2021 NBA Playoffs: If Golden State Warriors need veterans, Orlando Magic do too

The Orlando Magic continue to fight even as injuries mount and they face impossible circumstances. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The Orlando Magic continue to fight even as injuries mount and they face impossible circumstances. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

The Golden State Warriors have one of the best players in the NBA who had, perhaps, his best individual season of his already illustrious career.

They are a team that expects and has won championships. Their players and coaches have been part of title-winning teams. Even with injuries, they have high expectations for themselves. And as those players return, they expect to get back there again.

In the discussion from coach Steve Kerr as the Warriors did an autopsy of their season, where they finished eighth but lost in the Play-In Tournament in overtime, there was largely optimism.

Kerr said he felt the Warriors surpassed expectations this season as they dealt with injuries to major players like Klay Thompson, James Wiseman and Kelly Oubre. The Golden State team that finished the season was not the one that built up some cushion to make the postseason field.

There were discussions about needing Draymond Green to carry a bigger offensive role to help the Warriors get back to that championship level.

The Warriors feel their future is bright. Curry is still a supernova. Green is still a defensive ace. Thompson is on his way back (even if he needs time to recover from two straight years out with major injuries). Wiseman is still one of the most highly touted rookies to come into the league. And they have potentially two lottery picks coming their way — they receive the Minnesota Timberwolves’ pick if it is outside the top three.

The Warriors seem to be set up well. But they are still looking at the lessons of their postseason experience. They might call it a success, but they are far from satisfied with being eliminated in the Play-In Tournament.

In that postseason press conference, Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers both said the team needed to add impact veterans to take the next step.

The Orlando Magic have an extremely young roster and they need to continue growing and building. If a title-thinking team like the Golden State Warriors needs veterans still, the Magic sure do too.

They watched their young players struggle especially at the end of the Play-In Tournament game with the Memphis Grizzlies as they tried to put a vice grip on Curry. Curry made six of the team’s 12 3-pointers and no one else seemed able to step up and carry the offense or execute the offense to spring Curry free.

Golden State’s average age at the end of the season was 26.5 years old. On the court at the end of the Play-In Tournament game were 26-year-old Andrew Wiggins, 29-year-old rookie Juan Toscano Anderson and 21-year-old Jordan Poole. Wiggins is the only player in that group on his second contract.

The Warriors became entirely reliant on Curry and Green to generate offense. Despite some big shots from Poole, the Warriors were struggling to create consistent offense late in games. The moment became too big for their young group of players.

Golden State will get reinforcements with Thompson returning and a recommitted Green. Wiggins had his best all-around season in his career. Golden State has plenty to build on.

But even that team understands being too young can cost them in games that matter. Even with a superstar with the power and defense-warping abilities that Curry has.

The Orlando Magic do not have a player of Curry’s powers — if anything, this year’s Golden State Warriors resemble the Tracy McGrady-era Magic with one superstar player begging for a second scorer to share the load and veteran role players to slide in and support. But they keenly understand this lesson too.

One of the criticisms Steve Clifford faced as the season wound down was that he was relying too much on veteran players to supplement the roster. There has always been a concern that he will trust veteran players over younger players and allow them to control the end of games.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Clifford would call that analysis a bit bunk. Young players function better when they have veteran players on the floor. Veterans understand defensive nuances and rotations better and can fill in roles that better support those young players.

Clifford would often say that throwing a bunch of young players on the floor together would not be productive for their development. They simply do not know where to be and how to run through sets consistently.

The numbers bear this out too.

After the trade deadline, the best five-man lineup Cole Anthony played in that played at least 10 minutes together featured James Ennis and Gary Harris. This was Wendell Carter’s second-best lineup — his best included Terrence Ross and Dwayne Bacon. Chuma Okeke was in both of those lineups. R.J. Hampton’s best lineup included Terrence Ross and Dwayne Bacon too.

The Magic are likely going to be hunting for veterans to support their extremely young roster still. The Magic’s average age at the end of the season was 24.7 years old. They have only two players older than 30 years old — Ennis and Ross.

This is an extremely young team. That includes injured players Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac. And that includes young veterans who are likely departing the team — like Dwayne Bacon, Otto Porter and possibly James Ennis.

On top of this, Orlando is also likely adding two young players in the Draft, putting the team in the same position Golden State is — albeit without a superstar veteran and another couple All-Stars waiting in the wings.

With the Magic’s still-limited cap space — the draft picks will eat up most of the cap room the team opened up leaving the team with just the mid-level exception to spend and their $17-million trade exception from the Evan Fournier trade — they are likely going to be hunting for a veteran to support the roster.

It is what is necessary to foster the growth Orlando wants to see from its young players.

The team will likely try to retain Gary Harris, Terrence Ross and Michael Carter-Williams. If they do trade one, they will try to get a veteran back to replace their presence.

In either case, Orlando will want to make sure they have some veterans on the roster to guide the young players. Everyone throughout the league understands the importance of experience in making teams viable and competitive. Especially young teams.

The Magic are not at the same stage of development the Warriors are. Veterans will be flocking to join a team with Golden State’s pedigree. Orlando will have to be careful and precise with who the team brings onto its roster at this early stage of the team’s development.

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But both teams understand the challenge they are facing to build themselves back into contenders again. They need veteran players to get the job done.