Orlando Magic well positioned for 2022 offseason, even if more patience is needed

Cole Anthony has had some strong moments in his rookie season for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Michael Wyke/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Anthony has had some strong moments in his rookie season for the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Michael Wyke/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports /

The dust is settling on the 2021 offseason. The NBA schedule is out, meaning the league at least thinks most of the heavy lifting is done for the offseason. They are officially looking ahead to the 2022 season and the year beyond.

The storylines the league wants to feature are now fully set.

The Orlando Magic are certainly not one of those storylines. The team is featured in a league-low four national TV games. All four of those are on NBATV and three of those four take place on NCAA Tournament days.

To say the least, not even the drafting of Jalen Suggs has made the Magic nationally relevant. And the current predictions from Vegas and elsewhere have the Magic as one of the worst teams in the league.

Orlando seems content with that. The team surely would like to surprise and make a run to the Playoffs. But it is not likely that the franchise will measure success in wins and losses this year. Individual and team growth will matter as will whether the team has the outlines of a winning team.

The Magic know this is just the beginning phases of the rebuild.

The Orlando Magic are projected to be one of the few teams with cap room for the summer of 2022. That gives the team a lot of flexibility this coming season even if they ultimately remain patient.

That does not mean there will not be big decisions in the near future.

Orlando is set up well to be players in the trade market — with both ample cap space to absorb contracts and future assets along with tradeable players like Terrence Ross and Gary Harris and a $17-million trade exception.

The team’s books are almost completely clean. That was one of the stated goals of last March’s NBA trade deadline dealings that reset the franchise. Orlando is really starting completely fresh.

This will be one of the major storylines for the team heading into next season. The Magic could well use this season — even the extremely difficult first part of the schedule — to figure out its strategy heading into next offseason.

As things currently stand, the Magic have $67.0 million in guaranteed contracts and likely options (the team options on the Magic’s rookie contracts). That leaves them with $52.0 million in cap room. This is before taking into account potential extensions or restricted free agent contracts for Wendell Carter and Mohamed Bamba.

Even if the Magic re-signed both players, it is easy to see the Magic still having somewhere near $10-15 million in cap room to spend next season.

This is all to say that the Magic are projected to be one of the few teams with cap room entering next season.

At this point, it feels safe to say the Magic would sign only one of Carter or Bamba — or at least only one would get a contract worth more than $10-million and neither would get more than $20-million per year.

It is safe to assume then Orlando will enter next offseason with somewhere near max cap room, pending the use of that $17-million trade exception.

The Magic acted this offseason as a team over the cap, but next year and moving forward the Magic will have a very different posture entering trade negotiations. They have some tools to play with.

If the team gets out to a strong start and the team feels it is one piece away with Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Isaac (or whomever else) at the lead, they could look to push in some with a free agent bid this offseason.

Orlando would have that kind of buying power to try to poach either a lower-level star or begin expending its ample capital and young players to absorb a higher-priced player into their empty cap space this offseason.

The Magic could finally be buyers again.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

However, it is far more likely the Magic bide their time. As ESPN notes, next year is not looking like a strong free-agent class anymore. Several players signed extensions this offseason — and even a fair amount of players signed rookie extensions which could force the team’s hand on Carter before the October deadline passes.

And that free-agent class is strongest at point guard, a position the Magic are well situated in.

Because of this, ESPN anticipates a very active trade market at the trade deadline and next offseason. And this is where the Magic will likely play their game.

It is far more likely at this point Orlando looks to continue collecting future assets.

If the Magic trade a player like Ross, it may be for a bad contract and young players or draft capital. The team could also look to help facilitate trades either at the trade deadline or next offseason, using their cap room to park big contracts and receive draft picks or young players for their trouble.

This practice of cap space parking and expanding to multi-team trades was a tool a lot of teams used in sign-and-trade deals throughout the offseason this year.

The lesson of this offseason is that determined teams will find a way to make deals to get the players they want.

The question the Magic will spend answering this year is what part they will play in that market.

With that ample cap space now, the team can be both buyer and seller if they want. Orlando can be a facilitator to help others or they could be aggressive chasing after the players they want and improving their own roster.

This is the kind of flexibility the Magic want to have.

The team is very well positioned for its future. The paths and the aggression the Magic might have in free agency and next offseason likely depends on how quickly their young team develops.

If they surprise everyone and compete for a playoff spot, the Magic might push their chips in more. If they struggle, as everyone expects, then the team likely stays patient and delays this cap bonanza for another year or two.

With few major contracts on the team — Harris’ expiring deal at $20.5 million is the biggest deal on the team’s books followed by the first year of Isaac’s extension at $17.4 million — the team has a lot of flexibility to get things done.

At some point, Orlando will end its youth revolution and push in for veterans to help elevate the team. The first part of that equation is having a strong base on the roster already. The team still needs its star.

What should be clear from how the Magic are positioned beyond this coming season is that once the team finds its internal star, they should be able to move in free agency or trades to add another and push the team further.

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The trick is knowing when to make this move. It probably is not the summer of 2022.