Orlando Magic are staying patient, but the future will not wait for them

The Orlando Magic feel they might have their star in Paolo Banchero. The clock is already ticking to surround him with a title team. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic feel they might have their star in Paolo Banchero. The clock is already ticking to surround him with a title team. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have promised patience as they continue to rebuild.

President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman made it clear when he embarked on this teardown he was not going to chase a “sugar high” and look to sneak into the playoffs. At least during this grace period, the Magic want to be methodical and be about the right things that make successful franchises.

That is why the team has been content to stand pat for now. It is why the team is trading on its good vibes, believing this foundation is as important as the players they add to the roster.

Orlando got its big addition in first overall pick Paolo Banchero. And now it is about fostering growth in him, building the constructs of their team and then figuring out what comes next and how to build from there.

The team is very much focused on this baseline of growth. They want to see what they have before they dive into any major overhaul of their roster (again) or looking to be aggressive.

That will not stop some from saying now is the time and Banchero is the player to begin building around.

The Orlando Magic are preaching patience with their young team as they continue to grow. But the clock is ticking for them to build in many ways, whether they want it to or not.

The truth is the Magic’s patience is probably warranted.

The team has no idea what it has on its roster. And so the team has done a good job collecting a bunch of promising young players and maintaining the flexibility to cut bait when they need to move on or move forward.

The question is when that time will be. There is a fair argument Orlando does not have the time to wait. When opportunity to strike arises, there may not be any going back. And the league is preparing to go under some massive changes very soon.

Whether Orlando wants to recognize it or not, the clock is ticking. It ticks on everyone. And it will only start ticking louder the moment their star player emerges — thus heightening the urgency now that the anticipation over Banchero is growing.

The Magic know this and this is why the team has done a really good job of maintaining flexibility moving forward. This is perhaps the most telling trait of the team’s current roster makeup.

There are a lot of young players on the roster. But the team also has maintained tons of flexibility.

They can literally do anything right now, whether that is pushing some players in to acquire a star player like Donovan Mitchell today, or putting themselves back into position for free agency in the near future.

Let alone continue to be players for trades in the next year or so.

Orlando has only one player on its books on a fully guaranteed deal beyond 2024. That only player is Wendell Carter, who is on a front-loaded deal. Markelle Fultz has two more years left on his deal. Jonathan Isaac has three years left on his deal, but all three remaining years are not fully guaranteed.

This is extremely advantageous as the Magic consider their next moves. They have tons of flexibility.

This is why, more than anything, the Magic feel comfortable being patient. They have a lot of young players that should retain some value around the league and be ammunition should they need to make a trade. They have all of their draft picks — including two first-round picks in the upcoming 2023 NBA Draft (barring the Chicago Bulls getting some Lottery luck).

Orlando should remain a player for the next few seasons for any disaffected stars that hit the market if they want. This is likely the path the Magic will take to add talent once they know what they want to target.

But that is the bigger point. This advantage only exists for a few seasons. And Weltman’s tendency to kick the can down the road is not going to be able to last much longer.

The first part is the clock ticking on some of those rookie contracts.

Cole Anthony, Chuma Okeke and R.J. Hampton are under contract for two more seasons and will hit restricted free agency in the summer of 2024.

That summer will be one to earmark. That is the summer when the Magic’s financial flexibility likely ends.

Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs become restricted free agents in the summer of 2025. But the summer of 2024 is when they become extension eligible. And it certainly feels likely the Magic will try to extend Wagner if not both Wagner and Suggs.

Orlando will need to have its pecking order and books in order by the summer of 2024.

The extension question is indeed the big one going around the league right now, as John Hollinger of The Athletic noted recently. A lot of the big decisions teams are making throughout the league is figuring out how to extend their young players and just what value to place on them.

A lot of the league is talking about potential extensions for Jaylen Brown and R.J. Barrett as their teams weigh how to set up their futures. The league was still talking about the apparent weight and body fat clause put into Zion Williamson’s contract.

Some of those decisions are easier than others.

There is a lot of money available for teams to spend in the league. But the age-old issue of committing long-term money to uncertain future stars still persists. Locking up guaranteed money is always a risk because it locks up the roster and how it moves around it.

If there is one compliment no one can deny Weltman it is how he has structured his long-term contracts to create more long-term flexibility — whether that was frontloading deals for Nikola Vucevic or Wendell Carter or the guarantee thresholds he put in Jonathan Isaac’s contract.

This is not the only consideration though. The rest of the NBA sees some major changes on the horizon.

Part of the drama this offseason was the unexpected rise in the salary cap. Teams got an extra few million dollars more to work with this offseason. That number is expected to continue to increase somewhere near $10 million per year as the league completes its recovery from the COVID years and remains extremely profitable.

That is not likely to end anytime soon.

The league’s collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the 2024 season. It is not expected to be a long or contentious negotiation — the biggest sticking point, for now, seems to be luxury tax teams like the Golden State Warriors and LA Clippers trying to make the tax less onerous to keep their own players.

The reason for this is because the money is good right now in the league. And everyone is expecting it to continue flowing with a massive new TV deal expected in the summer of 2025.

If there is a summer everyone is preparing for from free agents to teams, it is likely that summer of 2025 where salaries are likely to take a big leap again — whether the league adopts a smoothing tactic this time around remains to be seen.

Everyone knows these two dates are on the horizon. And yes, that would mean Paolo Banchero hits restricted free agency in the summer of 2026 and is extension eligible in 2025.

Between Wagner, Suggs and Banchero, Orlando will likely be handing out some major contracts with that new TV deal in place. And that does not even entertain the idea of a supermax (or whatever replaces it in the new CBA) for any of them.

So, yes, Orlando has every right to be patient and figure out what the team has to work with. That is going to be a critical piece of this season.

But the clock is indeed ticking for the Magic to make their move. They are not going to be able to be patient for long. Their window to put together their team is small and the price tag is going to increase significantly within the next three years.

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That is the pressure to get things right. And it is a race against the clock to get on the right path.