It is usually not a good thing to bring everyone back from a 22-win team. That is usually the kind of season that brings about tons of change — beyond just the draft pick that makes its way inevitably to a team of that caliber.
What it does not usually mean is bringing back essentially the whole roster. And rarely does it make sense for a team to do that.
Rarely does it seem that everyone is excited to return — on both sides of the equation.
But as the Orlando Magic limped to the end of their season — with sights set on the top Lottery odds and more — everyone wanted more. They seemed upset that the season was ending.
More importantly, they seemed eager for what was to come.
The Orlando Magic left their season confident in what they were building. They got players invested in that to return on their first day of free agency.
Following the Magic’s final game, knowing full well he faced the prospect and uncertainty of free agency, Mo Bamba talked about returning. It seemed like he was certain he would return. He said it plainly that he wanted to be back in Orlando.
It did not take long for him to make good on that. Even after the news that the team did not extend a qualifying offer, the Magic brought Bamba back on a reported two-year, $21-million deal.
Not too long after, the Magic’s other big free agent inked his deal too.
Veteran wing Gary Harris signed a reported two-year, $26-million. The extension was already confirmed by the Magic due to the quirkiness of the NBA’s calendar.
Orlando is bringing essentially its whole team back from the 2022 season. The band is indeed back together.
In some respects, these contracts are rewards for two solid seasons.
Bamba finally found his breakthrough after three difficult seasons dealing with injuries and a team goal that was beyond his developmental stage. He averaged a career-high 10.6 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting 38.1-percent from beyond the arc.
It was a solid season and by far his best. The Magic seemed eager to see his continued development. Bamba did too. And he got his wish in the end.
Orlando surprisingly then kept Harris too.
Harris bounced back from years of injuries to average 11.1 points per game and shoot 38.4-percent from beyond the arc. Both were his best since his breakout 2018 season. And a long time coming for the three-and-D wing.
Harris’ return is especially telling too. Playoff teams were reportedly circling waiting for Harris to request a buyout from the Magic. But Harris seemed content to be a leader and mentor for this young Magic team.
His return to the team is an endorsement of the culture the team is building.
Harris may not have been able to get the same money going somewhere else, but Harris certainly could have gotten offers from playoff-capable teams. Certainly, teams that are a bit more advanced and further along in their development.
Harris is signing on to help the team transition from a team at the bottom of the standings to one competing for a playoff spot.
That is something Harris is familiar with from his time with the Denver Nuggets. He mentioned that when he arrived in the trade from Denver. He was eager to play the mentor again as he got himself right.
His return is a vote of confidence in what the Magic are building. Not that the money is not good either.
That is the ultimate seal of approval on what the team is building. And that is probably the biggest victory the Magic have coming out of their 2022 season.
It is the biggest statement that comes out of Thursday’s opening to free agency.
Orlando feels like it is building something with its young players. And players want to stick around and see things through.
The Magic seem to believe they are doing things the right way too. Otherwise, they would not be willing to bring everyone back. They feel confident in the direction they are going. And they do not want to deviate from that plan.
Whether that is ultimately a good decision will get determined on the court — as it always does. President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has certainly valued stability before.
Probably to his detriment.
The team stuck with the same roster following its playoff trip in 2019, adding only a healthy Markelle Fultz. Then kept the same roster after an injury-filled 2020 season.
It flamed out spectacularly. And the Magic ended up hitting the reset button as the team bottomed out.
Stability for stability’s sake does not always work.
But at this beginning stage when the team is still laying its foundations, stability can be helpful. It can help players define their roles and continue to grow.
Orlando is betting on that. The team is betting on the good vibes continuing and for its growth to continue. It is betting on what it has done continuing to work.
The Magic are letting things ride. They are confident in the foundation they feel they are building.
That is what the first day of free agency was about for the Magic. They want to see their progress from the first year of their rebuild continue.
And Bamba and Harris both signed up to let it ride.