The Orlando Magic’s core group of players and identity are still taking shape as the team resets and rebuilds. They still do not have a clear picture of who they are and even which players they want to build around.
The one thing the Magic have ample amounts of is time and cap space to try to see this thing through. They have the space to develop young players and stick with them for now.
The picture on the box is nowhere near clear as the season has yet to begin. The team still has a lot of questions to answer. But the Magic have shown they are more than willing to invest in players they believe in and give them that time to develop.
The latest investment came Friday. The Magic extended Wendell Carter‘s contract, signing him to a four-year, $50-million deal. The entire amount is guaranteed, giving the Magic an anchor point at center moving forward.
The Orlando Magic are continuing to invest in their young players as they extended Wendell Carter’s contract.
Wendell Carter arrived in Orlando in February as part of the trade that sent All-Star Nikola Vucevic to the Chicago Bulls. He seemed like a solid addition to a team that was trying to redefine itself.
It came at a moment when Carter was also trying to redefine himself after struggling under several different coaches with the Bulls and dealing with injuries that kept him off the court.
He finished the year strong for the Magic, averaging 11.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in 22 appearances.
Carter had already carved a reputation in the league as a solid defender and someone who could be a screener and roller in the league. He just needed the time and the consistency on the court to reach it. It was clear Carter could play and contribute when he was healthy.
At one point this offseason, there were talks Carter could fetch a four-year, $70-million extension. That always seemed a bit much for a player who was still establishing himself in the league.
This amount — which equates to $12.5 million per year — is more in line with a player who has shown he can start but still has some rough edges to smooth.
Carter has looked like he can do that in the preseason (for whatever preseason stats are worth). Carter led the team in scoring in the preseason with 12.5 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game in 25.6 minutes per game. He posted a 71.4-percent effective field goal percentage, including hitting 4 of 9 3-pointers.
That potential expansion of his shooting out to the 3-point line is a huge step for him, especially considering some of his shooting struggles early in his career.
Carter’s seemingly newfound versatility is also him realizing much more of his potential. The Magic felt comfortable experimenting with him at power forward adding to his versatile potential for the team.
Carter becomes the fourth player on a young roster with a contract that extends beyond this season who is not otherwise on a rookie contract. He joins Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz and Terrence Ross for that mark.
It is hard to say those are “core” players for the team. Right now, it is hard to say any player is a core player besides fifth overall pick Jalen Suggs.
What the Magic are doing here is maintaining a young player and continuing to give him the freedom to develop and grow. All while maintaining their cap flexibility. The Magic will still be well-positioned whenever they want to strike for free agency — or to use their cap space to acquire players in a trade.
Carter is a young player who has proven he can play in the league. For a rebuilding team, that is always worth the investment.
And that is what this is. Like with Isaac and Fultz’s contract extension last offseason, the Magic saw young players they still wanted to develop. And they came to a reasonable and non-onerous deal to keep them in the fold and continue to grow them.
Carter’s deal will not hurt the Magic in any future pursuits in trades or in free agency. He will remain a decent-sized salary the team could use in a trade when they reach that point.
Fro now, the Magic are more focused on developing Carter as a player and seeing if he fits into the team long-term.
It is not unlike when the Magic signed a four-year, $48-million in 2015. Vucevic at that point had established himself as a solid starter with a growing game, one the Magic rightfully invested in and then continued to develop (although unevenly with some of the shifts in the Magic’s rebuild).
The Magic are giving their young players like Carter, Isaac and Fultz the chance to continue growing. With rookie contracts, teams have four years to figure out what a player’s worth is before they have to put down some real money to invest in them.
With so many rookie contracts, that will begin to clog the team’s books. But they are certainly not there yet.
The only question that remains is whether the Magic will offer this same investment to Mo Bamba.
Bamba has done far less on the court at this point. Even though he had a strong preseason, the team is likely going to see if it carries over into the regular season before making a call on his contract status. It likely means Bamba will hit restricted free agency, where the team will have the right to match any contract offer he receives.
With the team retaining Carter, it would also seemingly leave the Magic set at center, even though the team experimented with playing both Carter and Bamba together. But Carter’s contract status should not have any effect on Bamba (except perhaps to put a ceiling on his worth depending on who they feel is the future starter at center).
This is more about retaining young players and continuing to see them grow and develop.
That is the Magic’s chief goal at the moment. And, in that sense, it made no sense to let a young and solid player like Carter walk.
He clearly still has room to grow and areas he is going to improve. And that is enough for the Magic to help him reach that goal.
The team will eventually have to make tough decisions about their roster and figure out which players stay and which ones go. They will need to figure out who their core is.
But the team is not at that point. For now, their investment is rightfully on player development. And Carter has proven to be someone worth developing.