Orlando Magic gained cap flexibility but will remain limited this offseason

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford will have a young roster to play with next year and maybe more cap room beyond that. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford will have a young roster to play with next year and maybe more cap room beyond that. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic hit the reset button. They traded away Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon and aimed to start a new era for the franchise. They positioned themselves well for the Draft Lottery and to restock their cupboard of talent.

There is a lot unknown about what the Magic will look like for the 2022 season and beyond. But the possibilities are pretty endless and the opportunity for success is still pretty evident.

The next stage of the Magic’s rebuild will come at the draft. That is where the Magic hope they can get a foundational piece to begin moving forward. That with the return from injury of Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz will form the team’s foundation for the immediate future.

The team was very clearly looking to position itself well for the draft after the trade deadline. But there was definitely another goal involved.

The Orlando Magic’s trades worked to restart the franchise and give the team a cleaner cap sheet. They may not be able to spend it this offseason, but the team has possibilities off the court as muc as on.

The Magic’s plan to build from the middle put the team right up against the salary cap and would have them use assets on their roster to trade up so to speak. Orlando was waiting — probably more specifically for Aaron Gordon — to get involved for a disaffected star.

The team’s stagnation on the court in the 2020 season and then again this season ended those plans. With Evan Fournier set to become a free agent, the Magic found themselves backed in a corner to get better. They would have to re-sign Fournier and dig themselves deeper into the hole to remain competitive with that group.

With Gordon at his peak value and the desire not to re-sign Fournier, the Magic pulled the plug completely. When they got a good return for Vucevic — especially those two draft picks — the team had to sell ownership on a complete rebuild.

President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman likely considered all of this as he came to the decision to restart the team. He probably also looked at the books and the potential to regain some cap flexibility.

The Magic, with all the young players and big contracts coming into play, were not going to have much room to improve. And they would have likely had to dip into the tax to keep the team together. That is not something a team that is fighting for playoff scraps should have to do.

This conclusion to reset the franchise seemed to become inevitable under this perspective.

Indeed, one of the benefits Weltman said the Magic got from the trades was that it cleared the team’s cap sheet a bit and gave the team some flexibility under the salary cap.

That is certainly true, but the Magic are not likely to realize those benefits for at least another year.

For the 2022 season, the Magic currently have $93.7 million committed without picking up any options or draft picks. The salary cap for the 2022 season is currently expected to come down at $112.4 million.

That gives the Magic about $18.7 million in cap space.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

That is not enough to go after a max player, but it is a significant chunk of change. But the team is going to eat into it quickly.

The No. 3 pick in the draft is slotted to make $6.7 million in 2022 and the eighth pick is slotted to make $4.2 million.

That gives Orlando practically $7.8 million in cap room to work with this summer. That is some room to sign a nice player, but more likely the Magic will look to make additions to the team using the mid-level exception of roughly $9 million.

The other tool the Magic have at their disposal is a $17 million trade exception acquired in the Fournier trade. That can be used to absorb extra salary in a trade. But again, the Magic are not likely to want to take on long-term salary. The exception, which expires at the trade deadline, could be a tool to net some other future assets.

This is all to say the Magic are not going to be players in free agency this offseason. Not that they will be a free-agent destination quite yet. Even a weakened free agent class is not likely flocking to come play for a rebuilding Orlando team.

Orlando does have more cap flexibility. They have accomplished that. And it will be a tool to help the team rebuild depending on how quickly their talent develops.

They could come into a whole lot more cap room in the summer of 2022.

The Magic have only $54.9 million committed to the 2023 season (including the Magic’s three current rookies). Adding in the rookie-scale contracts for the 2021 third and eighth picks, that brings the total up to $66.3 million.

Before considering whatever draft picks the Magic might accumulate for the 2022 Draft, the Magic have $49.5 million in cap space for the summer of 2022. Even if the Magic wanted to re-sign Terrence Ross, Wendell Carter or Gary Harris, the team would have enough cap room to go after a max player if they wanted. They probably would not be able to sign multiples of players and retain max cap space. But the potential is clearly there for them to be players in that free agency market.

And the free agency class of 2022 is a free agency class that is looking like one to go for.

Whether Orlando can be a player in free agency or not is another question. The Magic have to prove themselves on the court to get those opportunities.

But the Magic wanted some more cap flexibility and they appear to have it. Orlando is no longer backed against a wall. Their books are much cleaner. They have options moving forward.

That is not the action this year for the team. This year, Orlando is likely going to be fairly quiet. They are likely going to look to preserve their cap space and use their limited resources to support the roster with veteran players.

At the trade deadline, they might be willing to use their trade exception to gain future assets and rent their cap space, delaying the use of that room in free agency.

That would be the short-term plan. At least with how the Magic’s cap sheet and development lines up now.

Next. OMD Mailbag: As the ping pong ball turns. dark

Like with the roster, the Magic have a lot of options ahead of them. And that was as much the point of the team’s trades and teardown as anything else.