The Orlando Magic find themselves in a completely different place than they were even a few weeks ago, thanks in large part to six straight wins against difficult opponents.
That run came to an end in frustrating fashion against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night, a one-point loss in a game that was there for the taking. But this group will bounce back, and quickly, thanks to the play of budding stars Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner.
With news coming out that Chuma Okeke has had surgery on his knee and will be gone at least a month, chatter around the Magic getting involved in trades is going to increase. Both as sellers, but maybe even as buyers in this market.
It is no secret that the Orlando Magic have struggled for quality guard depth for years. But could Fred VanVleet of the Toronto Raptors be the answer?
Scary as it is to push their chips in any direction, there will come a point where the Magic have to do something to sort out some of the questions regarding this rotation. On paper, players like Mo Bamba, R.J. Hampton and perhaps even Chuma Okeke are going to struggle to make a big impact here in future.
This is where Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet enters. He is an undersized guard, but one who was an All-Star last season as he averaged 20.3 points and 6.7 assists while shooting 37.7 percent from deep.
On a recent episode of The Bill Simmons podcast, (starting around the 48:45 mark) Simmons touted the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks as teams who could strike now in the trade market to ensure they move up the standings.
After watching the Orlando Magic beat his Boston Celtics twice in three nights, there may have been some recency bias attached.
And there is at least some backing to the Magic’s interest in VanVleet — Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report suggested a young team like the Magic could be a team that gets into the running should the Raptors make him available.
But Orlando is only ever going to be a destination for free agents when they are close to contention. Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner ensure that destination is closer than it has been for a long time, while wildcards like Bol Bol have helped immensely.
But a proven offensive guard like VanVleet could work wonders with this group. In the last seven games (in which the Magic have gone 6-1), they have ranked a fantastic sixth in offensive rating (116.0). On the season as a whole, they are instead sixth from bottom at 110.3.
In VanVleet’s last three years in the league (and five out of a possible seven), the Raptors have ranked higher than 110.3 in offensive rating when he has been on the court. You could argue that is cherry-picking statistics, but you also need to consider this.
It has long been accepted that the Raptors have attempted to build a roster built mostly out of long and interchangeable players who can guard multiple positions. Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby the most sought after examples of this.
VanVleet was the outlier, and the reason he has had the success with the Raptors that he has is because his defensive inefficiencies and lack of height are masked really well by his teammates on the court.
If there is one other roster in the league built like this right now, it is the Magic.
They have got a glut of long big men in Bol Bol, Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter and Jonathan Isaac. Chuma Okeke is a decent wing defender, and both Markelle Fultz and Jalen Suggs are above average defenders as guards.
The Raptors are 13-18, and look like a franchise that could get into business if the price is right. The Orlando Magic have all of their own first round picks, as well as a top-four protected pick coming from the reeling Chicago Bulls next summer.
In Mo Bamba, Chuma Okeke, R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris and former Raptor Terrence Ross, they have both young players to take a flier on, and sharpshooting veterans to pick from, depending on what direction the Raptors feel like going.
You could even think about putting Isaac in a potential deal, although to give up on him when he is close to finally taking to the court again could backfire massively.
There is also something to be said for the poor injury luck of the Magic’s guard rotation, and how it has forced others to step up.
With Jalen Suggs currently out, Markelle Fultz only back (and looking fantastic) from a toe issue and Cole Anthony having missed some time already this year as well, players like Franz Wagner and even Bol Bol have stepped up to create and handle the ball more.
To add a veteran like VanVleet would negate this and perhaps stagnate some growth, but what are the Magic waiting for? The six-game win streak showed they are too good to tank properly at this point, and the play-in tournament is back to being an outside possibility.
Mortgaging their future on VanVleet is not even necessarily the endgame here either, as he has a player option on next season (which at more than $22 million he is likely picking up), before hitting unrestricted free agency the following summer.
Even if a max deal for VanVleet makes no sense at that point, he would be more than a glorified rental. Of the players mentioned above, who would fans really feel torn up about losing?
The aim of the game is for the Magic to now start to add proven quality to the exciting youngsters they have in place. To do so at the position of guard also makes sense looking at the makeup of this roster.
VanVleet fits with the pieces the Magic would have on the court and would be an excellent pairing next to Fultz and leading some second units. So, what are they waiting for?