Alas, the NBA Trade Deadline came and went for the Orlando Magic in a relatively uneventful fashion.
The Magic were able to complete one deal, sending Mo Bamba to the Los Angeles Lakers for Patrick Beverley (later waived) and a second-round pick. Many Magic fans were frustrated based on the talent that was acquired in the deal.
But clearly, the Magic’s front office has a plan in place. The steps taken during the deadline were to acquire a future asset that will pay off in dividends if used correctly.
Cap space is that asset.
The Orlando Magic spent their trade deadline clearing up their roster and freeing up space to set up a potentially big splash this offseason.
The buyouts of Terrence Ross and Patrick Beverley will give the Magic cap room to sign free agents this offseason or next. Orlando is looking ahead to potentially spend substantial money in free agency to acquire talent to complement the roster, which has not been a normal procedure for this franchise as of late.
It gives the team a ton of flexibility to build upon this roster. It is an opportunity the team has not had in a long time. And it was one the team needs to manage correctly if history is any guide.
The last free agency splash the Magic made was in 2016 when then-general manager Rob Hennigan signed four free agents in an offseason when the league saw an unprecedented cap spike. Orlando spent $85 million over five years on Evan Fournier, $72 million over four years on Bismack Biyombo, $29 million over four years on D.J. Augustin and $15 million for one year on Jeff Green.
It did not work, to say the least.
The Biyombo and Fournier contracts proved to be overvalued based on the talent produced on the court. Bismack Biyombo was later traded for Timofey Mozgov, who played a total of zero games in Magic pinstripes.
The Magic saw a decent return on investment in Fournier including two trips to the postseason in 2019 and 2020, but that group ran its course. Orlando only managed to get two second-round picks for Fournier as his contract expired and the Magic set about resetting their team.
The team fired Hennigan before the end of the 2017 season and started fresh with new management.
Since taking over, president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond worked to clean their books and never made much of a splash. Their free agency strategy focused on retaining their own players — re-signing Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross most notably following the 2019 playoff run — and looking for underappreciated players on the trade market.
The front office has been able to turn over the roster effectively and to bring in fresh, young talent on rookie and team-friendly deals. There are currently four players making more than $10 million per year, but no one making more than $18 million, per HoopsHype.
The question remains, will the major splashes start this offseason?
Orlando already has several players that seem to be a part of the core moving forward. Playing time will continue to be scarce as the team regains its health.
The team will continue to look to grow together. Orlando can already call this season a success even at 24-35 and on the outskirts of the postseason chase. The Magic are one of the youngest teams in the league and can feel like with some good health, they can challenge for a playoff spot next year. Even with what the team has.
Just because the team has money to spend does not mean it will spend it. The team could hold off buying free agents and see where this group can go next season. But Orlando clearly has ambitions beyond just a playoff cameo. And that will require changes — especially as the team’s rookie contracts get set to expire and they have to make some real financial decisions on key players.
The strategy Orlando decides could be more defined before free agency during the NBA Draft in June. The Magic have two first-round picks that should be essential in the team’s impending success.
There is a lot to balance. And coach Jamahl Mosley will have a difficult time offering ample playing time for two top picks in addition to the other young players on the roster. The roster is already young and is playing through mistakes to develop cohesion.
It certainly feels like the Magic are due to consolidate some of their young players to give the roster some more clarity and to help it improve. That could be done in trades this offseason or it could be done in free agency.
Orlando could look to trade up in a top-heavy draft to take a prospect that the Magic love. Or the Magic could ultimately pivot and look to capitalize on their assets by trading their draft capital for a high-caliber veteran on draft night.
Regardless of which avenue they choose to pursue, the team has options.
The Magic should identify which decision will best compete for a playoff seed next season, which seems to be a realistic goal.
Orlando is not finished building the roster to complement this young nucleus, and fans should be excited. The team is currently pushing for a playoff berth to play meaningful basketball in late spring.
It has been a long time since the Magic have gained momentum toward true contention. Free agency in the next two offseasons could see All-Stars wanting to come to Central Florida. The Magic are one of the few clubs that have significant cap space to sign veterans in the coming seasons.
The fun is just beginning and Magic fans should be thankful that the front office decided to rebuild the roster two deadlines ago.