The Orlando Magic are a mere 2.5 games out of the final Play-In Tournament spot.
That needs to sink in as we get closer to Christmas. The team has work to do to overcome its injury-filled start, but the Magic are not out of postseason contention.
And the team is getting healthier with Wendell Carter and Gary Harris set to return Friday and (it sure seems like) Jonathan Isaac’s much-anticipated return on the horizon.
The Magic are starting to look like the team everyone imagined they could be when everyone looked at the roster on paper at the beginning of the season. The team’s stretch of winning seven of its past eight games has confirmed that with, as many players have noted, soldiers waiting to return.
These are indeed exciting times for the Magic. And it is not just a six-game win streak that has turned heads around the league.
That moment may be when a lot of teams around the league began to realize this young Magic team is not merely going to be a nice story for this year but increasingly a force to be reckoned with.
The Orlando Magic are a team everyone is watching on the court right now. But as the trade deadline approaches, they will also be a team capable of anything at the trade deadline.
As we are nearing the holidays and the NBA serious is about to get more serious, everyone is beginning to think about February’s trade deadline. The NBA’s annual gathering of executives at the G-League Showcase in Las Vegas has already started the rumor mill churning (hello, Trae Young and DeMar DeRozan rumors that may or may not be true).
Orlando will certainly be at the center of some of these rumors. And what is fascinating about the Magic is that they can do virtually anything they want with this opportunity as they continue to grow their team.
The Magic are a team who is looking to continue to improve. They are certainly now looking up at the standings rather than down at them. Their time to tank is clearly over at this point. They are too close to the Play-In Tournament and have the desire to teach this team to win to do a full sell-off.
But it is also clear the Magic are still more focused on growing and developing their young team. They are a team that could be next in line to make an “all-in” move for a star player or look to shore up their team with more veteran or near-star talent. Or they could play the seller and move off these veteran players and continue to collect assets.
There is nothing the Magic cannot do that would not make sense and continue to set up the team’s future.
As Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports reports, many teams believe the Magic could be looking to move several players — Terrence Ross, Gary Harris, Mo Bamba and R.J. Hampton — at the trade deadline. But nobody is still quite certain what the team will do or what they want — they may have moved off the first-round pick for Ross, but may still want that for Bamba, it is still the time for high asking prices.
The Magic themselves are in an interesting spot too.
They were a team many believed would still be in the development phase. They technically still are. But the team is suddenly in a position where it might make sense for the team to shore itself up for a playoff run.
Of course, that is not what the Magic want to do. And so it does not seem likely the team will be super aggressive at the trade deadline. They are interested in keeping the team stable and giving their young players every chance to succeed.
This season is not about this season. This season was always about setting up the team’s future and continuing the team’s overall growth and development.
So Orlando is not likely looking for a move to push them over the top into the postseason. The Magic want this team to figure out how to get over the hump themselves.
But Orlando too has to start thinking and making moves for its future. The team has to figure out how to set itself up for its future and to make moves to shore up its weaknesses moving forward.
This is again where the Magic are interesting.
According to Spotrac, the Magic have only $51.2 million in guaranteed salary for next season. That does not include non-guarantees for Gary Harris, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba among others. The going projection is the Magic will have $30 million in cap space for next season with the chance to open up somewhere near $55 million in cap room.
The Orlando Magic can essentially pick its moment to strike and use its trove of draft picks — the team owns all of its own draft picks plus the Chicago Bulls’ pick (top-4 protected) in the 2023 draft and a 2025 first-round pick from the Denver Nuggets as part of the Aaron Gordon trade.
The Orlando Magic do not have cap room at this trade deadline to absorb a big contract in the same way the Atlanta Hawks acquired Clint Capela back in 2020. But that could be something they remain open to in the offseason.
The Magic are a team that could take on a big salary without sending out a ton next summer. They could take on that big, long-term salary now and still add players in the offseason.
This creates incredible flexibility for the team as they plan their future. It is still just about finding the right player and having the right plan in place to help this team grow and develop.
There are a lot of paths this team could walk.
The Magic have largely worked at the trade deadline to be opportunistic.
They picked up oft-injured talented players like Markelle Fultz (2019) and Bol Bol (2022) at previous deadlines (they also completely sold off their team and hit the reset at the deadline in 2021). The Magic are not allergic to making deadline moves.
Right now, many fans believe the Magic need to be eyeing a consolidation trade to clear up some position battles and bolster the starting group. Everyone can sense the Magic have a move in them at some point either at the deadline or in the offseason.
Only time will tell what the Magic ultimately do at the deadline. But they could be sellers at the deadline and spin off some of their veteran players or excess. Or they could be buyers looking to support the team’s future in a big way.
The point for now at this early stage ahead of the trade deadline is that this team can do anything.
Just like on the court now, everyone is watching to see what the Magic will do.