Orlando Magic should still value flexibility as they aim to improve roster

Jan 7, 2023; San Francisco, California, USA; Orlando Magic power forward Wendell Carter Jr. (34) controls the ball against Golden State Warriors power forward Draymond Green (23) during the third quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 7, 2023; San Francisco, California, USA; Orlando Magic power forward Wendell Carter Jr. (34) controls the ball against Golden State Warriors power forward Draymond Green (23) during the third quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are in a promising and interesting position.

They are optimistic about the way their season went and the improvement their young team showed. Orlando appeared to have drafted its central star in last year’s draft with Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero. And they have made postseason expectations for themselves.

Orlando was close to making the Play-In Tournament last year but still knows it has a ways to go. So Banchero’s proclamation — that is surely shared by several players within the organization — that next year is “Playoffs or bust” is not merely a rallying cry for internal improvement but a seeming directive for the front office.

The rebuild phase of this project is now over. The Magic expect to make winning the main priority starting next season. And that necessarily puts a lot of focus on what moves the team will make this offseason to take that final step up from a nice, young team to a playoff team.

Every offseason is going to feel this pressure. Already there is plenty of speculation about what the Magic might do with the excess cap room they have.

The Orlando Magic are expected to make a push to the postseason. That will require them to add to their roster. But they should maintain their flexibility as they add ot the roster.

As Orlando considers what comes next, the team should not feel like it has to go all in.

The Magic need to be aggressive and try to improve their team. It is time to take a step forward and standing pat again is not going to lead to meaningful progress.

Internal development is the Magic’s best path forward, but soon the team will have to make a bigger push and take a gamble.

But that time is not likely now. Orlando needs to improve and look to add to the roster. But flexibility should still matter. The last thing that should happen to the Magic is they box themselves into a limited roster.

That appears to be what the Magic plan to do and what many around the league expect them to do.

Despite noise trying to push the Magic to make a splashy move immediately, the team’s focus is likely on adding depth to the roster and shoring the team up for a postseason battle.

Jeff Weltman has valued continuity throughout his tenure with the team. Sometimes too much. The criticism of him during the 2019 and 2020 offseason after playoff berths was that he stuck with his roster when it clearly needed more.

He ultimately reset the roster at the trade deadline in 2021. And now Weltman has again started to build his roster and rebuild consistency with the players on the team. The Magic are not about to break up the team just to break up the team. Especially after the team experienced success during the 2023 season.

But Orlando needs to make changes and start setting their team up for success. That means putting aside some development projects for consistency.

The temptation to make a headline-making move will be there.

National pundits have bounced around a Wendell Carter-for-Deandre Ayton trade for a few weeks now, especially as the Phoenix Suns started to flame out of the postseason.

The same started to happen when people looked for ways to help the Golden State Warriors get out of their hole after their disappointing second-round exit. Jordan Poole has been a target for a Warriors trade, especially as they look to reduce their record payroll and tax bill.

These are the kind of trades the Magic should be thinking about. There are plenty of teams that will try to retool after disappointing postseason showings. And Orlando should be targeting these players to find upgrades to their lineup.

But unless it is a clear upgrade, it is not worth risking the team’s financial flexibility and opportunity to wait for the right move to improve the roster.

A look at the contract situations from both Poole and Ayton reveals why that kind of clear salary dump would be a huge risk.

Poole is owed $128 million over the next four years with that fresh extension kicking in next season. While he averaged more than 20 points per game and would fill a need for a perimeter scorer to fill that shooting guard spot, his disappearance in the postseason on a title-contending team spoke volumes.

So did Ayton’s disappearance during the Suns’ playoff run.

Add on top that Ayton is owed $102.0 million over the next three years, and it is hard to imagine he would make a better option for this Magic team than Carter.

Carter may not have the scoring numbers Ayton does, but he screens and defends just as well with the ability to spread the floor as a shooter.

Whether those are good moves or not — and they do at least make some sense so it is worth a debate — comes down to the kind of team the Magic want to commit to.

Acquiring a player like Poole or Ayton at this point means the Magic are pot committed to the team they field in 2024. They lose the financial flexibility they have carefully curated.

Orlando is one of the few teams with cap room this offseason, although it is not much. Their roughly $22 million in cap room will give them the chance to add a few players to their rotation but would also allow them to absorb extra salary in trades if they want.

The Magic have the flexibility to do a whole lot this offseason. Including extending their own players, looking for higher priced players in trades or attacking free agency aggressively. Orlando could even do what the team did last year and defer cap space to next year by signing short-term and non-guaranteed deals.

But that time of financial flexibility is starting to run out.

Orlando will have some contract decisions to make in the very near future. Markelle Fultz’s contract expires at the end of the 2024 season. That is also when Cole Anthony will become a restricted free agent.

The Magic are going to have some players taking up some big salary. But even then, finding the right players who can contribute on reasonable, easily movable contracts is the ideal for a team in the Magic’s position.

Orlando taking on players who are deeply flawed but making $30 million per year would be a huge detriment to the team. That is the kind of move that prevents a team from growing — this is also the reason the Orlando Magic are not likely to pursue a deal for the Miami Heat’s Duncan Robinson as is also rumored.

What matters for the Magic right now is the quality of the player they are adding. They need to look for upgrades to players already in the rotation. If a player is not a sizable upgrade over what they have already, that is not a deal they should pursue, especially if it clogs their books.

Orlando has to consider moves that will improve its roster. And likely the player the team may actually pursue or the deal the team makes — whether for a starter-quality player or to bolster their bench — has not emerged in reporting. Certainly few national outlets are plotting for ways to make the Magic better, so beware those trade “rumors” or speculations at the moment.

But the Magic are not likely to risk the flexibility to do anything this offseason. They are not about to push their chips into the middle or put themselves in a position they cannot easily get themselves out of.

With how open this team’s future is, Orlando is more likely to keep those options over as they determine just how ready their team is for postseason competition.

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The Magic have to make some moves to improve. They have to add to this roster. Standing pat is not a solution for this offseason. But going all in on a big-money move is not quite right either unless it is such a clear upgrade that it elevates the Magic to their next level.