Set up the team’s future
Overall, the team’s bigger philosophy will not change.
The Orlando Magic are going to enter this season believing they will make the playoffs. Even in an Eastern Conference that seems to be improving — with young teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls pushing to get into the playoff picture and veteran-infused teams like the Washington Wizards hungry to get back — the Orlando Magic should still feel they can make it.
It is not likely the Magic spend the offseason completely deconstructing their roster. That just is not part of the team’s overall philosophy. They believe young players grow best by playing in meaningful games.
And in any case, this is still a veteran-filled team. Their best young player in Jonathan Isaac is likely to miss the entire season. And Mohamed Bamba is already getting minutes and improving in his role. The only action the Magic can take to get him more playing time is to trade their best player in Nikola Vucevic.
In other words, this is not a team that is in a great position to try for the best Lottery odds. It would not make sense to do so even if the team traded away most of its starters. It is not likely the team will be bad enough barring complete disaster to make a real push for a top pick — outside of Lottery luck, which is needed even if the team ended up with the worst record anyway.
As the Golden State Warriors proved, every team is only a few injuries away from a complete disaster. Those dreaming of a high lottery pick should take that as some comfort.
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Just because the Magic view the playoffs as a goal does not mean they are sold out on getting there. This is an important distinction.
Orlando is not going to make moves — trading young players for veterans — just with the goal of making the playoffs. The team is still planning for a future where it is competing for something more.
This is why the Magic are not likely to trade out of this Draft. They need the young players to supplement and grow this overarching philosophy guiding many of the Magic’s long-term decisions.
What that goal is or what that team looks like is still something of a mystery. And that is part of the problem facing the Magic. Outside of Jeff Weltman’s penchant for drafting players with length, nobody knows what this Magic team wants to be.
More than anything else, the Magic need to start making this overarching philosophy clearer. They will do this in how they choose to move with their veteran players — particularly Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon.
All three have extremely uncertain long-term futures with the franchise. And, especially with Fournier after he opts in to the final year of his deal, it seems inevitable the Magic will trade them.
Outside of Fournier’s expiring contract, the Magic still have time to assess the trade markets for Vucevic and Gordon. This is why Orlando should enter the trade market from a position of power. The hope is both players will play better in 2021 — it would be hard for Gordon to be significantly worse — and increase the Magic’s ability to trade them.
This is another reason why it is important for the Magic to compete for a playoff spot this season. Maintaining trade value and market value are vital to the team’s ultimate success and ability to improve.
But whatever the Magic trade these players for — or decide to double-down and invest in them for the long-term — will set the Magic’s course more significantly than any other.
And it is these moves — along with the free-agent signing the Magic get from their mid-level exception, although this will likely be used to address an immediate need — that will have the biggest impact and determine this team’s future.
More than anything else this offseason and into next season, the Magic need to start shifting this team toward that direction and making their identity and their goals clearer.
But that is not the goal to start the season or in the offseason. The Magic are going to try to find a tricky balance of supplementing the team’s roster while also eyeing the future and the changes they need to make.
And that is clearly not going to be easy. It may not even be extremely well defined.
But they have to start somewhere. And it might as well be this offseason.