Orlando Magic fans are likely feeling some form of frustration. While the team made the playoffs last season, bringing back the same roster sans Jonathan Isaac does not guarantee another postseason birth.
The Brooklyn Nets will regain superstar talent, and both the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks have made roster changes that should improve their respective playoff prospects. Former All-Star John Wall is scheduled to return from injury, giving the Washington Wizards additional firepower.
In defense of the Magic’s management, there is no guarantee that better opportunities were presented to ameliorate the roster. Orlando certainly fielded offers for Gordon and other players but they decided those offers did not deliver sufficient return.
Orlando still entered this season with the goal of making the playoffs. Clearly, the team turned down offers that would have netted them draft assets and cap flexibility alone.
It can be challenging to stand pat when there is little prospect of serious contention this season, and some praise should be offered to President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and his staff for their patience.
The most understated part of NBA free agency is that all processes, whether it be signing players or making trades, requires an interested second party. Even if salaries align on paper the decision-makers involved still need to be inclined.
The Magic’s current predicament is less a result of their inability to pull the proverbial trigger this week and more directly due to their lack of ingenuity in making roster changes over the past three seasons.
And still, Orlando will have options to reposition its roster during the 2021 season.
Evan Fournier’s expiring deal and strong outside shooting will make him an enticing target at the trade deadline. Contenders like the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers or Golden State Warriors could have a short-term interest in February.
If Aaron Gordon improves his play to start the season, his value could rise to the point where the Magic are offered what is perceived as a justifiable return, one that provides the opportunity to build for the future.
And the Magic’s 2021 season along with the development of young players like Mohamed Bamba, Cole Anthony, Chuma Okeke and Markelle Fultz could change the team’s position. Falling out of the playoff race early might make the Magic more amenable to the kinds of deals they turned down this offseason.
Ultimately, the mediocre middle is the worst position to be in the NBA. Without the potential of gaining a high-caliber draft pick, a first-round playoff exit or loss in a play-in game is not nearly satisfying enough.
Still, the Magic understand its worth in developing young players, even if it makes it more difficult to make the big move or add the potential big-name player. The Magic might need to take a step back to take their ultimate step forward. The team just is not ready to commit to that path yet.
If Weltman and the Magic are waiting for their opportunity to strike, then maybe their patience appears more favorable in hindsight. Maybe there will be a desperate buyer who offers a sweetheart deal or diaper dandy that falls in the draft.
But given the limited number of options for Orlando to improve over the next year, it is not hard to argue that the franchise is stuck in limbo. It may be time to reshuffle the deck.