The Orlando Magic were involved in some early rumors as the New York Knicks look to move around. It previews a difficulty they will face this offseason.
The end of the NBA season and the oncoming NBA Draft has reopened the trade possibilities around the league.
Everyone — including this site — is thinking about the trade possibilities and how to improve their teams. With so few free agents and so little cap room to spend for most teams around the league, trades are going to be the main vehicle teams improve.
And plenty of teams are still in complete upheaval as they prepare for the draft and the bulk of the 2021 offseason.
The teams that will have a good offseason will be the ones who have a clear plan on what they want to accomplish and how they want to accomplish it and have the resources to get it done.
And therein lies the problem and the quandary for the Orlando Magic.
The rumor mill is already churning for teams around the league. Marc Berman of the New York Post provided one of the juicier rumors of the Draft season, suggesting the New York Knicks would be willing to trade down from the eighth pick if their preferred choices of LaMelo Ball or James Wiseman are not available.
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Among the teams that Berman lists as potential trade partners include the Orlando Magic at No. 15. And in his article, he resurrected a rumor that dated back years that the Magic had some interest in Dennis Smith Jr.
It would be too speculative to say whether that interest has waxed or waned. It is hard to know what is real. It did not seem like there was anything “fresh” in the reporting, only the Knicks exploring their trade possibilities.
This particular rumor though reveals a potential weakness in the Magic’s position when it comes to trades. They lack the kind of movable small salaries to pull off deals like this one involving Smith — unless the Knicks are looking to trade the eighth pick and Smith to acquire a bigger salary player using their empty cap space.
The Magic have some big-name guys they can deal. Indeed, most trade thoughts involving the Magic consist of sending either Nikola Vucevic or Aaron Gordon out of Orlando. Terrence Ross and, when he opts in, Evan Fournier are also likely trade chips.
But those are major moves consisting of big salaries — Vucevic will make $26 million in 2021, Gordon will make $18.1 million, Fournier will make $17.2 million if he opts in and Ross is due to make $13.5 million.
The Magic could very well move to trade one of those players for either a big fish with an equal salary or for a few players with lower salaries to add depth to the roster. For sure, those will be big decisions.
But minor moves will undoubtedly cost players the Magic actually want to have around. You will notice in Dan Bennett’s series looking at potential trade targets how often he has attached Mohamed Bamba to any deal involving Aaron Gordon to go after big fish — I have actually edited some of his proposed deals to try to take Bamba out of a few.
With Al-Farouq Aminu ($9.7 million in 2021) coming off an injury and a likely unwillingness to deal away young players like Mohamed Bamba ($6.0 million) or Chuma Okeke (set to sign his rookie contract at around $5 million per year), the Magic simply do not have a lot of mid-tier players to offer.
Most of their mid-tier players are young players near the end of their rookie contracts the Magic are hoping to build around — Jonathan Isaac ($7.4 million in 2021) and Markelle Fultz ($12.3 million).
Outside of Khem Birch’s $3 million deal and Al-Farouq Aminu’s contract, there are not a lot of salaries lower than $10 million the Magic are likely willing to deal.
That is what makes the Dennis Smith rumor feel all the more impossible. Not to mention that Smith seems like a poor fit for the Magic.
Smith had a really poor season — 5.5 points per game, 37.9-percent effective field goal percentage, 2.9 assists per game in 15.8 minutes per game. He is hardly someone that a team would be marshaling resources to acquire.
If anything, the Knicks might have to attach some sort of sweetener to get someone to take him — although he is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the 2021 season.
To say the least, acquiring Smith would be more of a second-draft acquisition — a flyer on a player who has flamed out near the end of his rookie contract — rather than a featured player to acquire.
Considering the Magic’s absolute need for shooting, Smith does not make a ton of sense. He has proven he can score and create a bit for himself. But he is not much more than a project at this point. The prize in any deal involving Smith would be the draft pick the Magic obtained from the Knicks.
This reporting feels like the remnants of an old rumor. Conditions have obviously changed for everybody.
Swinging this kind of a deal — for a draft pick and a supporting players — seems like a bid for one of those young players the Magic are not likely inclinded to deal.
It seems then the only moves the Magic can make this offseason are those big ones involving bigger salaries in some fashion. And it likely means they can only deal those contracts to make bigger moves rather than any cosmetic moves on the perimeter.
Certainly moving up to the eighth pick, where there is likely better value for players that could help the Magic like Devin Vassell, Aaron Nesmith or Tyrese Haliburton. But that will likely cost the Magic something bigger.