The market will challenge Orlando Magic’s trade deadline strategy

The LA Clippers are among the team seeking big man help and could call the Orlando Magic for Mo Bamba. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The LA Clippers are among the team seeking big man help and could call the Orlando Magic for Mo Bamba. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

The NBA trade deadline is about buyers and sellers. It is about who has something they are willing to part with and who is willing to give up something of value to get it. It is about setting up the offseason and resetting teams or adding that last piece to get over the hump.

The Orlando Magic are a team that is squarely caught in the middle.

They are awash with cap room and draft assets that they do not possibly know what to do with. They have a young roster that needs space to grow and improve and continue the path the team has been on this year.

Orlando is not a typical seller in that sense then because they are not just looking to dump and reset as other teams in their position might be.

But the Magic are not likely looking to buy quite yet.

The team is on the periphery of the playoff chase but nowhere near close enough to make a big push to the middle. Unless a deal is going to make the team better for its long-term future, the team is not likely ready to push its chips into the table. Not that there are no needs for the team to fill.

The market itself likely views the Magic as sellers.

The Orlando Magic have plenty to be active with at the trade deadline. But what they are capable of doing and what they do will depend on market forces.

Teams are circling for veterans like Terrence Ross, Mo Bamba and, especially, Gary Harris hoping to wrest them from the Magic at a minimal cost.

This is probably the most important point of the trade deadline, it may not matter what the team wants if teams on the other side are after different things when they deal with the Magic.

On top of this, the postseason chase in both conferences is so tight that a lot of teams the market views as sellers are possibly not ready to sell because the carrot of the Play-In Tournament is still within reach. The Magic are certainly still in that group even if they have long-term thoughts about their team’s development and future and are not merely trying to make the postseason immediately.

This is the place where the Magic enter the trade market. And it is going to make it even harder for the team to make a trade to get value.

Pieces to deal

It is widely known who the Orlando Magic might trade — Marc Stein posted on his Substack reporting the Magic are “welcoming” trade offers on Terrence Ross, Gary Harris, Mo Bamba and R.J. Hampton. For the Magic, it is going to be about extracting the right value — whether that will be clearing the space for young players like Caleb Houstan to get his playing time or finding some asset to add to their coffers or roster.

Let’s just carve out one of these players and assess the market the Magic are entering if they are indeed shopping Bamba.

Bamba has had a rough season by many accounts as his averages dropped to 7.2 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game in just 17.2 minutes per game. His shooting has seemingly never been better with carer-high splits of 49.3/39.0/68.6 (only his free throw shooting is not at a career-high percentage).

Bamba is also on a team-friendly deal with just one more year remaining at $10.3 million and that last year is not even guaranteed. He is a low-risk option for a lot of teams who are looking to take advantage of a young player who has struggled to find his fit in Orlando’s ever-shifting landscape.

For now, though, Bamba has seemingly fallen out of the rotation. He has split backup center minutes with Moe Wagner but only checked in Wednesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers because of foul trouble (he got to play the backup center minutes in the second half because he largely played well).

A crowded market

For the Orlando Magic, if they are shopping Mo Bamba, the market is especially crowded in its search for big men. There are a lot of rosters looking for backup centers.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer noted league sources told him Bamba is readily available in a trade if the LA Clippers are looking for a cheaper option on the trade market. He noted the Clippers, in desperate need for a reliable backup center to ease the burden off Ivica Zubac, are likely priced out of chasing the bigger names on the market like John Collins or Myles Turner.

The Clippers are not the only team looking for some center help. The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for some center depth as they deal with Robert Williams’ return from his offseason surgery and their load management for Al Horford.

They are surely not the only ones. But there is a long list of players to get to before the Magic can get to Bamba.

The first domino that seems likely to fall in order to loosen the trade market among big men is San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl — the biggest domino the league is waiting on is from the Toronto Raptors who started a seven-game West Coast road trip Wednesday that will take them right up to the deadline.

Poeltl has agitated it seems to go to a winning team. But he is set to hit free agency this offseason, so there is some hesitation from teams looking to deal for him.

The other names on the center market include the aforementioned borderline stars in John Collins and Myles Turner. The motivation for either the Atlanta Hawks or Indiana Pacers to trade them considering where they sit in their respective postseason chases.

The Hawks certainly would be looking to add players of value to boost their team around Trae Young and Dejounte Murray and are not looking to sell. The Pacers are fading in the postseason chase, but that has never been a franchise to reset the whole thing and their surprising season has reset their priorities.

Minnesota Timberwolves backup big man Naz Reid has also gotten plenty of interest at the deadline. But he too will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, likely the reason why the Timberwolves have put him on the market.

As has Charlotte Hornets big man Mason Plumlee and possibly even young big man P.J. Washington (although there are indications the Hornets are going to extend him).

The point being all the aforementioned big men are likely ranked higher than Bamba in the market. We are talking about some near-All-Stars and then some solid rotation players.

The Magic’s advantage

The only advantage Mo Bamba might have is his contract situation. That extra year gives the Orlando Magic some leverage in negotiations because Bamba is not a flight risk in the offseason after the last quarter of the season following the trade deadline.

And further mitigating the risk, Bamba’s 2024 season is only partially guaranteed if things do not work out for the acquiring team.

That extra year also gives the Magic ability to walk away if there is not a valuable return and they can try again at the Draft or in the offseason.

But Bamba still has to be productive to gain value. And his salary number is going to be a difficult one to match, especially since the Magic have a completely full roster with few players the team wants to cut (R.J. Hampton is probably the only rostered player that the team could deem expendable to create a roster space for a trade).

For example, the Clippers’ only salary in Bamba’s range is Nicolas Batum (two years left with $11.7 million owed next year on a player option) and Ivica Zubac, the Clippers’ starting center who is definitely not on the block.

A Mo Bamba and R.J. Hampton package could be enough to get Luke Kennard if the Magic want to be aggressive in hunting for extra shooting. But are the Clippers willing to sacrifice their sharpshooter for that? Are the Magic willing to take on the next two years of Kennard’s contract at $15.4 million (team option on the 2025 season)?

There might be something there if the Magic want to take on some longer-term salary to bolster the roster. But how much draft capital would the Magic have to include to be that aggressive?

For the Celtics? They have no players in Bamba’s salary range aside from Williams. And that trade is not happening.

Finding players in that Bamba window is difficult although there are some intriguing ideas — such as a second draft for James Wiseman or grabbing Nerlens Noel from the Detroit Pistons. That probably deserves its own post.

What matters now is that the trade market is still fleshing itself out and this is why nothing really materializes until the deadline. Teams are still figuring out their needs and desires even with two weeks to go.

Next. Orlando Magic are learning to win more and more. dark

There are market forces though that will open the paths to a deal. And the Magic are still largely in a good position to find their deals. But they are at the whims of those market forces.

When the door opens, we will see how the Magic decide to act and push through it.