Orlando Magic Daily Mailbag Volume 41: Glimpses into the future

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Terrence Ross, Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic have picked up their passing and are gaining some steam offensively. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

From Ryan Hull, via Facebook

"7th highest payroll in the NBA, and to be this bad. Something is majorly wrong."

I see this complaint fairly often.

The Orlando Magic currently have the seventh-highest payroll in the league at $136.3 million. They are bumping up against the luxury tax line of $136.6 million.

Asking why the Magic have not cut a player to sign another player through all these injuries? This is why. The Magic do not want to be a tax-paying team. It makes no sense. And it is possible Orlando could spend some of this trade deadline trying to slash payroll a bit.

But most of the conversation around the team’s payroll usually centers on this logic: The teams with the highest payroll should be competing for the championship.

There is something to that. Only teams competing for championships should be in the luxury tax. That part makes sense. And the Magic are right to avoid it — although, as noted above, criticism of hovering this close to the line is certainly warranted.

But this logic is also fairly flawed. Especially for teams that have put their money in young players.

The Magic have mostly hit this number because they have re-signed their own young players. Giving Nikola Vuceivc a four-year deal and Aaron Gordon a four-year deal clogged the books some. But those were both players the team could not afford to lose, unless it was signaling a clearer rebuild. The same goes for Terrence Ross and his four-year deal.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Magic did not want to turn back, especially after that 2019 breakthrough, so they decided to play their fortunes by leveraging their cap room a bit.

The dream, as it were, is to be able to consolidate some of these players into the “big star” that can change the franchise. The dream, for example, would have been to watch Gordon develop into a near-star and then cash him in for the player that might complete the roster.

In order to move for big contracts, the team must have big contracts it can move out.

While the debate about whether the Magic should have pursued Russell Westbrook this offseason was a pretty clear one for this team and its long-term development, the fact the Magic were even considered in those conversations was a sign of why the Magic’s cap position was advantageous to them.

Orlando had the salaries to get to Westbrook’s $30-million contract number. That is the position the team is trying to be in.

Obviously, the risk then is what happens if those players do not turn into stars? What happens if those players peter out and you are not able to cash in for higher value?

That is where the Magic are at. And so the investment in Gordon, especially, has not worked out as intended. With Isaac and Fultz extensions set to kick in next season, the Magic will have to make some financial decisions to remain in a solid cap situation.

They are likely going to have to accept pennies on the dollar for Fournier and the goal of that deal might be to get one player worth keeping and salary flotsam the Magic can quickly jettison (either in a trade or in the buyout market). That is the kind of deal that was on the table it seemed for Fournier in the offseason anyway (more on that in a later question).

Gordon might end up being the same deal. And that only puts more pressure on Fultz and Isaac to become impact players.

The comfort of the Magic’s upcoming top-10 pick likely cushions this fall.

But that circles back to the larger point. The issue the Magic face is not their high payroll. Really only Al-Farouq Aminu is the only “dead weight” contract on the team that is not giving the team something in return for a heavy investment (and he has only one more year left on his deal after this one).

Rather, the issue is the players the Magic invested in did not develop quickly enough to help the team land a star in a trade.