The Orlando Magic filled a potential need at the NBA Draft. But there is still a lot of work to do to prepare their roster for the 2021 season.
Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman hinted several times at the complexity of this week and this period.
Unlike the usual NBA Draft and free agency period, there was not a week to shift focus fully from one area to the other. Yes, the Draft and free agency typically run concurrently. But it is easy to put one away and then put the finishing touches on the other.
Plans are surely made in discussions throughout the offseason before diving deep into draft prep. The draft takes place and then the team can switch its focus intently on free agency. Everything is always running at once, but it has its turn in the spotlight.
Instead, the Magic are right back to work. Maybe the work inside the Amway Center never stopped.
Almost as soon as the Draft concluded Wednesday night, the team had to look quickly to free agency.
They have a contract deadline — a team option — for Wesley Iwundu that is due Thursday. And at 6 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, they will begin to be able to negotiate contracts with free agents. Players can begin officially signing their contracts Monday.
Teams will begin working out together on Dec. 1 after they all go through a one-week quarantine period where they will not be allowed in the Amway Center. And then practices will begin, Steve Clifford said, hopefully on Dec. 4.
This will be a sprint to the regular season beginning Dec. 22.
This sprint might be why a team like the Magic was a bit hesitant to make major changes. Fans might have hoped for some transformation to the roster on Draft night, but that never materialized. It may not have been for lack of effort, but for a lack of workable deals the team wanted to continue pursuing.
Trades can still happen of course. The Magic are not likely done doing their work to improve their roster.
But for now, the team has to worry about the group it is fielding for the 2021 season.
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While the Magic are certainly hoping to add long-term pieces to their roster puzzle and think about what they should look like in the long-term, they also have immediate needs they need to fill adequately to position themselves for a playoff run in 2021. And that is very much the goal — especially with the field expanding to 10 teams with the play-in tournament.
The Draft is meant to be a time to add players for the long-term. Trades should be a mix of the two, but for this Magic team should be a time to focus on getting a long-term return on a player/asset on the team.
Free agency is a time to fill immediate needs and shore up the roster.
This is part of the tricky problem the Magic face.
As things stand, Orlando has roughly $118.5 million in committed salary, including Evan Fournier opting-in to the final year of his contract and the rookie contracts for both Chuma Okeke and Cole Anthony.
That puts the Magic already over the $109.1 million salary cap but comfortably under the league’s $132.6 million luxury tax line. Orlando will only have the mid-level exception to spend in free agency.
Before they even get into free agency, the Magic have 11 players under contract. The team still has free agents in D.J. Augustin, Michael Carter-Williams, James Ennis, Gary Clark and Wesley Iwundu (his team option is due Thursday) they might want to re-sign.
With just 15 roster spots available, Orlando has precious little wiggle room to fill out the rest of the roster. This is likely why the Magic opted to trade away the 45th pick and essentially abandoned the second round of the Draft.
There are already two rookies to develop on the roster whom the Magic are likely counting on for major minutes in the rotation, they probably did not want to commit a roster spot and resources to further development. They already have their hands full in a rushed season.
Whether that is a winning strategy or something extremely short-sighted is a matter people can debate moving further. The Magic certainly have not maximized their late-first and second-round picks as well as they could.
Regardless of that opportunity missed or not, the Magic still have major holes to fill on their roster. Immediate holes they have to figure out for next season.
While there is optimism Anthony can fill the team’s backup point guard role, the team certainly will need a third ball handler. And Ennis’ decision to opt-out leaves a hole at small forward the team will need at least a one-year fill-in for.
Orlando has four roster spots to fill. It appears two of them need to be rotation-caliber players, including likely re-signing at least one of the team’s own free agents.
Here is the Magic’s depth chart for the 2021 season:
|Markelle Fultz||Evan Fournier||Jonathan Isaac (i)||Aaron Gordon||Nikola Vucevic|
|Cole Anthony||Terrence Ross||Chuma Okeke||Al-Farouq Aminu||Mohamed Bamba|
Things for the Magic likely start with that third point guard role.
Both Augustin and Carter-Williams are free agents. And it probably makes more sense to retain Carter-Williams because he could play either guard position and shore up depth there. He fits the Magic’s style better despite Augustin’s value as a veteran and teacher, especially with two young point guards.
The biggest need is to find a stop-gap starter at small forward with Jonathan Isaac likely out for the year with a torn ACL.
The team right now is especially thin at that position. And to make the playoffs, they need a player who can fill in that role and keep Aaron Gordon at power forward.
It is still possible the Magic re-sign Ennis for this role. He had his struggles adjusting to the Magic but is the perfect kind of player for the Magic’s offense considering they have so many other players who will eat up possessions.
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Orlando could choose to be a bit more aggressive and use its MLE to find a starting-capable small forward. That list is also pretty short — mid-level exception level players might include Kent Bazemore, Rodney Hood (coming off a year off following an Achilles injury), Josh Jackson or Glenn Robinson III. All of those players certainly have their flaws and are not super long-term solutions.
Orlando is in a bit of a bind to fill this role. And while there are big picture issues to resolve, this is likely the biggest immediate issue for the team.
Of course, the Magic could look to turn one of their starters into multiple players to solve these problems. Trading Evan Fournier or Aaron Gordon for two players — perhaps one bigger player and one perimeter/wing player — would solve this problem more successfully.
The Magic clearly showed no interest in adding another draft pick Wednesday night but that does not mean their interest in making a trade is not done. Certainly now with the Golden State Warriors having a Klay Thompson-sized hole at shooting guard — and a $17 million trade exception — there are still opportunities to deal out there.
But it is clear the Magic have to fill this spot. And it is clear the Magic wanted to maintain the roster spots to go make these kinds of moves when they came up during this abbreviated offseason.
Orlando could very well keep Iwundu and Clark to shore up depth. But both would be deep bench players, used more for practice and to spell players in this rushed season, than as regular rotation players.
They still need one more big move though. That much is clear.
They need to find a small forward to hold Isaac’s spot down for a year — unless they are really convinced Okeke is ready, which would be very ambitious.
The draft is over, but the Magic’s work is clearly just beginning. And they have no time to rest.