The Orlando Magic seemed poised to make major changes to their roster this offseason. Instead, free agency began with the team shoring up its depth.
The anticipation for free agency is really the hope for brighter days. Everyone is eager around the draft and free agency for their team to make the move that puts them over the top and sets them on the path toward a championship and a brighter future.
The teams that stand still, even if it is the sensible thing for a team to do, often feel like they are left behind. There is an impatience to see some activity. Especially when a team feels stuck.
Fans have been waiting for the Orlando Magic to make a splashy move.
Rumors from Matt Moore of The Action Network and Brian Windhorst and Zach Lowe of ESPN suggested the Magic were hunting for big moves and an overhaul of their roster. The long-awaited turn toward the younger players on the roster and a revamping of the team’s core after two straight years sneaking into the playoffs.
Everyone observing this team promised change was coming and had to come soon. The group had seemingly reached its peak. And while a third straight playoff trip was an admirable goal, there is still a big picture to look at and view.
Even president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman hinted at change, saying the team needed to work to regain financial flexibility so they could make the big move that could put this team over the top.
And so free agency began. . . and the Magic remained quiet.
The Magic did not just remain quiet, they remained predictable. They took care of their own and signed a minimum guy to shore up depth. Orlando again stayed quiet at free agency, the big move waiting somewhere in the ether.
The Orlando Magic reportedly first signed Charlotte Hornets guard Dwayne Bacon to a two-year minimum contract with a team option on the second year. This was largely a move to shore up the end of their bench and essentially replace Wesley Iwundu, who did not receive a qualifying offer and became an unrestricted free agent.
Dwayne Bacon averaged 5.7 points per game and shot a 38.7-percent effective field goal percentage in 39 games last year with the Hornets. He averaged 31.8 points per game with a 51.3-percent effective field goal percentage in nine games with the Greensboro Swarm. That average is weighed heavily by a 51-point game.
Dwayne Bacon, a former Florida State teammate of Jonathan Isaac and a former player for Steve Clifford with the Hornets in 2018, is known more for his defense than anything else. He is still not much of a shooter although he has the strength to drive to the basket and the touch to hit from the mid-range.
Bacon should not be expected to do more than fill out the back end of the roster.
Orlando’s other moves on the first night of free agency were to take care of their own.
Both players are essential to the team’s overall depth entering this season.
Without Isaac on the floor, the Magic had a lack of depth at small forward that they needed to fill. James Ennis’ decision to opt-out of his contract put the team in an even deeper mind, making finding a starting-caliber small forward the top priority for this offseason.
Retaining him solves that problem and gives the team a solid fill-in for that small forward spot for the remainder of the year.
Ennis’ averages were fairly meager in his time with the Magic — 8.5 points per game, 51.9-percent effective field goal percentage and 28.6-percent shooting on 3-pointers. But the Magic were much more effective with Ennis on the floor. The move to get him at small forward especially helped unlock
Ennis though is not moving the needle.
Neither is Michael Carter-Williams, although he too serves an important role for the team.
The other immediate need the Magic had entering this offseason was to shore up their point guard depth. The team is confident in Markelle Fultz as a point guard for the long-term and the team drafted Cole Anthony to play next to him in the future and likely behind him in his rookie year.
Adding a third ball-handler made a lot of sense, especially since Carter-Williams did such a good job mixing things up and playing both on and off the ball last year. Carter-Williams has found a home in Orlando and it made sense to bring him back.
The Magic likely did not have to dip into much of their mid-level exception to sign any of these guys. The team had Early Bird Rights to Carter-Williams, limiting how much they can pay him over his previous salary to retain him. The team had Ennis’ Bird Rights to go over the cap to keep him and they used a minimum salary exception to add Bacon.
Orlando also made some minor moves, reportedly signing 6-foot-6 guard Karim Mane to a two-way deal and reportedly inviting Michigan center Jon Teske to training camp at least.
What little free agency tools the Magic had to add players, the team did not use them to make these moves to shore up depth. Orlando might still have one more move to make.
But, as Weltman noted when he decided to trade the 45th pick in the Draft, the team’s roster is starting to tighten up.
With these three additions, the Magic now have 14 players on their roster with the acquisitions of Chuma Okeke and Cole Anthony added. That leaves just one open roster spot left to fill.
Orlando could certainly still make a splash in free agency and add one more player using the mid-level or bi-annual exception (using either would hard cap the team for the season). But their already limited resources are now limited even more.
The Magic could still be searching for trades for some of their veterans to begin turning the page on the franchise’s future. The offseason is not over. Those rumors of the Magic making major changes may still prove to be true.
What seems undoubted is the Magic are searching for these deals. They are being as aggressive as everyone wants to find deals they like. They just are not finding them — or they are not leaking to the media yet and are still in the works.
So Orlando opened up its free agency focused on shoring up its own depth. At the least, the Magic set themselves up to have virtually the same team as last year. And the hope again would be that the team can make a playoff run yet again.
That will not satisfy most. It is a bit confusing to see the team willing to run back a group that was largely disappointing last year.
Orlando is relying heavily on this strategy of playing from the middle to develop young players. But eventually, those young players need to take over. And that time is quickly approaching.
And while it is probably asking too much for the team to blow things up and start completely over — that just is not something the franchise will stomach or fits Weltman’s developmental philosophy — the team still needed to see some turn toward its future.
Maybe that is still coming. Orlando’s future is quickly approaching, whether the team wants it to or not. Isaac’s injury can only delay things so much.
But the early part of free agency was spent shoring up the depth on this team and keeping the boat steady for the 2021 season.