The Orlando Magic have been on the search for a bona fide scorer since Tracy McGrady, the trade market is still full of potential players who could fill this gaping void.
The step back is deadly.
The combination of his scoring ability and his court vision is second to none (except for maybe LeBron James). James Harden is one of the most complete players we have ever seen on the offensive side of the ball. And he has improved defensively within the past two years.
And he is unhappy.
James Harden reportedly made it clear to the Houston Rockets his desire to join Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving with the Brooklyn Nets. His teammate Russell Westbrook already made it fairly clear he wanted to go somewhere he could be the star once again. The reunion of the former Oklahoma City Thunder guards is proving to be not so fruitful.
The Orlando Magic have a slight chance to trade for Harden. According to one bookmaker, the Magic had 3/1 odds to acquire Westbrook.
To get either player would require the Magic to give up their entire core and build around these two high-priced players. That is something a franchise like Orlando probably would not be willing to do.
Even though they both have three years left on their contracts, it would be hard for the Magic to build a championship-caliber supporting cast with what they have to give up and how little they have that is ready to contribute and play at a championship level on their roster.
Acquiring either player would give the team something it is desperately in need of. This would not simply be an attention-grabbing move.
The attraction of this conversation is to give the Magic a true perimeter star and a clear-cut top-10 player. Even with a weakened supporting cast, this would make the Magic relevant in national conversations and a surer bet to make the playoffs than with the current roster the team has.
Ultimately, the Magic’s rebuild plan is deciding when and who to push their chips in for.
As the Eastern Conference improves around them, that time is clearly now.
The Magic need to make their play for a star and push their chips to the table no matter if they are able to get a star of the likes of James Harden or not. They need to find someone that does not mind staying in Central Florida and can score the basketball from the perimeter at a high level.
A player like DeMar DeRozan may be available for a trade if the Magic are willing to part ways with Aaron Gordon or others. DeRozan has not been the exact same player since leaving the Toronto Raptors two years ago. But he would still be the best player in Orlando. And he is coming off a quietly efficient year where he averaged 22.1 points per game on a 53.5-percent effective field goal percentage.
The opportunity is clearly there. The Magic at least were reported to be asking about Westbrook even if they could not get a deal done. And there are more star-level players available for them to make their push to keep up with other teams in the conference.
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This is the time for the Magic organization to make a splash in the Eastern Conference and find a player who can potentially continue to rebuild the franchise and put the team in a situation where it can consistently compete and advance in the playoffs.
As constructed, it is hard to see the Magic doing much more than their playoff cameo.
The Magic made the playoffs in consecutive years. The organization wants to continue that progression and eventually compete for the throne in the Eastern Conference, but it has not been able to develop or trade for a superstar player to get them over the hump.
In fact, the Magic have had trouble getting a seed higher than the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. It is because of that lack of talent.
The Magic organization has to make a move early before the season starts in order for the chemistry to be on point during the up and down waves of an NBA season.
But they will need a player who is willing to embrace the underdog franchise role kind of like how Jimmy Butler chose to play for the Miami Heat. The Magic are looking for a similar move to tie their roster together and push them to the next level.
The difficulty of this move is figuring out what the Magic are willing to give up. And the kind of team they want to remain. At this point, the Magic are probably still too young to take on a star that has immediate championship expectations. This should take them out of the running for Harden almost immediately.
But everyone on the Magic’s roster should be on the table. Beyond even the obvious answers — it feels an Aaron Gordon trade is inevitable and most Magic deals have either him, Evan Fournier or Nikola Vucevic involved. But that might also have to include some of the Magic’s young players depending on the deal.
Orlando cannot feel so married to anyone on this roster.
And if that golden opportunity arises, the Magic need to be ready to strike.