Orlando Magic must prioritize future in making Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross free agent decisions

Orlando Magic Terrence Ross (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic Terrence Ross (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have some big decisions to make this offseason with their own free agents. Their future should be the priority in how they approach it.

This summer will be a tough one for the Orlando Magic.

The team does not have much wiggle room beneath the salary cap. And with the money they do have, they are most likely going to spend it on retaining Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross.

Those two players were no doubt huge parts of the team’s success this past season. And the focus on them this offseason is more than warranted. The Magic would not be in the playoffs without them and they will find it hard to replace them if they leave.

But the decision is not that simple. The team still has a young core that needs developing and grooming. And capping the team out with big contracts could stunt the team’s development beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Orlando faces a difficult decision.

Ultimately, Orlando has to consider its long-term vision and future over the short-term success of making the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

If the team truly wants to develop Mohamed Bamba, Orlando should not bring back Nikola Vucevic. And the team has to keep Terrence Ross to keep giving its bench an offensive punch and a tough shot-maker to close games out.

There is no debating Vucevic had a tremendous season, averaging 20.8 points per game and 12.0 rebounds per game. He shot 51.8 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three. He was selected as an All-Star, the team’s first since 2012 and led Orlando to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 too.

Vucevic was the man down low and created instant offense for the Magic.

For most All-Stars, that might be an easy decision. Looking at what he did for the franchise this past season, it should be a no brainer.

But there could be some consequences in bringing him back.

If Vucevic is brought back, it could stunt the development of the team’s 2018 first round pick in Mohamed Bamba.

Bamba showed some glimpses of potential in his short rookie season. He struggled and was clearly not ready to start, but the team is clearly grooming him to fill that role eventually. He showed promise of his defensive ability and his growing perimeter shooting.

Signing Vucevic to a four-year deal would create a logjam at the position, preventing Bamba from taking the spot when he is ready or forcing a high-salaried Vucevic to come off the bench. It would end up being a misplaced resource.

In reality, Orlando should be looking at the bigger picture. Does this team want to just be a low-end playoff contender or do they want to think bigger than that?

It is a tough spot because the franchise should want to stay competitive. But at the same time, there could be way more potential for the team with what the young players could develop into together.

Taking a step back to allow those key young guys to grow could be a priority.

The decision feels simpler when it comes to Ross. But that may still be a tricky proposition for the team.

Ross had a very productive season off the bench for Orlando. He brought a great spark and made tough shot after tough shot. Ross averaged 15.1 points per game and shot 38.3 percent from three, playing 26.5 minutes per game.

It is hard to find such a go-to player off the bench. Ross was willing to play completely off the bench and fill that role. It proved to be a big difference for the team, especially once Orlando found a workable bench rotation.

The team won when he would go off on his scoring binges, gaining confidence from Ross’ offensive ability.

His cost should not be too much. He will get a raise from his $10-million salary of the last few years but it should still be manageable. While there will be other teams interested in him, there is no reason not to bring him back.

Ross needs to be back in Orlando next season leading the charge for the second unit.

The Magic will find what Ross does is more valuable in the modern NBA — and much harder to replace — than what Vucevic brought.

Both players had career seasons and there are questions of whether they can replicate that production a second year. Orlando barely made the playoffs and a little dip in production from anyone could cause the whole thing to collapse.

But the Magic can be aggressive in free agency. And all signs point as though they will.

Orlando should only bring these players back if they fit the team’s long-term vision.

The Magic should only bring back Vucevic if they have a plan in place to try to continue to compete right now. If not then they should let him walk and let Bamba grow.

Vucevic was an All-Star and helped the franchise a lot last season, but the team should see what they have in Bamba if they truly want to be a contender for years to come.

Ross is a pure shooter and scorer, someone who can bend the defense. Orlando does not have any players like that on their roster currently. And they are hard to find on the market.

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Time will tell what Orlando will decide to do. But we all should get the answer for the direction of this team this summer.