Orlando Magic kept their “hard-earned” flexibility, but time is running out

Mar 3, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Orlando Magic guard Markelle Fultz (20) passes against the Charlotte Hornets during the first half at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 3, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Orlando Magic guard Markelle Fultz (20) passes against the Charlotte Hornets during the first half at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic know there is a ticking clock.

When president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman was asked about the impending changes to the CBA that included the addition of the second tax penalty apron before the draft, he ominously warned the CBA comes for everyone eventually.

The Magic’s run of promising rookie contracts are about to run out with Cole Anthony’s contract expiring at the end of the season. Their roster is seemingly overstacked with promising young prospects — especially at guard.

The Magic have valued their “well-earned,” as Weltman put it, financial flexibility. They have gone out of their way seemingly not to waste it and to sit and wait for the right opportunity to pounce.

Orlando has also repeatedly said it would not skip steps in the team’s development. The team has put its emphasis on the young players it has drafted and acquired. And the Magic are certainly in a position with how well they have grown to give these young players a chance to continue growing.

There is no sense of panic about this team. They still have time to let things develop.

The Orlando Magic once again valued financial flexibility and continuity in their offseason maneuvers. They are waiting for their time to strike, but that time is slowly running out.

But that time is running out. The CBA comes for everyone. And the Magic’s ability to maintain this financial flexibility is starting to run out. If Orlando intends to make a major move in free agency, next summer may well be their last chance to do so or else they will be aligning themselves for a chance and working with some hefty salaries down the road.

The Magic soon are going to have to lock themselves into being a certain type of team and begin to accelerate their rebuild in a significant way.

How fast they want to accelerate things might be dependent on how quickly they improve this season and reveal what they need. There was at least the hint through some reporting that the Magic were interested in tapping the gas a bit and exploring some bigger moves — there was also reporting the Magic were really trying to make a play to move up in the draft and solidify their young core.

Once again, nobody knows what the Magic intend to do. They always keep their cards extremely close to the vest.

But time is running out on several fronts. That did not increase the urgency to make roster changes and fundamental changes to this year’s team. But they are hanging in the background as the Magic face key decisions in the very near future.

For now, though, it seems the Magic are content to see what they have in their roster and give them the chance to grow. That is the central story of the season.

Still, it is not hard to see the clock winding. It is always winding and ticking down. And Orlando will have some big decisions to make.

They will have choices to make when it comes to Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz, both due extensions by the end of the season. Orlando could well look to take care of both before the start of the season, although it now looks more likely they both get a prove-it season this year.

That domino will next fall to Jalen Suggs, who is in a major prove-it year after two injury-filled seasons.

The CBA indeed comes for everyone. And the Magic’s cheap roster will not be cheap for much longer.

Neither will be the time to wait.

This is a season where Orlando wants to see what it has to work with. It wants to see its young players improve. That led the team to roll back much of their roster last year.

It is hard to argue the Magic did not improve. Its only subtractions were players like Michael Carter-Williams and Admiral Schofield, two players at the end of their bench. They replaced them with two rookies they expect to use in Anthony Black and Jett Howard. They added Joe Ingles as another rotation piece.

With fans already worrying about a potential log jam at guard, there was just a little space to use their cap room on anyone significant. That would go against the team’s mission to let their young players develop and lead this rebuild.

So Orlando has indeed successfully maintained enough flexibility to be players as soon as the trade deadline. This is the flexibility the Magic carefully guarded and the opportunity they have left open.

They have earned some praise for their cap management for sure.

John Hollinger of The Athletic praised teams like the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers for successfully spinning their cap room forward by adding a veteran player and a potential trade chip for the future.

And this part is important. The Magic spent most of their cap room on what appear to be fairly movable contracts because they are expiring. Expiring contracts might be making a comeback especially with teams perhaps being concerned about getting beneath the team’s tax apron.

That future though is coming into focus. The CBA comes for everyone.

And Orlando has the flexibility to make trades — Joe Ingles and Jonathan Isaac immediately become valuable trade chips because of their expiring contracts and the combined $28 million the two are set to make next year (that could be easily wiped away for the 2025 season).

That might be the larger point. Teams with massive cap room ended up not being spenders outside of the Houston Rockets adding Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks. And even those contracts have early outs for the young Rockets.

It appears the more valuable thing to do is align contracts for future trades. That is how major player movement is happening — to that point, Damian Lillard has essentially picked out the Miami Heat as his preferred destination to the exclusion of others in his trade request.

Orlando has put itself in a position to be a player in this trade market. And these seemingly large contracts are chess pieces in this long game.

The time to make these moves though must be sooner than later. Soon, the Magic will have to give out new contracts to Franz Wagner (summer of 2026) and eventually Paolo Banchero (summer of 2027). Those are big paydays down the road.

And that might be the expiration of the Magic’s clock for patience.

Clearly, the right opportunity has not come along to push those chips in. And so Orlando has valued its flexibility above everything else.

That patience can be annoying for fans eager to see tangible results. The Magic through internal development certainly could deliver tangible results and that return to the postseason. How the Magic improve from there will be the big question this season starts to ask.

And that may finally include making more aggressive offseason additions and disrupting some of the continuity this front office has consistently valued.

The CBA comes for everyone though. And the Magic’s clock is starting to tick down to when they will have to face the realities of the new rules around the league and make some serious commitments to their team.

Orlando Magic taking things slowly to build up rookies. dark. Next

That time is not now and so the Magic are waiting their time to push their chips in. When that is might be sooner than expected.