Now is not the time for the Orlando Magic to pursue Russell Westbrook, star player

Orlando Magic Russell Westbrook (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)
Orlando Magic Russell Westbrook (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are at the stage where they will be rumored to chase star players. But now is not the time to take the leap. It will be soon though.

The NBA is built on star players and elite-level players.

This is an inescapable truth about the league. The best players determine who wins the title in the end and one player can have an outsized effect on a team.

Teams make it their championship-building strategy to wait out the Lottery and draft their superstar player. The Philadelphia 76ers taking it to the extreme in “the process” to end up with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Fans have this mentality that tanking and playing the Lottery is the only way to find these star players.

Of course, there is another way. One that is becoming increasingly used throughout the league, acquiring players through trade.

Just look at the previous NBA champion Toronto Raptors. They were an elite regular season team who could not overcome LeBron James. Exchange All-Star and very-good player DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard — and ship LeBron James to the Western Conference — and all of a sudden they are good enough to take down the Golden State Warriors (convincingly at that).

The whole league revolved around free agent decisions from superstars like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard.

The era of the disgruntled stars is here and teams looking to make moves for them have to make their arguments well before free agency. Teams looking to add these star players have to amass their assets and be ready to strike when the opportunity arises.

That opportunity is here once again as the Oklahoma City Thunder consider their future. It seemed the moment the Oklahoma City Thunder agreed to trade Paul George to the LA Clippers, the league’s attention turned to Russell Westbrook.

And it appears the Thunder will shop Westbrook.

The Orlando Magic are certainly still in the market for one of these star players. The team had its breakthrough year to make the playoffs last year and re-invested in that team to get back there for the foreseeable future.

But even the most optimistic outlooks find it hard to see the team breaking through to the top of the conference. Injecting a player like Westbrook would decrease the team’s margin for error and make them an instant playoff team.

The question is always how much closer does that get them to a playoff berth and at what cost? What would be left in the team and how would the team get better?

The bigger question might be whether the Magic could make the most of Westbrook and his time. He has three years left on his contract and his presence would create an immediate pressure to win. Would the Magic have enough pieces to guarantee that kind of competition with Westbrook?

First, it is unclear whether Westbrook would welcome a trade to Orlando. It does not appear to be a team that is high on his priority list — the Miami Heat seem to be the bigger focus.

But the second part is that important piece. What would be left of the Magic if they acquired Westbrook and are they ready to step up to the pressure that is inherent in playing with a superstar like Westbrook?

To acquire Russell Westbrook would almost certainly cost Aaron Gordon (over Evan Fournier) and probably one of Jonathan Isaac or Mohamed Bamba and possibly even Markelle Fultz. Would that leave the team with enough to compete — not to mention go out and add more players?

To some that might be worth the cost. But there is a tremendous amount of risk involved.

The Magic have already committed to this team for the short-term. Overcommitting to a team with Westbrook, expending depth and valuable resources in the process, could leave the team in a deeper hole. Especially if this is not a preferred destination and he bolts in a few years anyway.

Orlando should be in the market for a disgruntled star in pre-agency. They are at the stage where they should be looking for the next step in their development. It is a good sign Orlando is considered even for an outside chance for a star like Westbrook.

But the Magic need a bit more development to get into these markets. Jeff Weltman’s decision to double down on his team is a belief that his assets will continue to grow and they can bundle them together to get that last piece to take them over the top.

Another playoff berth would go a long way to increase the value of the players the Magic have and showing the kind of improvement necessary to make these kinds of deals.

The star players want to go to stable organizations with supporting players who can help them win immediately. Orlando needs to see continued improvement from Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac — and improvements from Markelle Fultz and Mohamed Bamba would not hurt either. This would make them more comfortable picking which players to move forward with and which ones they can move on to help grow the team externally.

The whole project the Magic are invested in now relies on how the players on the roster improve. They might hit their ceiling, but that can get that star player that helps them break through to the next level.

Patience is the right call here for the Magic. A team adding a player like Russell Westbrook could be disastrous — think of how the Minnesota Timberwolves felt when Jimmy Butler blew up the culture they were building.

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It is not just about getting that star player, but also about finding the right time to bring him into the fold.

The Magic are not there yet. There are still too many question marks about the team. And while a star player might boost them up a little bit, it could certainly slow their growth too. It is about finding the right person to boost them at this point. And that might still be All-Star center Nikola Vucevic.

For sure, the Magic are trying to win now. They want to return to the playoffs. But they want to do it through their own internal improvement.

The Magic probably want to see Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac take on more offensive responsibility to keep Nikola Vucevic fresher for the end of games and the playoffs — easing pressure off him. Doing that will help the Magic feel more established and attractive to these star players.

It is not just about acquiring them, but retaining them and continuing the team’s growth.

The Magic are not at the stage where they should be looking to make this splashy move. The team is not ready to ramp up the pressure quite yet.

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But that could change very quickly depending on how the team develops and plays. The most important thing for the Magic is to keep pushing forward and to keep improving.