The Orlando Magic know change is likely coming their way as they try to get out of the dreaded middle. But the team should control who or what they pursue.
The Orlando Magic are in a tricky spot. Nobody will deny this.
The team has made the playoffs the last two seasons, coming out of the wilderness of an endless rebuild to return to some form of relevancy. But they have seemingly struggled to advance themselves. Their hopes of getting to the top of the Eastern Conference were quickly dashed as injuries consumed the roster and they struggled to establish a rhythm.
The bottom line lesson from the 2020 season was how small the margins for error are for the Magic. They needed everyone healthy and everyone continuing to improve and advance to reach their lofty goals. That proved too difficult to accomplish.
The team still deserves credit for returning to the playoffs nonetheless. But it is obviously not where the Magic want to be. And that has led to the summer of change that seems ahead.
But they are still dealing from a position of power. They are still in control over what they get and what they pursue at the deadline.
They may not be able to acquire their star this offseason. But they can still dictate what and who they will trade for. They need to seek out these players and seek out these trade opportunities.
And if those chances are not there, they need to be satisfied with holding onto their team and their players for another year.
Time will run out to make these trades. Contracts will naturally expire — Evan Fournier will become a massive trade chip or a ticking timebomb if he opts into his contract and a deal by the trade deadline seems almost certain for whatever the team can get in that case.
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There is a ticking clock for the Magic to consider for every player.
But many of the team’s biggest trade assets are not there. And the Magic have proven they can be a playoff team as presently constructed. As low as a bar as that might be, that is still a relatively high floor for them to build off of.
Nobody will deny the Magic need to make changes. And they need to find a way to advance their team forward through trades. Orlando has not put itself in an ideal situation.
That stagnation has had an effect on the value of the Magic’s players on the trade market. Orlando is likely in the posture of a seller as the trade market reopens. The Magic are not likely looking to add that last piece but rather reset their board to carve a path forward.
Nobody is pursuing a player like Aaron Gordon after his sometimes frustrating season to be their future star. Orlando’s biggest problem remains they rely on players to do more than they should for championship-caliber teams.
You do not need to look further than The Athletic’s recent series on the best players in the league. Nikola Vucevic was the best player on the team in “Tier 4” ranking among the top-60 players in the league (Seth Partnow grouped players by tiers rather than ranking them in full).
Orlando needs top-end talent to galvanize and tie the team together closer to a championship roster. Getting that this summer with the team’s available trade assets seems unlikely.
The Magic, especially without Isaac for the 2021 season, are not likely a viable option to acquire one of the star players that may come on the market.
Everyone senses the Magic are due for something of a reset. The sharks are circling their best players for those interested teams. And they hope to get them for as little cost as possible.
In Gordon’s case, he is still a bundle of potential at 26 years old that is looking for the right role or the right system to maximize all of that talent. A lot of teams could easily talk themselves into him. Teams may not know exactly how to value him, but there should be some interest.
In Vucevic’s case, he is coming off a stellar postseason. And while his defensive limitations are well known, his offensive fit is undeniable. He is one of the best passing big men in the league. He can score without a ton of plays being run for him. Teams in need of a center certainly should sniff around for Vucevic.
These players have value. It may not be the star-power value the Magic actually need, but it is value nonetheless. The Magic should have their pick of deals if they are truly exploring the trade market for both.
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And this is the Magic’s power. They have players other teams desire on some level. They should be willing to part with them for the right package. And a package of the Magic’s choosing.
There is no pressure to trade right now. The leverage is on Orlando’s side in many ways (assuming the team properly values what it can get on the market).
So it is imperative the Magic use this power. They need to be aggressively seeking out the kind of players and packages they want to part with these players.
If change is inevitable, the Magic should use this time to pursue the deals that make sense to them. All while they do not have to make trades.
They can easily hold onto Gordon (he has two years left on his deal) or Vucevic (he has three years left on his deal). There is no pressure for the team to make those deals if the package is not worth pursuing or does not fill a need for the Magic.
Orlando should have spent its offseason — and hiatus — evaluating and deciding what kind of players and trade packages they would pursue for these players and for every player on the roster. They should understand their roster forward and backward.
And they should have specific, realistic player targets or skill sets they should be seeking in these trades. If those players are not available or teams that call them are not offering them trade packages they prefer, then the Magic should feel comfortable and empowered to walk away or sit tight with their roster to get what they want from and for these players.
Change is undoubtedly coming to this roster. The team cannot be satisfied staying at the bottom of the playoff ladder. And the Magic must be aggressive and assertive exploring these options.
But they are ultimately the ones in control. They ultimately will decide what package of players or picks or skills they want to pursue to effect the change everyone feels has become necessary.
That is the power Orlando has in this trade market.