Orlando Magic need urgency with poor 2020 free agent class ahead

Nikola Vucevic appears set to return for the Orlando Magic as they play the New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Nikola Vucevic appears set to return for the Orlando Magic as they play the New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic seem to be ambitious this offseason. They have to be with a poor free agent class in 2020 and little chance to improve the team then.

The Orlando Magic do not have a lot of room to work with this summer when it comes to free agency.

The team has $53.6 million tied up in Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Timofey Mozgov. Before accounting for free agents Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross, the team has $83.8 million in guaranteed salary. Add in roughly $2 million for the team’s first-round draft pick, and Orlando is already under considerable cap pressure.

With the salary cap expected to be set around $109 million, the team is working with roughly $23 million in cap space. That would typically be enough to get a team a nice player. But most of that money is likely committed to re-signing Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross.

In fact, their cap holds alone — giving the Magic the right to go over the salary cap to re-sign those players — would put the team over the cap.

It is widely assumed Orlando will operate as a team over the cap, looking to re-sign their own free agents and then using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (roughly a $9 million asset that can go to one player or split among several players) to add to the roster.

That does not seem like a great outlook to improve the team. It feels in some way the Magic would most likely look to internal improvement to make the team better and run back much of the same roster. And that will still play a role in how the team moves forward.

Of course, that assumes Vucevic is a priority and that the team will get a deal done. Recent reporting suggests the Magic are not banking on that possibility and are thinking a bit bigger when it comes to free agency this summer.

Looking at the landscape for the class of 2020, when the Magic could have their cake and eat it too creating significant room even after re-signing Vucevic and Ross, they likely see this offseason as the time to strike.

The free agent class for next summer is not going to be appetizing for a team like the Magic. If they want to make significant improvements, it feels like this summer is the time to do so.

That might be why the team is sending signals it will be aggressive this offseason. And why Vucevic leaving in free agency is starting to feel more inevitable (although Orlando certainly will still make an offer and travel down both paths until the team has to make a decision).

President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman could very easily run back the same team and wait for the big contracts of Timofey Mozgov and Evan Fournier to expire reaping the cap savings. Even if Vucevic signs a $20-million contract, the Magic are slated to have significant cap room in 2020.

The cap is expected to jump to $116 million and the team will have the same roughly $83 million committed in salary. Even Ross on a reasonable contract would not eat too deeply into the space the Magic have for the summer of 2020.

But there just are not a lot of appetizing free agents available in the summer of 2020 that fit the Magic’s needs.

Assuming the team feels locked in at the forward positions with Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac and at center with Mohamed Bamba, the Magic would look to find significant guard improvement. There are not many that are better than what the Magic have already.

Mike Conley has an early termination option in the summer of 2020 that he is not likely to decline (who can say no to $34.5 million?). Kyle Lowry becomes a free agent, but he is getting older and has slowed down his production significantly. Orlando is likely still letting Markelle Fultz marinate too.

At shooting guard, both DeMar DeRozan and Gordon Hayward have player options that both seem likely to get picked up. And that probably includes Fournier’s player option.

The options at those positions are very slim. And a trade might seem difficult to do. Orlando could use their cap room to take on a higher-priced player, but would Fournier net a suitable replacement? Would that be the time to fish around for a Nikola Vucevic trade and let Mohamed Bamba take over as the starter?

Relying on the trade market to improve can be pretty fraught.

That makes it seem that regardless of which path the Magic go down this offseason, this is the offseason to make a move. Next summer just is not one to make a major move in free agency.

There has to be urgency to make a splash and push the team forward in the direction the team wants this summer.

Orlando can get to max cap room if the team does not re-sign either Ross or Vucevic and then uses the stretch provision to lower Mozgov’s cap hit from $16.7 to $5.6 million. The math there is easy, that creates an additional $11 million in cap room.

None of that has to happen until the Magic have a player of that level signed on the dotted line — or at least agreed to.

The potential players the team could chase seem a lot better too. Even if they come on short-term deals (two or three years rather than four).

There are starter-caliber point guards like Kemba Walker, D’Angelo Russell, Ricky Rubio and Goran Dragic to chase if the Magic want to improve at point guard. They could go after big men like Brook Lopez, DeMarcus Cousins or Marc Gasol to replace Nikola Vucevic if he walks.

There is the opportunity to get impact players. An opportunity that does not seem to exist in 2020.

Orlando is not going to want to tie up its books too much. The Magic are probably not looking for any long-term salary unless it nets them a clear All-Star. If Orlando is truly interested in Walker or Russell, it will take a four-year deal to bring them in at near-max money.

But the Magic must know their team for the next two years at least gets set this summer. That is informing their decisions regarding their own free agents and how they attack this summer.

They know they must strike now if they are going to improve the team and keep it moving on its forward projection.

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This is the summer they have to make their move. There are just too few opportunities when they are due to come into some money next year and even in 2021.