Re-testing the hypothesis
The Orlando Magic are not exactly standing still. They are re-testing their hypothesis.
Orlando was in a tough financial position entering the summer. The team could not generate a ton of cap room to make an impactful move. The team decided to bring back their own players believing this still relatively young roster can grow and develop together.
The Magic had risks at every turn this offseason for sure. They could have let Nikola Vucevic or Terrence Ross walk and be left with some significant holes on the roster. They would have certainly stepped back and perhaps tumbled back into the deep Lottery if their gambit failed.
Orlando would have only done that if the team knew it was getting the big fish. But that was clearly not the case. Orlando made agreed to all of its signings within the first few hours of free agency. And that was it.
Bringing everyone back carries its own risk. While the team has proven that it can make the playoffs. This is also a similar group to those teams that struggled to reach 30 wins before coach Steve Clifford arrived.
But this is also still a young team. Nikola Vucevic (29), Evan Fournier (26) and Terrence Ross (28) are about the only rotation players that can objectively be called in their primes. D.J. Augustin (31) is the only rotation player older than 30 years old.
The Magic might have some growing pains still to go through as Aaron Gordon enters his prime followed closely with Jonathan Isaac and, if everything goes right, Markelle Fultz and Mohamed Bamba. Progress is rarely a straight line — as the Magic themselves proved through their meandering rebuild.
Orlando is forced in the short-term to rely on internal improvement to get better.
The Magic, because of this youth, are essentially still rebuilding. Rebuilding, granted, with veterans to buoy the team. Orlando’s playoff success came because of Vucevic and Ross’ career seasons with the growth of other players and the strong infrastructure the Magic had built.
Orlando had something to stand upon and the team started to grow.
But it is fair to argue and fair to worry this team has a ceiling on it. There are no top-end stars on this team. The chances for moving forward are based on the still uncertain ceilings that players like Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz and Mohamed Bamba have.
And that is a big part of what this season will be about. Figuring out if that is a core worth building around.