What Orlando Magic do with Aaron Gordon will determine their future path

Aaron Gordon's future with the Orlando Magic could determine where the team heads next. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
Aaron Gordon's future with the Orlando Magic could determine where the team heads next. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) /

With the Orlando Magic’s season coming to a disappointing end, attention has quickly turned to what an uncertain offseason might bring.

The Orlando Magic achieved their basic objective of once again qualifying for the playoffs in the 2020 season. But the inability to make it past the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference followed by another first-round exit has left many fans calling for a shake-up this offseason.

Injuries of course played their part in an apparent lack of progression, as did the suspension of the season due to COVID-19. Jonathan Isaac had two serious knee injuries and missed the postseason along with Aaron Gordon, Mohamed Bamba, Michael Carter-Williams and Al-Farouq Aminu, while Nikola Vucevic and D.J. Augustin also experienced injury problems this season.

Even then, the Orlando Magic finished 10 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for sixth in the Eastern Conference. They were never truly contenders to catch them for that spot. Even players would say their season was disappointing in that sense. They did not accomplish all they wanted to.

Serious questions remain around how high this team can possibly go and whether it might be time to start trading in order to embark on more of a rebuild.

Aaron Gordon as a trade asset

Still just 24, Aaron Gordon has been with the Orlando Magic for six seasons since being drafted with the fourth pick back in 2014. He was rated highly coming out of college due to his exceptional athleticism and dunking ability.

But Gordon has yet to reach the heights some would have hoped for by the end of his sixth season. The former Arizona Wildcat has still offered a valuable contribution to a team without a genuine superstar, averaging just more than 17.5 points per game back in 2018. But he could only manage 16 last season and less than 15 this season.

He is of course an asset defensively and can guard the league’s better players, also averaging more than seven rebounds a game for his last three seasons. But with a potential future All-Defensive Team candidate in Isaac already on the roster and an evident lack of perimeter shooting, Gordon has quickly become an easy target for the Magic to focus trade discussions on.

If Orlando wants to improve its roster with how little cap flexibility it has, it will likely cost one of their bigger-name players. And Gordon with his age and potential is clearly the most valuable trade asset on the roster.

There is one problem of course. Jonathan Isaac is likely to miss the entirety of next season with a torn ACL before becoming a restricted free agent, meaning his future with the franchise is far from guaranteed.

Trading Gordon would see the franchise be without two starting forwards who have helped the team reach the playoffs for two consecutive years. Losing Gordon on top of the injury to Isaac would undoubtedly be a huge risk and could well result in failure to qualify for the playoffs next season.

The team has Al-Farouq Aminu, coming off his own knee injury that caused him to miss almost the entire season, and incoming draft pick Chuma Okeke, who deferred his rookie year to rehab his torn ACL, on the roster to fill minutes at the 4. But that would be a major downgrade at the position for an entire year unless Orlando gets another power forward from somewhere.

That might make the risk of trading Gordon at this point too much to stomach for the Magic. Even if it nets them a very talented player.

The Golden Opportunity

If the front office decides to try and make trades in the offseason, the Golden State Warriors’ second pick jumps out as a potential target. The Warriors are in win-now mode with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in their primes.

The team that has gone to the NBA Finals for five straight years until injuries tanked this season is not looking to stay out of the picture for long.

Golden State Warriors
Golden State Warriors /

Golden State Warriors

The opportunity to trade for a top pick in this draft is higher because of Golden State’s position. The Warriors had a dismal season with the worst record in the entire NBA because of injuries to star guards Curry and Thompson. Golden State now wants to try and win more titles while these two are still around.

This could see them trade away their second pick for players who will help them contend with the Lakers and Clippers in the West, something Aaron Gordon could potentially do. He still has plenty of time to develop but is experienced in the league and has the defensive and offensive skills to help out right away.

It would of course take more than just Gordon to get the pick, likely another player and a first-round pick at least — Orlando drafts 15th in this year’s draft and that might net Golden State a role player who could better fit in and develop alongside their championship core.

With a draft class short on elite talent, and perhaps not the patience to develop a highly touted rookie, the Warriors seem to be ready to listen to offers.

The Warriors will have plenty of offers for the pick and would need to feel that Gordon is the right player for a team wanting to compete immediately.

And they surely will try to use that open pick to try to bring in another star — the sharks are starting to circle around Joel Embiid with the Philadelphia 76ers’ uncertain future.

Gordon, long rumored as a potential trade target for the Warriors, could be someone they are intrigued with to make a deal.

Who is at the top?

But even if a trade for the pick is possible, the Orlando Magic would too have some serious thinking to do. The only reason to trade for a high pick is if there is at least one talent, ideally more than one, that you feel there is a high chance you will get, is the right fit and will significantly improve your team over the next few years.

Is this the case in the 2020 draft? That jury is still out.

Lamelo Ball and Anthony Edwards jump out as two obvious choices and would clearly be a boost to any team but question marks remain over their potential to be the superstars you would want for a trade of this magnitude.

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The draft always comes with an element of unpredictability but the Magic must be completely confident they are getting the right player if they are to lose someone of Gordon’s caliber.

It ultimately comes down to a debate between risk and reward. If the front office feels losing Gordon to get Ball, Edwards or another prospect would push the franchise to the next level then now is the time to act.

Jeff Weltman said in a media teleconference Monday that the team had already tiered out its draft board, identifying where they think players should fall and how they value players in this year’s draft. He said he did not anticipate that changing before October’s draft.

Now it seems like the task is to figure out the market and where their most-favored players will land and decide how to maneuver to get them. That will surely include teams at the top because Orlando is likely in a position where it is willing to deal.

Beyond 2021

Of course, there are future considerations too.

With a 2021 draft class tipped to be of high quality and a mouth-watering free agency group at the end of next season, the Orlando Magic could end up regretting any rash decision in an attempt to improve the team.

A team like the Warriors is also keeping an eye on the 2021 free-agent class reportedly. They have maneuvered themselves to be players in big free-agent classes before and 2021 will not be different.

Keeping Gordon, who has two seasons left on his current contract, for another year could enable the franchise to make bigger moves when there is a higher chance they will work well.

dark. Next. Orlando Magic left it all on the table, still need more

The chance to get a second pick does not come around often, however. Where the Magic go from here is unclear but what is clear is that this is a significant moment in time for the franchise and every decision must be carefully considered with a clear plan in place.