Center is Orlando Magic’s biggest need at the trade deadline

Wendell Carter Jr. of the Orlando Magic (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Wendell Carter Jr. of the Orlando Magic (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

With the NBA’s trade deadline edging closer, it is becoming apparent that the Orlando Magic are not likely to be buyers. They may yet be sellers in the form of trading Terrence Ross, but even that is far from guaranteed.

To give the organization credit, they keep their business in-house and leaks have been non-existent from them since this front office took over.

They have quietly built one of the best young teams in the entire league. And it is likely they do not want to disrupt this growth for the duration of this season. To see what they are working with heading into the summer.

So while the Orlando Magic may not do anything and watch the Feb. 9 trade deadline come and go, that does not mean we cannot examine what their biggest need this deadline is.

Great as it is to have Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz to build around, this is a group that is far away from being the finished article.

In fact, they fail to break the top 20 in five of the major traditional and advanced statistical categories, which, in broad strokes, does not bode well for the chances of making the play-in.

Right now they rank 25th in 3-point shooting percentage (31.1 percent), 20th in rebounds per game (42.6), a really poor 27th in assists per game (22.7), 24th in offensive rating (111.7) and 24th again in defensive rating (114.7).

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There is plenty of work to be done then.

But which is the greatest position of need for them? What kind of realistic player, if they were so inclined, would it make sense to target to add to the rotation for the stretch run?

Scoring and creation have been two sore points for the franchise for what feels like forever. But Banchero and Wagner alleviate that pain.

You can never have enough scoring, but those aforementioned two, Gary Harris, Fultz and the enigma that is Bol Bol mean putting up points is not the problem it once was.

Adding a legitimate star, great as that always seems, does not appear to be the move right now either. Both because a truly top-level talent does not seem to be available, and because Banchero could yet be that guy. He is having one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory.

We have argued the case for trading for both Trae Young (who now seems to be the next star who could ask out of his current situation according to some reports) and Fred VanVleet (a free agent for this offseason whom the Toronto Raptors could look to deal in the next few weeks) here before. But it does not feel like the right time to go all in on another star to pair with Banchero and Wagner.

With scoring/creation on the up and the timing off for a star, what about their frontcourt rotation?

We are getting warmer. But right now Wendell Carter is being backed up by Bol Bol, who is regressing at a worrying rate as the season progresses, and the energetic Moe Wagner.

Most importantly though, Jonathan Isaac is back and he should be given the time to see what he can blossom into. Although it does not seem like he is a long-term option at center either.

Running parallel to this, are the various rotation players the Magic have and who still deserve the opportunity to show what they can become. Caleb Houstan is one such name (he was assigned back to Lakeland on Friday so he can continue to get playing time). And Chuma Okeke will join him once he is back from injury in proving his worth and looking for time on the court.

A pair of forwards who tick a lot of boxes when filling out a winning roster. In terms of backcourt depth, it is far too early to throw in the towel on Jalen Suggs, while Cole Anthony has had moments of energetic quality throughout this season.

This all sounds very positive, and yet the correlation between having tons of players competing for minutes and topping some of the various statistical categories is not there. We know head coach Jamahl Mosley constantly preaches getting the defensive end right, so let us examine this further.

Mo Bamba was one player we did not mention when speaking about frontcourt depth. His future surely lies elsewhere, although it may be the summer before this happens. There is little doubt then, that more interior help on the defensive end is the most pressing need.

The Magic are capable of being league-average defensively, and both Wendell Carter and Moe Wagner do all they can in the paint to make that a reality.

But looking at the rebounding numbers alone, that is simply not good enough and indicative of the lethargic play we see from this group from time to time. Bol is a negative defender, and so too is Bamba.

So a backup center who is attainable should be the goal if the Magic do get active at the deadline. Even if it takes one or both of Ross and Bamba to get that done.

Isaiah Hartenstein of the New York Knicks is one such name that was thrown out there recently. His time in New York has not gone as expected, and he is out of favor there. There was at least some reporting connecting Hartenstein to the Magic in the offseason before he signed his deal with the Knicks.

It remains to be seen whether they would be interested in trying to reclaim Bamba, or want a pure shooter in Ross.

But this is the kind of cheap option the organization should be looking to bring in if they are serious about the play-in tournament and beyond. They should be because rival teams like the Indiana Pacers are free-falling due to injury.

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The Magic are now too good to be bad enough for a high lottery pick in this year’s draft, so getting out ahead of filling out their roster in the summer by adding a backup center now is not a bad idea.

It is far from glamorous, but these are the kinds of decisions the front office need to make, and even more crucially when to make them, that will take the Magic to the next level. It is why a move before the deadline seems unlikely, but is far from certain.