Orlando Magic’s trade focus should stay on building their future

Terrence Ross could be the Orlando Magic's most tradeable player when the trade season opens. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Terrence Ross could be the Orlando Magic's most tradeable player when the trade season opens. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

The NBA trade rumor mill is already starting to churn some even a week before the unofficial start of the trade season on Dec. 15 (the date players who signed in the offseason are available in deals).

A flurry of rumors from the struggling New York Knicks involving Evan Fournier, Immanuel Quickley and Cameron Reddish have gotten things going. There are people who widely believe the Atlanta Hawks may shop around John Collins in one of the bigger names that might be available on the trade market. The Toronto Raptors may not be too satisfied with being around .500 anymore. And Kenyon Martin Jr. still has a lingering trade request from the Houston Rockets.

There is surely more to come and the veracity of some of these rumors will come into question. There is a long way to go before the Feb. 9 trade deadline. But it is time to start thinking about trades and what every team is interested in doing either to help them get through this season or set themselves up for next season and the offseason.

Trade season is getting set to open in the NBA. For the Orlando Magic, it is a time to evaluate their roster and set themselves up for their future.

As the trade season gets ready to open, the Magic will be active in it.

They have veteran players on expiring contracts in Terrence Ross and Gary Harris (his second year is non-guaranteed) who could help a playoff team. The Magic could well extract some value for those veterans (probably more for Harris considering Ross’ struggles).

This will be a trade season though for the Magic to further set up their future.

Their only deals should be ones that help the team in the future — either by clearing a path for a young player like Caleb Houstan to get more playing time and a more secure role to finish the season or acquiring a player the team feels will be a long-term piece.

Orlando will again be a team with tons of cap room to spend next summer if the team so chooses. Spotrac estimates the team can free up $55.3 million in cap space by declining options, waiving guaranteed deals and excluding the team’s upcoming draft picks. But in reality, the Magic’s cap space for next year may be much more modest.

The Magic can essentially decide how they want to operate next summer — either at the cap or well below it. That gives the team a ton of flexibility as they explore the trade market and begin to plan what will push the team forward in 2024.

But that starts first with the team’s overarching goal for this season.

The Magic want to evaluate this team still. Orlando is still trying to figure out what it has in this roster. That was always the overarching goal for this season.

This season is not about this season. It is about learning what the team has, what can be further developed and, more importantly, what the team needs moving forward.

Learning that latter item is where the Magic will put their trade focus. If they feel they can add a long-term piece in a trade that they could not either through the draft or through free agency, then that is the kind of deal the team should pursue and execute. Orlando needs to do what it can to set itself up well for next season.

They are not going to be a team rushing to make a trade right when the doors open Thursday (or most doors open, Mo Bamba will not be trade-eligible until Jan. 15). The Magic are not going to be looking to swap young players for expiring contracts or looking to buy players on the market that will suddenly make them a contender.

They are also not going to be a team that is looking to make a deal to “save” their season. The Magic are more interested in watching their team develop than to make a futile push for the Play-In Tournament.

Those are not the team’s goals. The goals are still to develop this roster as is and begin to move the pieces around to help them win more.

The team is still positioned somewhat as a seller. They have some veteran players and interesting young players who might garner some interest on the market. But the Magic are not pure sellers. They should be looking for opportunities to improve their team moving forward.

That may make it tough for the team to pull off a deal unless the team is ready to make a big push. That was the kind of move the Magic did not seem willing to make in the offseason when there were at least a few fans and NBA people who thought the team should get into the Donovan Mitchell sweepstakes.

Paolo Banchero’s rookie year and Franz Wagner’s development may have sped up that timeline. And so the team may consider making that kind of splashy move now rather than waiting for the offseason. Or the team may look at this deadline as a chance to set the team up for that kind of move.

There are opportunities out there. And if Jeff Weltman has shown anything as a player on the trade market, it is that he can be very opportunistic in valuing undervalued assets.

The team could look to use its cap space at the deadline and make a move like the Atlanta Hawks made in acquiring Clint Capela at the deadline in Feb. 2020 as part of a massive four-team deal that helped the Houston Rockets clear cap space. They could look to add younger veterans in exchange for some of their veteran players.

The key though is the Magic need to make moves with purpose. They need to have an eye on their overall vision and future and make moves to bring that vision to life.

This is where the Magic are at in their development curve.

They are past the point of acquiring distressed assets — as they did successfully in acquiring Markelle Fultz and Bol Bol especially — to give them a chance to develop and grow that they were not getting in previous spots.

The team is at a point where it needs to acquire skill sets and players who can help the team get closer and push toward winning. They need to focus on bringing in players who will help this team start to shape and shift around winning.

That is the focus for the team as the trade season opens up this week.

Orlando may not make a move this year at the deadline. The heavier lifting may be done in the offseason when the team has more information about its current roster and how the pieces fit together or the glue they need to fit.

Next. Franz Wagner drives Orlando Magic toward consistency. dark

The Magic’s focus is on that big-picture need. And as they enter the trade market, this is where their focus will remain.