Orlando Magic have to balance identity in considering a big move

Nov 11, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) drives to the basket against Orlando Magic forward Caleb Houstan (2) during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 11, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) drives to the basket against Orlando Magic forward Caleb Houstan (2) during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are still coming down from the high of what they felt was a successful season. Well, as successful a season as a 34-win season can be.

The team took significant steps forward to be competitive enough to stay in the postseason race to the final week of the season. But there are still steps to go.

As promising as Paolo Banchero’s season was and Franz Wagner’s season was and the rest of the Magic’s season was, there is the realization they still did not make the postseason. They still need more.

And that is something the Magic may stew on this offseason as they assess how to make themselves better.

The Orlando Magic will have a lot to consider about the team they want to be as they try to improve their roster. And to be sure, they will be tempted and may actually pursue players like Deandre Ayton who seem available as other teams assess their needs.

With the Magic having flexible cap space for the next 2-3 years, they are in the prime position to make a move that may not only incrementally accelerate competitive ability but fall in line with the age timetable of their franchise cornerstone wings, Wagner and Banchero.

This gives Orlando the opportunity to flex some muscle and take on extra salary in trades. It is not yet clear how the team will use this. But Orlando should be looking for chances to improve the team, even if it means upgrading seemingly settled starters on the roster.

This is exactly what could put the Orlando Magic in the sweepstakes to acquire seemingly disgruntled Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton. Grabbing him would give the Magic a solid rim protector and a bigger paint presence. It is a chance to upgrade at center.

And already the national media seems to be circling not only a trade involving Ayton but have targeted the Magic as a potential landing spot — discussion on this matter has been brought up on both The Bill Simmons Podcast and The Lowe Post, although both settled on saying a trade was not worth pursuing for Orlando.

Since the Suns’ NBA Finals run in 2021, they have had an especially underwhelming last two seasons featuring two epic playoff flameouts.

With their fresh exit at the hands of Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, pundits are louder than ever that “heads will roll” in Phoenix, with likely moves away from their aged guard, Chris Paul, their disgruntled young center, Deandre Ayton, and even head coaching change.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN reported Friday after their elimination that the Suns are “expected to aggressively explore the trade market for him this summer” and that Ayton “would be excited about a fresh start with another franchise”.

If you have not been having a keen eye on Ayton and the Suns’ turmoil, it revolves around a well-documented “intense” Paul yelling and berating Ayton in practices and sidelines of games, with his coach at times doing the same.

They have struggled to get the most out of Ayton. And Ayton was clearly frustrated with his role in the offense especially as other players became bigger focal points.

Ayton is the kind of player who will certainly give the Magic something to think about at the very least.

Ayton is 7-foot, 250 pounds with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, 9-foot-3 standing reach, and a vertical leap documented to be 43.5 inches. At his apex, his vertical reach would be about 12 feet, 10 inches into the air. For reference, Dwight Howard’s vertical leap was 12 feet, 6 inches.

As a physical specimen he has been compared to Spurs legend David Robinson, Ayton’s vertical threat in lob situations along with an interior presence next to ball hawks like Fultz and Suggs would be a lockdown dream.

There is of course the potential of adding a player like Ayton. But the Magic would have to balance that with a consideration of whether he is a better option than their current center in Wendell Carter.

Both players are 24 and have had to find their way in the league. Carter’s value over Ayton would be his long-distance shooting, though it was league average percentage from 3, and the threat that he would take those shots did allow for spacing.

Carter also has an advantage with his defensive consistency. Although it is easy to see why Ayton with his athleticism and shot-blocking potential might still have a bit more defense in him to bring out.

This season, Ayton, despite all those frustrations and helping the Suns through several early season injuries, still turned in a solid statistical season, averaging 18.0 points per game, 10.0 rebounds per game and 0.8 blocks per game in 67 games. He averaged 13.2 field goal attempts per game on top of this. He got his touches around the basket and a steady diet of shots, mostly inside.

Defense is one of his weak areas, however. The Suns had a 113.2 defensive rating with Ayton on the floor compared to 112.3 for the season in full.

By comparison, Carter averaged 15.2 points per game, 8.7 rebounds per game and 0.6 blocks per game. He shot just 10.8 attempts per game, including 3.5 attempts from three, an area that Ayton simply does not venture.

Defensively, Carter was the Magic’s rock. The Magic posted a 111.4 defensive rating with Carter on the floor, compared to 113.4 total.

Carter may not have the same raw athleticism or talent, or even the same size that Ayton has to take up space.

Wendell Carter has proven himself defensively but a defensive schematic change for Deandre Ayton with Jamahl Mosley’s influence could squeeze more out of Ayton who had seasons early in his career averaging more than 1.5 blocks per game.

Ayton can be a much better defender.

As Banchero and Wagner begin to have a higher usage in orchestrating the pick and roll Ayton would be a good dump off target, even showing a soft touch in the midrange. Carter has stretched the floor but Carter can also settle in for those jumpers. One of Carter’s points of contention is his struggle at times to get shots around the basket consistently as a center. Ayton has no problem at that.

Wagner’s already sturdy long-range game could open up even more shots as teams would be forced to either follow Ayton leaving Wagner or risk an easy dunk demoralizing their interior, this simple addition may make Wagner able to have Booker-like offensive explosions from the perimeter.

While Paolo Banchero could add to his shot-creation and ball handling as Blake Griffin did in the “Lob City” era of the Clippers, Ayton could play any role the Magic would need depending on personnel.

To that point, Ayton is certainly a bigger lob threat than Carter. Something that can make a difference in a playoff series.

In other words, while there is a lot to consider, the idea is not one the Magic should dismiss entirely. Even if Ayton is coming off a bad year — they certainly should negotiate from a position of power.

Then there are the contract considerations.

Carter is on an extremely team-friendly deal that will pay him $35.9 million in the next three years. Ayton will be entering the second year of his deal which will pay him $102.0 million over the next three years. A staggering contract but one that Orlando could handle as when it ends is when likely Franz and Paolo’s max extensions would begin.

A trade like this — and any trade that would seemingly upgrade the Magic’s starting group — really becomes a question of philosophy and a sign of what the Magic think they need to improve and what they think they can do without or cover in the long run.

Deandre Ayton certainly has not matched public expectations after being the first overall pick in 2018 ahead of Luka Doncic and Trae Young, his value is likely at its lowest coming off this run paired up with him also currently dealing with a rib contusion which took him out of Game 6.

Ayton has the potential to continue being an efficient 18-plus point scorer, double-digit rebounder, and a better shot blocker as he ages. He could be a strong pick-and-roll partner for the Magic’s big forwards, screening players open and becoming a bigger rim-running threat.

What the Magic would have to consider in their internal discussions is if they believe Carter has reached his ceiling vs. if Ayton has.

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This is essentially the debate for the Magic for any big trade they might try to swing.