The case for and against the Orlando Magic signing Paul George

The Orlando Magic have long been rumored to be among the teams chasing after star forward Paul George as he enters uncertainty over his future with the LA Clippers. On paper it looks like a grand idea. But there are reasons for caution.
Paul George would undoubtedly be a huge offensive boost to the Orlando Magic with his 3-point shooting and creation potential. But his price tag may be too much for the Magic to spend.
Paul George would undoubtedly be a huge offensive boost to the Orlando Magic with his 3-point shooting and creation potential. But his price tag may be too much for the Magic to spend. / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Whenever a team has significant cap room, it is easy to get crazy ideas for free agency. The Orlando Magic have a history of raking in big free-agent hauls when they had cap room. They always seemed willing to spend.

Everyone wants that feeling from the summer of 2000 when the Magic brought in and wined and dined Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady and ended up signing two of the three All-Stars they attempted to woo. They would take bringing in an All-Star like Rashard Lewis as they did in 2007 (let's not talk about the 2016 cap spike year).

The opportunity to open up nearly $50 million in cap room brings the dreams of bringing in a star player.

The rest of the league seems to be thinking the same thing. The Magic have long been connected to star players like Klay Thompson and Paul George. It has often been couched more as league observers expecting the Magic to be players for some of these big stars considering their ample cap room.

That continued this weekend with Marc Stein reporting on his Substack that: "Orlando continues to be mentioned by various league observers as a natural suitor for George as well as Golden State's Klay Thompson."

That is not really hard reporting. Just observations and dot conencting.

But the possibility is still there.

The Magic can clear the cap room to sign a star player like George. And every team should consider acquiring or signing a star player like George when they can. He would give any team another perimeter attacker and an excellent three-point shooter too. He is someone who can still get hot and pour in points in bunches.

George at his best cannot be defended.

It is hard not to be intrigued with the idea of adding a player of George's caliber at least. At the end of the day, having better players is never a bad thing. And George is the kind of player who can be a star but also fit into the fold.

If the Magic are looking for a max-level player to add to the team, George is someone who makes a lot of sense.

It is why no one should dismiss the idea of the Magic chasing one of the two gettable stars this offseason. Any good front office will explore every opportunity in front of them. And George is certainly an opportunity the Magic should consider.

The case for signing Paul George

The numbers with Paul George really speak for themselves.

He averaged 22.6 points per game on shooting splits of 47.1/41.3/90.7 last year. He has averaged at least 20 points per game every year since 2016 (when he returned full-time after his horrific leg injury while preparing for the 2014 FIBA World Cup).

He is a career 38.5 percent three-point shooter and his 41.3 percent three-point shooting was the fifth time in his career he shot better than 40 percent from three. His 41.3 percent shooting from deep ranked 12th among all players who took at least five three-pointers per game (notably D'Angelo Russell ranked ninth).

He took 7.9 three-point attempts per game last year, giving the Clippers (and the Magic) some much-needed volume.

He made 45.4 percent of his 4.4 catch-and-shoot three-pointers according to data from Second Spectrum. He was even efficient in pull-ups hitting 35.8 percent of his pull-up threes.

George made 48.3 percent of his corner threes. He is very comfortable playing as a spacer as much as he can attack the mid-range and off the dribble to create for himself.

George is a driver too. He averaged 7.5 drives per game, according to data from Second Spectrum, scoring 4.5 points per game off drives and shooting 49.8 percent on 3.2 attempts per game. He added 0.8 assists per game.

Of note, George was still fourth on the Clippers in drives. He is a dynamic offensive player who is seemingly comfortable playing off the ball. He averaged only 56.8 touches per game (second on the Clippers, but it would have been behind both Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner).

The biggest point then is George is someone who can be effective with the ball in his hands as a scorer and someone who can play off of other creators. Granted, the Magic do not have creators like James Harden or Russell Westbrook.

There is at least proof of concept that George works in the kind of system and environment the Magic would create for him. And George is still plenty capable of scoring on his own—he had 11 games of 30 points or more last year.

And he still posted 13.67 assists points per 75 possessions, according to Basketball Index. He is not a natural passer, but he will move the ball with the attention he soaks up.

And that is just his offense. The Magic would be signing him to be an offensive attacker. But he is still no slouch defensively, even if he is not the two-way player he once was with the Indiana Pacers.

Stylistically, George is the exact kind of player the Magic want. He can shoot and play off of others and take over when the time comes. He can defend multiple positions. That is who the Magic like and putting him at guard next to Jalen Suggs, Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner gives the team the size to switch on the perimeter and remain aggressive.

It is hard not to think this is someone who could help complete the puzzle for the Magic and fill a lot of those needs the Magic have.

The case against signing Paul George

If this seems like a match made in heaven, then why is there any hesitation? Why is there a healthy amount of skepticism about the Orlando Magic's interest in Paul George? Why is everyone conceding that he will be a Philadelphia 76er or remain an LA Clipper at the end of the offseason?

There are not many arguments against George that involve anything on the court—outside of injury concerns since his 74 games last year were the first time he hit even 60 games since 2019. George got through this past season, but lingering injuries are still a major concern with him.

And at 33 years old, George is coming to the end of his prime window. He does not overly rely on his athleticism, but his aggression is decreasing. He is more content being a secondary player in many ways.

With how much he will cost, is that worth it for a player who will be content playing off of Banchero and Wagner?

Last year, he had a usage rate of 26.6 percent, his lowest since 2016. That is still a star-level of production and field goal attempts. But his 7.5 drives per game last year were down from 10.8 in 2023 and were the lowest since the 2017 season with the Indiana Pacers.

That is where the cost of doing business comes in.

George will be declining a $48.8 million player option to enter free agency. Perhaps he sniffs this as a last chance to get a long-term contract. But it is hard to imagine George accepting a salary of less than $40 million. And that might be conservative too.

Are the Magic ready to commit almost their entire cap room—including declining team options for Mo Wagner and Joe Ingles and renouncing Bird Rights for Gary Harris and Markelle Fultz—to Paul George? Is he really that much of the missing piece? How much does that hurt the Magic's depth and filling in the other needs they have on the roster?

A team like the Philadelphia 76ers can afford to fork over that much money and still have room to take care of Tyrese Maxey and perhaps retain veterans like Nicolas Batum. The Magic probably cannot afford to do that in the same way. They certainly are not attacking this offseason with the same urgency.

Jeff Weltman has long valued his flexibility. The Magic seem set to commit some long-term money—a four-year deal should not scare them this offseason.

But to commit a contract that could be in the neighborhood of $216 million over four years and pay out $60 million in the final year when the Magic are going to be paying big contracts to Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner seems out of character considering the Magic's fiscal responsibility the last few years.

At some point, the Magic will have to spend that money. But considering George's reduced role, the likelihood of injury and his age, the Magic do not seem ready to go all-in on that investment. And go all-in on that kind of a team with Banchero, Wagner and George set as the trio for the next four years.

Then again, having a max contract to move, signed on the pre-TV deal salary cap may be advantageous. Or perhaps George is not looking for a four-year deal and would take a two-year deal to cycle back into the free agency pool again.

Even that has its questions.

Answers about Paul George are more about the Orlando Magic's confidence

Everyone has those dreams of winning the headlines during free agency. And signing a player like Paul George would send shockwaves around the NBA without a doubt. The Magic would be considered winners of the offseason in August.

That does not mean they would be the winners in June. That is where you want to feel the positive effects of a big free-agent signing.

George would help the Magic tremendously. He would give the team some needed floor spacing and shooting. He would fit in and is a star comfortably playing off the ball and surrounding other star players. He has proven himself capable of that role and even content in that role throughout his career.

But the price is the big thing.

Adding a player of George's caliber with the young stars the Magic already have feels like the last move in the rebuild. It feels like the move that takes you over the top. George is not seemingly the missing piece to the Magic winning a championship.

The expense that it would take to bring George in could leave the Magic exposed elsewhere as they aim to fill other needs on the roster this offseason and more generally upgrade their talent.

To go after a player like George would mean using all of the team's vast financial resources on him and more or less him alone—the Magic would still be able to use the nontaxpayer mid-level exception, but even retaining players using Bird Rights would become tough.

If the Orlando Magic do feel like they are one piece away from contention—as the Philadelphia 76ers surely feel they are—then George is the absolute right move. Signing George would be more a statement of confidence in where the Magic are and what they are capable of being.

But there are plenty of warnings around the league—look at the Phoenix Suns—of what happens when a team becomes overcommitted to its stars. And signing George would sacrifice depth during this opportunity to bolster the roster with Banchero and Wagner on their rookie contracts.

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The Magic have to spend. But they still need to spend responsibly. George would be an aggressive play that would be out of character for the Magic under Weltman. But at some point, they will take the plunge.