “Certainly, as we grow the team, there are certain principles and cornerstones that we want to build with. These all go into the mix of free agency and draft and timing and where we are as a team. Do we want to lock in financially that has struggled in recent years? These are all factors that figure in.”"
The Magic were seeking a way out of their self-inflicted cap hell. They did not find much relief this time around. And the relief may not come for a while.
This deadline was a time to wait as the Magic look to the summer to improve the team. This is where things might favor the Magic.
Gordon’s free agency is going to be one to watch throughout the summer.
Max contracts have suddenly become a bad thing. Something teams want to move before they get to the super big years or before players sour on their franchise. The mix of a lack of championship-quality teams and the realization no one is taking down the Golden State Warriors any time soon has teams planning for the long term.
The tight cap means mid-tier contracts are going to be tough to hand out (Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer described this really well around the trade deadline). Bismack Biyombo would not make $17 million in this market. There just simply is not the money to hand out. Nor the willingness to tie up books after two summers of wild spending.
Gordon and the other restricted free agents are caught in the middle of this. The Magic are caught in the middle of all this. Every team is.
No one seems to know exactly how it will all play out this year. And so the only thing to do is focus on the players you have, getting the most value you have from players on the roster and in the trade markets.
Orlando feels a small tinge of optimism still.
"“We want to see guys who play hard and play for each other,” Weltman said. “We have been through a lot this year. We have been through a lot of injuries. I know it is a transitional season. It has not been by any stretch an easy season. I think our guys have acquitted themselves well that they have hung together and they are still out there fighting and battling together. We are happy to see that.”"
And so the Magic are dutifully aiming to reach some uncertain vision of this team still. they looked at the landscape and the marketplace both at the trade deadline and what was coming this summer and recognized their opportunities would come elsewhere.
The Magic will likely have to display patience again. Aaron Gordon will take up most of their summer and their spending this summer. They know that.
The rest will be spent looking for bargains in free agency again or looking to make trades with their young veterans. Orlando knows it has to make moves, finding them will be the difficult part.
And so the Magic at the trade deadline were looking to survey the market and understand how best to move forward again. This summer will again be a tight one for the team.