During the early run of free agency Monday, the Orlando Magic stayed quiet.
That was pretty much expected. The Magic have 13 players on their roster, including their two incoming draft picks, and very little cap room — somewhere between $7-8 million but functionally $5 million with the cap holds the team is likely to retain.
Orlando’s biggest assets remain the veterans they might be willing to trade, the trade exception they can use to acquire some more salary (and probably some more future assets) and the exceptions they can use (the bi-annual, room or non-taxpayer). Using any of those exceptions would hard cap the team for the season.
So the Magic have not yet added anyone to the roster. There is a contract decision to make with Dwayne Bacon later this week. It is not clear yet what Orlando will do there.
The safe suspicion for the offseason is the Magic will wait for the dust to settle on the first or second wave of free agents before they engage in any trade talks. But there may not be any rush to do that.
From there, the team is probably looking for some bargains on the free-agent market to complete its roster.
Like everything else, the Magic focus is on its future and its young players.
The Orlando Magic’s focus on its future likely will put the biggest task this summer on extensions for rookie players. Wendell Carter will present a difficult choice for the team to move forward.
Next offseason will present two interesting decisions for the franchise with both Mohamed Bamba and Wendell Carter set to hit restricted free agency. Neither player — the sixth and seventh picks from the 2018 Draft respectively — have lived up to their billing for various reasons.
Carter though has shown more promise and consistency. Despite some injury and play-style issues with the Chicago Bulls, he showed he could be a versatile defender and rim protector. That only got amplified when he arrived in Orlando.
In just 22 games with the Orlando Magic, Wendell Carter averaged 11.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, adding 0.8 blocks per game and shooting a 51.0-percent effective field goal percentage. Carter was solid for the team before nagging injuries cut his season short.
That has also been a theme of Carter’s career so far. He played 44, 43 and 54 games in his first three seasons of his career.
There are a lot of questions regarding Carter, to say the least. And that makes the decision on whether to wrap him up with a contract extension before the season all the more tricky.
There is at least some thought the team will do this — whether early on in the free agency process (rookie extensions can be negotiated and signed starting at midnight Tuesday, Aug. 3) or closer to the season (the deadline to sign rookie extensions is usually Oct. 31).
However, Matt Moore of The Action Network reports the Magic have already made the decision and are set to lock up Carter this offseason. He says rival executives believe it will be a contract worth more than $70-million.
In all likelihood, this would a four-year extension creating an average salary of $17.5 million. However, it is also possible the Magic could manipulate the raises in a similar way they did in re-signing Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. Frontloading contracts has been a favored method for Jeff Weltman in the contracts he has signed players to.
A contract like this then might start at between $18 and $20 million and decrease over the four years.
The Orlando Magic have ample cap space — the team has only about $67 million committed to next season. Even signing Wendell Carter to that $17.5-million deal would likely give the Magic close to enough space for a max contract next summer.
Orlando worked hard to create some cap flexibility and even keeping a player like Carter on a long-term contract would still give the team some money to spend next summer. Having a high draft pick might dip the team under max cap room next year, but the team will still be in a position to make major changes.
Carter’s extension should not have any effect on the Magic’s plans unless they are looking to add a max player next year. That will be largely dependent on how this season goes. A surprise season could make the Magic players in free agency very suddenly.
The question then Orlando will be weighing throughout the season, if the team does not reach an agreement with Carter before the extension deadline in October, is how much Carter is worth.
Trying to tie player value to player production is an inexact science. That is easy to see judging by how teams sometimes wildly overpay for players. It would not be free agency without those wild overpays.
Wendell Carter is especially hard to judge because of how inconsistently he has played — both his on-court production and his inconsistent playing time due to nagging injuries that have kept him in and out of the lineup, including with the Orlando Magic.
Last year, Carter’s individual catch-all metrics were all over the place. Including his time with the Bulls last year, Carter posted a -1.6 Real Plus-Minus, -1.7 RAPTOR and -1.5 Box Plus-Minus according to stats from Basketball Index.
These catch-all stats can be tough to weigh and they are certainly team-dependent. Playing a lot for a losing team like the Magic last year is going to depress the numbers.
Carter was fifth on the team last year in PER (17.3), eight on the team in Box Plus-Minus (-1.8) and seventh in Victories Over Replacement Player (0.0) according to Basketball-Reference.
None of these numbers paint a picture of a player who is worth investing a long-term contract with. Especially considering how little sample the Magic have had with Carter personally since acquiring him at last year’s deadline.
There are of course signs Carter is worth the investment. The eye test shows that in some of the big blocks and moments he had in the season. There is the improvement and willingness to shoot, something he reportedly struggled with in Chicago.
On top of that, he was good at finishing at the rim, he is an elite screener (averaging 6.7 screen assists per 75 possessions, placing him in the 98th percentile according to Basketball Index). Carter also protects the rim well, giving up 10.90 percentage points lower field goal percentage than expected at the rim, a mark that is in the 94th percentile according to Basketball Index.
He is also a solid rebounder as one of the best offensive rebounders (3.5 offensive rebounds per 75 possessions and a 72.0-percent contested offensive rebound rate, both marks in the top 20-percent in the league) and one of the best defensive rebounders (8.3 defensive rebounds per 75 possessions and a 36.7-percent defensive rebound rate).
He certainly can improve in all of these areas still. Some of it is he has not played enough for these numbers to settle down. There are still a lot of areas he can grow. But there is still a whole lot to like about Carter.
It certainly would make sense to retain him and even extend him if the team believes these numbers will be permanent within the team’s system. Orlando is looking for players it can invest in long term.
Carter may well be one of them. But he still has a lot to prove to reach that level.
If Orlando is confident he will get there, it might make more sense to wrap him up now knowing he might outperform his current expectations through the season. If the team is not, it is just as easy to put an offer on the table and be willing to let him play out the season.
The latter might be the best course of action in the end. Especially with another young center in Mohamed Bamba developing alongside him and the likelihood the team can only keep one.
A Carter extension is a key decision for the Magic to make this offseason. But it does not feel like that call is imminent ahead of the season.