This week has been spent thinking about the Orlando Magic’s future.
Undoubtedly a lot of this season will be spent thinking about the future. The excitement of the current season and the progress that it entails will not let long-term goals and thinking escape. Everything this season will be viewed not only in the context of the current season but also in thinking about how important the future will be.
Everyone will be thinking about what will and will not work when the Magic eventually get into the playoffs. A lot of this season is about discovering what this team actually needs to compete at a higher level.
This season is about leveling up and discovering what the level beyond that is.
The flurry of trades the week before training camp has Orlando Magic fans thinking about what their star trade looks like. The Magic are still putting together their future star trade package.
The basketball the Magic are preparing to play took a back seat this week. The Damian Lillard trade sucked up all the attention and oxygen around the league. It seemed like so many teams got pulled into the conversation — including the Magic with some rumors.
The Magic were never actually in the running for Lillard. Orlando president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman sort of made his bed when he brought back virtually the same roster from last year. Continuity was something the Magic as an organization clearly valued as they will try to let their young team grow.
But it was something more than that. Orlando’s package of players was not anywhere near the level that could be competitive for a deal for Lillard — not that Lillard wanted to be in Orlando anyway. Even so, the Orlando Magic would struggle to put together a solid package to acquire a player like Jrue Holiday as part of the deal — Holiday was dealt to the Boston Celtics on Sunday.
The Magic are clearly a team the league sees that will be in the hunt for a star in the trade market soon. Even though most Orlando followers were skeptical of their inclusion in rumors for much of the last seven months dating back to the trade deadline, the fact the team’s name keeps coming up is a sure sign that everyone around the league sees the team as a threat to go big-game hunting.
For the Magic, it was always about who as much as when to go for these players. Orlando is fine with being patient and letting its young team continue to incubate and improve.
The reality though is that a package to go out and get a star is not quite developed yet.
Orlando has a lot of the pieces necessary to chase after big stars. But the time did not appear ripe to do so — both developmentally on the court and the specific players who came onto the market and the teams the Magic would end up dealing with.
The time to make the star trade was not this summer. But everyone can see that time coming.
The first piece to this puzzle is the Magic continuing to see the team improve. Part of the problem of the Magic offering their players in these trades is that they are so unproven. Their value increases as the team competes at higher levels.
Like their stars’ future All-Star bids, that future star trade depends on the team winning.
The offseason’s trade market
Undoubtedly both of the veteran players that got moved this week would elevate the Orlando Magic to a new level. If the goal is to level up and advance in playoff contention, having veteran players of their caliber would help.
Damian Lillard is a superstar who would completely change the Magic’s offense — no more being in the bottom 10, at the very least.
Jrue Holiday is the kind of solid defensive veteran who can take over games when needed, but would also work in the background to help support and grow the Magic’s young budding stars while giving them defensive tenacity. His veteran know-how feels like it would be a Horace Grant-type move that signals the Magic are no longer a young team on the rise but one ready to win.
Beyond any statistics or even the age concerns, these two players would make the Magic better. And it would be silly for the Magic not to kick the tires and at least ask themselves the question about both of these players — or any star player that comes on the market. Fans are right to have these discussions too.
Therein lies the problem. It is one thing to be interested in a player and understand how he can make your team better, it is another to put together the package it would take to acquire them.
In the case of both Lillard and Holiday, the salary the Magic would have to reach is substantial. Lillard is owed $45.6 million this year and Holiday is owed $36.9 million this year.
The Magic’s two largest salaries — Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz — would total only $34.4 million. Orlando is roughly $3.3 million over the cap entering the season. So they would have to construct a deal that matches salary. They do not have extra room to take players in.
A Fultz and Isaac plus a first for Holiday works mathematically. But also would require giving up an awful lot for an older player on a short-term deal.
But that illustrates why it is so difficult for the Magic to get into these kinds of deals. Isaac’s deal is certainly eminently movable. The issue with him is more about how the rest of the league views him and his health than anything else.
Clearly, though, Portland was looking for at least one young star to build around. The Trail Blazers picked Deandre Ayton over Tyler Herro in that respect. They surely were looking for the Magic to trade Franz Wagner if they ever engaged in deals. That is rightfully a non-starter for Orlando.
This just may not have been the moment. Dealing with a Portland team stacked with young guards was not the partner Orlando needed. The Magic are likely looking to clear up their guard room and consolidate from there.
The Next Level
To be sure that time is coming soon. And it may come in this next phase after the Orlando Magic build up some salaries they can move.
Jonathan Isaac has a fully non-guaranteed deal worth $17.4 million for next season. Markelle Fultz is on an expiring deal worth $17 million. If the Magic ultimately decide Wendell Carter is not the center the team needs, he has a descending salary worth $13.1 million this year and $12.0 next year. Gary Harris is on an expiring deal worth $13 million.
Veterans Joe Ingles ($11 million with a team option for next year) and Moe Wagner ($8 million for the next two seasons) are also potential trade fodder.
The Magic have the ability to make moves for sure. If Orlando wants to get in on the Buddy Hield deal, something centered on Harris with the heavily protected 2025 Denver Nuggets first-round pick is at least a framework for a deal.
But the piper needs to get paid. Acquiring Hield is as much about a willingness to pay him long-term as anything else. And Orlando will have its own decisions to make on Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz this offseason — both are free agents. And Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner’s extensions off their rookie contracts come soon after.
Orlando might be smart to give out big contracts to a few players just to have some salaries they can move for some of these higher-priced players. Or maybe the Magic are targeting a player in the $20 million range for their future trade rather than someone in the $30-plus-million range came about this offseason.
There are a lot of things to consider and a lot of things to plan. But what is important about these exercises now is to be able to properly evaluate the assets the team has and what the team is capable of doing.
Thoughts on the future
The Orlando Magic will not be able to avoid these conversations forever. This season is very much about figuring out what the team has and what it needs to compete. After another year of internal development, “leveling up” another level may require something outside the team.
The Magic hope to learn this year what the team needs to compete more seriously. Perhaps that will focus their attention on the right players to pursue.
Orlando is right to let their young players develop independently. A player like Banchero entering his second year absolutely still needs space to make mistakes and learn how to be the team’s star and leader. The Magic are still learning the kind of players he needs in support.
For now, then, the Magic are right to marshall and maintain their resources to make that push when the time is right.