Orlando Magic will soon let themselves be heard on trade market

Jan 10, 2023; Portland, Oregon, USA; Orlando Magic power forward Paolo Banchero (5) shoots the ball over Portland Trail Blazers power forward Drew Eubanks (24) during the second half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 10, 2023; Portland, Oregon, USA; Orlando Magic power forward Paolo Banchero (5) shoots the ball over Portland Trail Blazers power forward Drew Eubanks (24) during the second half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

The rumor mill around the NBA is churning hard with just one week to go before training camps start.

Damian Lillard seems like the last piece of offseason business left as far as major moves as the Portland Trail Blazers try to find a suitable home for their superstar player — and he continues to insist on targeting only the Miami Heat as his preferred landing spot.

Nobody seems to know what will happen on that front. But there do appear to be other teams trying to test the waters for him.

Who that is — and who that “mystery” team from last week was — there seems to be a lot more reporting on Lillard that suggests a deal is closer than it has been for a while. Time is running out as certainly nobody wants to interrupt training camp to integrate a new player or deal with the frustration of players moving in and out beyond the Exhibit 10 contracts that frequently move on and off the roster.

The Orlando Magic are not expected to make any major moves before training camp. But they keep getting mentioned and the rest of the league seems to believe they will be involved soon.

The latest on that front came from an article by Michael Grange of SportsNet in Toronto detailing how the Toronto Raptors have tried to get themselves into the Damian Lillard conversations — just as they seemingly tried to get into the Kevin Durant conversations last year at the deadline — and much of that feeling was confirmed by Marc Spears of ESPN who reported the Raptors are considered the favorites to land Lillard at this point.

The Magic are not likely the team chasing after Lillard. They are not likely a team chasing anybody at this point.

President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman spent the offseason largely shoring up the group that improved on their record by 12 wins last year to reach 34 wins. The bet seems to be that this young team will improve internally more than anything the Magic could have gotten externally.

There are clearly opportunities to make deals though. The Magic are a team that gets at least some consideration for the kinds of major trades that move the needle in national conversations. Nobody is picking the Magic to make these deals, yet their name keeps popping up in reports surrounding these mega deals.

Look no further than the article from Grange detailing the Raptors’ interest where he inserted the paragraph:

"“By all accounts, the Raptors seem at least reasonably confident they can maneuver their way to the front of the line, past the Miami Heat — Lillard’s preferred destination — and ahead of a team such as the Brooklyn Nets, who have the draft picks to get something done if Portland is open to taking on the last two years of Ben Simmons’ contract. The Orlando Magic could also make themselves heard, per sources.”"

It is hard to know what this means. Almost certainly, the Magic are not in contention for Lillard. They are not quite on Lillard’s timeline to compete for a championship immediately despite their gobs of young talent.

They would likely be more like the Cleveland Cavaliers adding Donovan Mitchell — Damian Lillard would certainly help the team rise up a level on the Eastern Conference standings, but the team would still be short on the experience most teams need to compete at the highest level.

Still, this report and the involvement the Magic seem to have in most major rumors for the past year — remember all the Fred VanVleet smoke? — seems to beg the question:

When will the Magic make themselves heard?

Orlando continues to be something of a boogeyman in so many trade discussions. This is not merely fans coming up with some trade idea thinking the Magic need to do something just to get noticed. These reports are continuously coming from legitimate reporters who seem to have sources who believe the Magic could get involved.

It feels like sharks circling prey waiting for the right time to strike as much as anything else. Orlando has its cache of draft picks, several young players all on affordable contracts and the bright kind of future for the team to push its chips in the middle.

The question is really when will the Magic take that gamble?

They are certainly nearing something of an inflection point.

Point guards Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony will be free agents this coming summer. Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner come off their rookie contracts in the summer of 2025. Both Wendell Carter and Paolo Banchero hit free agency in 2026.

Over the next three offseasons, the Magic will face critical decisions on several players on the roster as they begin to shape and form their team. Almost certainly Wagner and Banchero will get something near max extensions when their time comes.

And so it would seem the Magic are spending this season trying to figure out exactly what they will need to maximize the two young players they are preparing to invest in heavily. They are still gathering their information to figure out the kind of players they need.

Organizationally, the Magic believe young players need stability. That already makes it unlikely they will make a deal — I also doubt they will look to be aggressive at the deadline regardless of where they stand in the Eastern Conference pecking order.

But there is no standing still. Eventually, the Magic will have to make their push and find the players to complete and elevate their roster. It will happen sooner than later. Orlando will have to start completing its roster and complementing these players as soon as this coming offseason.

That is still a full 82-plus games away though. There will be a lot of things learned and discovered in the next calendar year before the Magic get to draft night.

What everyone seems to be waiting and standing by is for the Magic to make that move. They know the Magic have all the tools and capability to get involved in these conversations.

Everyone seems to be expecting Orlando to get in on these conversations very soon. The question is less when and more who the Magic end up targeting.

The Magic are going to work to make themselves heard on the court first though. Orlando’s goal it would appear is to advance into the postseason first and prove that there is something more than the potential of a winning team with this group. The Magic want to win first.

Then they are likely to hit the trade and free agency market because they will know. Then the Magic are likely to make themselves heard even more, sending notice to the rest of the league in louder ways.

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The Magic are not ready to make themselves heard now. They will let their development on the court start making some noise. But very clearly, the rest of the league sees the Magic as a team to watch.

A team that is watching and waiting for its chance.