Orlando Magic’s entire future is in limbo until they get their draft pick

Wendell Carter and the Orlando Magic are hoping to improve quickly. But that depends on their draft pick. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Carter and the Orlando Magic are hoping to improve quickly. But that depends on their draft pick. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic have a lot in the air right now.

They are searching for a new coach. They are considering how to make their roster better. They are trying to figure out how to make their young players better.

The Magic are literally an open book right now. They are a clean slate with the team tied only really to Jonathan Isaac (and to some extent Markelle Fultz) in terms of long-term contracts. They have young players who have shown they can compete on the NBA level and just need more experience.

Finding the right hands to guide them on the bench and in terms of veteran players will be key.

And while president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said the team was not seeking a “sugar high,” he also said the team was not going to go at a deliberate pace if an opportunity presented itself to speed up.

What is clear is the Magic want to grow their team organically. If their young players look ready to win quickly, they will push in to try to win. If they need more time, the team will exhibit patience.

Exactly what that looks like is hard to say. Exactly who the Magic pick to coach them is not clear. And exactly what kind of veterans the team is going to hunt to support their roster and what kinds of veterans they pursue that could speed up their timeline are also unclear.

That is, unclear until June 22 and the NBA Draft Lottery. So much of what the Magic want to accomplish can get determined then.

The Orlando Magic are remaking their franchise. But a lot of big decisions cannot get made and the foundation cannot be put in place until the team knows where its draft pick lands.

This is considered to be a very strong draft class at the top. There are five players especially that teams are excited about. And a clear-cut No. 1 on top of that.

Cade Cunningham is not considered a runaway superstar talent at the level of a LeBron James, but he is far and away the consensus best prospect in the draft. Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Kuminga make up the next five.

Getting one of those five players and a top-five pick would set the Magic up with a player that many believe can turn into an All-Star. The exact kind of central player the Magic need to be the base of their rebuild and the exact kind of player they threw out their 2021 season to select.

Getting one of those players would greatly change the Magic’s fortunes and make the team more attractive to potential coaches and as a potential landing spot for free agents down the road. How quickly or how aggressively the Magic attack free agency could get determined based on where this pick lands.

The coaching search

It is easy to see how this might affect the coaching search and even the Orlnado Magic’s pursuit of the trade market or free agents.

Take the coaching search as a start.

Veteran coaches like Kenny Atkinson or Terry Stotts know how difficult it is to rebuild teams. They also know that in long rebuilds it is often the second coach that takes the team over the top.

If a veteran coach were going to take this job, they would want some assurance that they would be in place for the long term.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The easiest way to do that is to have a roster that is more readymade to win. Getting a top pick and a player who can make a more immediate impact would do that.

With coaches, that might not be enough though.

The Magic essentially picked Steve Clifford over their roster in the end as they decided to start over. And Clifford decided to search for greener pastures rather than take an extension to oversee this young roster.

There may be nothing that can help the Magic secure a top-end coach. Inevitably, they may have to take a chance on someone to get them through these early stages.

Whether that coach becomes the next Kenny Atkinson (the coach that successfully fostered the Brooklyn Nets through the early stages of their rebuild until they acquired their superstar players) or Lloyd Pierce (the coach who took all the Atlanta Hawks’ losses and then could not activate a talented roster ready to win).

Clifford opted out of this roster because the team was going to remain young and not likely to bring in the kind of veterans he would want to compete quickly for a playoff spot at minimum. His goal was to win. The Magic’s goal is to develop.

Opening doors

A draft pick can change that alignment, as Jeff Weltman might put it, quickly.

The Memphis Grizzlies were probably planning on a rebuilding year in 2020 even with the second pick in Ja Morant. But he, along with firstime coach Taylor Jenkins, completely changed the franchise’s outlook.

Ja Morant, alongside a high draft pick in Jaren Jackson Jr., pushed the Grizzlies into the playoff picture in the Western Conference. They had strong veterans on that team too — Jonas Valanciunas and Jae Crowder — that helped the team play above their heads.

Memphis did not seek out these veterans — Jonas Valanciunas was acquired in the Marc Gasol trade and Jae Crowder would get traded to the Miami Heat in the Andre Iguodala trade. But the team was not upset with these young players coalescing around their rookie.

Memphis could have made the playoffs if the season finished regularly in 2020 and they played their way in to the 8-seed last year.

Morant changed everything about that team quickly. And that is the kind of player the Magic are hoping to draft.

Their doors are open now and Memphis might well be aggressive to build around this burgeoning young roster. They were likely waiting for the right opportunity to jump at.

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With the Magic holding a $17-million trade exception and a little cap room to spend too, they could be a place for teams to park some bad contracts or offload some stars. It is not like the Magic are married to some valuable role players either.

But veterans are not likely to flock to the Magic until they prove they can win. Even if Orlando tries to force some action to speed their rebuild along. The Magic are giving no indication that is the case.

Yet, BetOnline.ag placed the Magic fourth in their odds to acquire Kristaps Porzingis. And Zach Lowe of The Lowe Post at least broached the subject on a recent podcast. The whiff of going for a bigger move this offseaosn is at least there.

Much like last offseason’s discussions about acquiring Russell Westbrook, the Magic are a team in need of some star power and have the tools to go after a player of this caliber.

Just like it was then, the decision will be up to the Magic whether they will expend the assets. It will be up to them to assess just how much they should “go for it” in that moment.

Again, have the top pick and a player like Cunningham, Green or Mobley, and they might be more willing to push some chips in and use some of that cap flexibility they acquired. Fall out of that group, and the team almost certainly will take the patient approach rather than go all in.

In either case, it is better to bet that Weltman will be patient unless and until it is clear they have something that can really propel the team forward. Weltman’s “sugar high” line from his press conference last week serves as something of a thesis statement for the team’s rebuilding project.

Everything the team will do this offseason starts with this draft pick.

Weltman surely has plans in place and scenarios he and his staff have run if they land outside the top-5. It is a distinct possibility that this will occur — it is only a 52.1-percent chance the Magic land a top-four pick.

But the kind of coach the Magic can hire, the kind of players they can acquire and the kind of team they can become all depends on where this draft pick lands.

Next. Bold predictions for the Orlando Magic's offseason. dark

Until then, the Magic are in limbo hoping luck delivers them this hope.