Orlando Magic are the Boogeyman of the NBA’s trade deadline

Everyone is trying to connect Fred VanVleet to the Orlando Magic. But the rumor really speaks to the Magic's buying power when they are ready. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Everyone is trying to connect Fred VanVleet to the Orlando Magic. But the rumor really speaks to the Magic's buying power when they are ready. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

There is enough smoke billowing out of the Fred VanVleet rumors involving the Orlando Magic that there has to be a fire somewhere.

VanVleet is a solid player and a near-All-Star guard who would certainly help the Magic. He is averaging a cool 19.6 points per game albeit on 48.6 percent effective field goal percentage, his worst efficiency since his rookie season.

Maybe that has to do with the Toronto Raptors’ overall struggles more than him. Maybe that has to do more with his age as the 6-foot-1 guard turns 29 later this month and is set to get a big contract in free agency this offseason.

There are still plenty of dominoes to fall before the trade deadline is up at 3 p.m.

And the stakes are higher than ever now that Kevin Durant is on the move to the Phoenix Suns. With several big moves occurring in the Western Conference especially and a very tight playoff race, things are surely not done. A lot of teams are going to feel the need to stay up with the new competition.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors only partially answered their questions about what they will do, putting some chips in to acquire Jakob Poeltl, one of the most coveted big men reportedly available on the trade market. That does not make the picture any clearer for what they plan to do with upcoming free agents in Fred VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr., two reported Magic targets.

That does not even get into how much more desperate teams might be to try to get a key role player for that last little boost in the postseason. Resisting calls to deal Gary Harris may become tougher if those offers increase.

Everything has changed in the last 12 hours.

The NBA trade deadline has put a lot of teams in the spotlight. Lurking in the background is the Orlando Magic, a team the league senses is ready to strike in a big way.

Has the Orlando Magic’s position? What are the Magic’s goals for this trade deadline?

Or have the Magic always been a team lurking in the background? A team that is not ready to push its chips in yet, but everyone senses they will soon.

It is not so far-fetched to guess these rumors about VanVleet and the Magic’s offseason plans are coming from outside the Magic organization — they do not leak anything and media reports often get their thinking completely wrong (see: Smith Jr., Jabari).

As educated as our guessing can be, the Magic are more likely to do something none of us have even thought about at the deadline or in the transaction period.

Instead, it feels like the Magic are being used for negotiating leverage. The rumors attaching the Magic to shooters and All-Star-level shooting guards, two big needs for the Magic in their next phase, are more about scaring teams into increasing their offers.

The Magic are one of the few teams that will have salary cap room this offseason. But unlike many of the other teams with projected cap space this offseason — the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers (they ate into their space with the Myles Turner extension), Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder and Charlotte Hornets — the Orlando Magic are a team that could aim to be aggressive with that cap space.

The Magic are a young team primed to take a major step and with their cache of draft picks and cap room, whether that is going after free agents or whether that is putting together a major trade for a disgruntled star or for a team that is ready to hit reset.

At this trade deadline, the Magic’s role is to play the Boogeyman. They are the ones teams are using to scare other teams into upping their offers because the Magic are lurking with money to spend and an attractive young roster to offer free agents.

Orlando is the team everyone is waiting to make its big move and push its chips in.

Everyone knows this Magic team is coming.

That is thanks to the development of young players like Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner into future stars. That is thanks also to the Magic’s 17-13 record in their last 30 games which has helped them climb out of a rough 5-20 start.

Orlando has shown enough promise even if the team is clearly incomplete. The team will have to start consolidating its vision and improving skill players off the bench to take that next step. That next step very well could happen this offseason with a major trade or free agent signing.

And everyone around the league knows it.

The assets the team has put them in this position. Orlando has its two best players on rookie contracts plus several contracts with team options and non-guarantees that give the team ultimate flexibility.

As things stand now, the Magic have $67.2 million in guaranteed salary committed to next season. That does not include the non-guaranteed salaries for Jonathan Isaac’s $17.4 million, Gary Harris’ $13 million or Mo Bamba’s $10.3 million. And it does not include whatever draft pick the Magic have.

Even if the Magic pick up the guarantees for those three players, they are still looking at $26.1 million in cap room for next year at the projected $134 million cap. Again, not including the salary for the two first-round picks that are coming in.

That is not enough money without some maneuvering to sign VanVleet as many around the league seem to expect at the number he is expecting. But it gives the team significant flexibility to make trades and take in more money than they send out.

The point is if Orlando wants to throw some money around, the team has the ability to do it. And the Magic certainly have the potential to be a team that can take that next step with a big trade that pushes the team closer to true contention.

Thus all the smoke coming out of these VanVleet rumors, even if that is not where the Magic ultimately turn.

Orlando has always been in a weird spot when it comes to this deadline. The team, sitting three games back of the final play-in spot with a young, growing roster, is clearly not in a position to make a short-term move that gets them into the playoffs. President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has said he will not cut corners on this rebuild or chase the “sugar high” of a postseason spot.

The Magic are right to let this thing grow naturally. This is why the market is treating the team like it is a seller. It is why the Magic are going to struggle to get back equal value for expiring contracts like Mo Bamba and Terrence Ross and why, until this arms trace began, Gary Harris was probably not getting enough for the team to give up its only reliable veteran.

The league knows this too.

But once the Magic turn into buyers, everything is going to flip. When Orlando starts to hit the market more aggressively looking for help and looking to add key support players to make this a playoff team, they are going to be a force to reckon with.

This trade deadline is previewing that. The Magic are starting to be used in these trade rumors because everyone knows what a threat they will be when they hit the market.

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Soon that monster will become a reality. And Orlando is going to put itself in a position to make a power move and really improve this roster.