A fresh round of idle rumors and thinking have pervaded Orlando Magic twitter. As the offseason nears, the Magic need a clear vision for their future.
It does not take much for an idea to take root in online conversations. Someone makes a suggestion and it begins to spread. Get it to someone with a decent following to amplify it and it starts to grow deeper into the soil.
Add in a lot of free time with no team having basketball, and the world is ripe for rumors to spread. Or at least for thought experiments to grow.
Nobody associated with the Orlando Magic will hide from the fact the team needs some changes.
After a 42-40 season that saw the team finish seventh in the Eastern Conference, ending a six-year playoff absence, the Magic have somewhat stagnated. The team is 30-35 with the season now in hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic. That is good enough for eighth in the Eastern Conference.
Confirming last year’s Playoff season was important. The Magic can successfully say they are a playoff team for consecutive seasons. And there is still something to play for this year. The Orlando Magic are just one-half game behind the Brooklyn Nets. But their season is more or less decided.
The Magic are likely to finish the season exactly where they were last year. And that is going to create some wondering eyes.
With the season on hiatus and little to change the team in the present, trade rumors have indeed started to spread. Fans are thinking about how to improve the team and formulating trades to do so.
They are taking their cues from speculative writing and honest conversations about possibilities. Only now, seemingly taking some of these trade ideas as gospel to fully discuss.
This is healthy. Certainly, front offices around the league engage in the same kind of hypothetical thinking, albeit with more information to inform their conversations.
But one thing is clear. If the Magic are going to make a major move or if they are going to explore a major move — as they probably should — they need to have a clear purpose for what they are doing.
Everyone is looking for a way to make their teams better. And the Orlando Magic, as much as any team seem to be at a decision point. They have a lot of young players they need to push to the front or consolidate into better players all the while maintaining or improving their playoff spot.
Not to mention they have some very clear missing pieces they need to find however they can find them.
While there is plenty of idle speculation going on around the NBA blogosphere at the moment. There is likely some merit to the thinking that goes into these but probably not a lot of fact for the moment.
As they assess their players’ value and determine what the market might bear — something they reportedly did with Aaron Gordon at this year’s trade deadline — they need to understand exactly what they want in return.
As strange as the reality might be, the Magic are in no rush to make sweeping changes that do not serve a larger purpose or goal. The team needs to have its plan set — the extra time from the hiatus only further cementing how the team should have a clear plan for attack this offseason.
And that — and only that — will inform their moves this offseason.
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A player like Aaron Gordon could very well be at the heart of this. The 24-year-old forward has had a frustrating season. Injuries slowed him down early in the season as his scoring and efficiency plummeted — down to 14.4 points per game and 47.9-percent effective field goal percentage.
His play after the All-Star Break has provided some confidence for sure — 15.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game on a 51.4-percent effective field goal percentage. But questions abound about his fit with Jonathan Isaac. He works better anchored closer to the paint and the Magic simply do not have the shooting to afford putting him there all the time.
Orlando is in no position to give up on him completely. But the team is right considering his age, contract and potential value around the league to think about moving him.
The rumor spreads as we wait
That has picked up some more speed on Internet circles during the team’s downtime.
Josh Robbins and Sam Vecenie of The Athletic (subscription required) were the first to suggest the Golden State Warriors trade their first-round pick in this year’s draft to acquire Aaron Gordon in a conversation they had about the Orlando Magic’s draft options. That was purely hypothetical with the Warriors in a unique position as a contending team likely to land a top pick.
The draft is an easy fascination for any fan base. The promise of a top draft pick is alluring for a lot of people.
Magic fans began really discussing the possibility after NBCSports.com’s Alex Didion more openly discussed a hypothetical trade offered in a Bleacher/Report article listing trades every Lottery team could make (there were actually quite a few intriguing ones in addition to the Gordon deal that they suggest).
There are no actual reporting legs to any such rumor. This is all merely idle speculation.
I am not a huge fan of the top of this draft for the Magic. I think the Magic can get the value they seek where they are picking around No. 15 as much as they could drafting at No. 1 considering the young players they want to build around.
The Warriors’ interest in Gordon also seems somewhat dubious. Acquiring him to pair with Draymond Green creates many of the same problems Aaron Gordon is experiencing in Orlando. That goes double considering the next idle rumor of the day — the Warriors’ reported interest and serious pursuit of Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021 — it is something that has been rumbling beyond Thursday’s hacked account.
But none of that is the point. The specific rumor is not the point.
This is just talk. The action is what matters. And the Magic’s lesson is to be clear in their intent as they begin to shift the roster.
The lesson for the Orlando Magic — or, at least for fans — is to enter this offseason or any trade negotiations with a clearer vision for what the team wants to be.
If the Magic want to trade a young player like Aaron Gordon, they need a clear vision for what they are pursuing.
What is the goal of such a deal? Do they want to add a potential driver and creator? If so, is the Draft their best avenue to do so?
If that is where their guy is, the Magic should absolutely pursue it. Almost doggedly in fact. The great teams go for their guys and get them almost no matter the cost. If they are not sure that is their answer, they should back off.
That is apparently what the Magic did at the trade deadline. They surveyed the market for Gordon, but they felt no pressure to pull the trigger unless it got them exactly what they want.
Orlando should follow the same pattern with other players like Nikola Vucevic or Evan Fournier (if he opts in) or anyone else they might consider trading. Their goals and the things they want to get out of a trade have to be intentional and planned out.
If the Magic feel Mohamed Bamba is ready to start and they need to move Nikola Vucevic. That should be their goal and they should pursue the best deal they can get to add to their team and give Mohamed Bamba that platform to start.
If that goal cannot be met in a trade, they should sit tight and wait to find it. That goes for every potential trade on the roster.
The Magic need to be clear about the players they want to keep, the roles they want them to play and finding players who support those roles. The next moves are not about merely collecting assets, it is about making this team better.
Patience with urgency
The Orlando Magic are not in a position where it has to trade anybody. The team is currently in playoff position — although very clearly has to look for ways to improve while fending off future contenders. It is young enough that it should still be able to count on improvement from within.
While internal development is still possible. The Magic can clearly see some flaws that need fixing. A logical conclusion for this team is that they hit something of its ceiling and the team needs to make some changes to start progressing and free up space for their young players to develop further.
Jeff Weltman and John Hammond have done seemingly very little to advance the team forward. Most of their work in the last three years has been about team infrastructure — building out the practice facility and establishing a new coach.
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To be sure, this work has been important. Expectations and belief in what is possible for this group and this franchise have changed. Five years ago, back-to-back playoff appearances would have been viewed as a great success. This year’s second playoff appearance has been met with disappointment.
That is a good thing. Everybody from fans to people within the organization wants this team to do more.
And to be sure, as much as the Magic should wait for a deal that fits their profile and desires, they cannot sit in their hands completely either. The Orlando Magic know there are teams coming up beneath them and the gap to get to sixth was pretty wide (without even considering Kevin Durant’s return with the Brooklyn Nets).
Orlando has to have a mindset of making changes. Even if it is taking the gamble of taking a step back to give younger players more responsibility to accelerate their growth. But even that needs a clear purpose in each move the team makes to support that growth and give them the best chance to succeed.
At the end of the day, the front office believes players grow best in winning environments. The team wants to win, even if it is on a low scale, as it climbs the ladder. Any high draft picks should be because of mistakes like catastrophic injuries, not for a lack of depth or talent.
Everyone anticipates this will be an offseason of some change for Orlando. A second straight year at the bottom of the Eastern Conference Playoff picture requires the team to take some bold action.
But it all needs a purpose. Moves just to make moves can bury the team in a hole. The Magic have to have their intentions clear to make the kind of moves that will push the team forward.