Change is inevitable: Wendell Carter, Markelle Fultz in trade crosshairs

The Orlando Magic are usually tight-lipped but speculation and noise is growing that they could be ready to move off two big-salary players as the trade deadline approaches and the Magic try to maintain their playoff positioning.
Both Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz have been dealing with injuries this year and that has put both in the trade crosshairs as the Orlando Magic aim to improve.
Both Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz have been dealing with injuries this year and that has put both in the trade crosshairs as the Orlando Magic aim to improve. / Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

If there is one constant in the NBA, it is change.

Nothing ever stays settled for very long. As much as teams value their continuity and know how critical it can be to building a team's stability, the league is constantly shifting. There is rarely any solid ground.

A team on a nine-game win streak through injuries in November can suddenly find itself on a crumbling foundation in January. What a team thought it might get from two young starters can suddenly be very different from what the team needs to advance its goals.

The Orlando Magic have extolled their continuity and culture throughout the season. Players are extremely close and many people within and outside of the organization have described the Magic's project as something of a college atmosphere.

But nothing lasts in this league. It is evident the Magic still will need major upgrades to pursue a playoff berth and continue advancing beyond their debut appearance for Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner they still expect to have this year.

The Magic are going to have to break things up and tinker with their team. And it is going to take some major pieces to get it done.

The question is when this happens, not if.

With Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner ensconced as the team's future stars and Jalen Suggs proving to be extremely valuable, a major change for this team would seemingly have to come from exploring the trade markets for both Wendell Carter and Markelle Fultz.

According to several reports from Marc Stein on his Substack (subscription required), executives around the league believe that Carter and Fultz could become available before the Feb. 8 trade deadline. Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports also commented on a recent podcast that Carter's name has been thrown around.

As always around this time of year, the Magic are notoriously tight-lipped. Everything is couched as league executives speculating on what the Magic could do.

But it does not take much to figure out who the Magic have to offer at the deadline, especially to make the kind of upgrades the team needs to make to break into the conference's top four and eventually into the top three.

The Magic have survived much of this season with Carter and Fultz on the bench, making them feel a bit more expendable than they were in the preseason.

Carter missed 20 games after fracturing a bone in his left hand early in the season. He has now missed five straight games entering Monday's game against the New York Knicks with right knee tendinitis.

In all, Carter has played in only 13 of the Magic's 39 games this season and averaged only 8.1 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game, both career lows and a far cry from the 15.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game he averaged last year.

A lot of teams are probably looking at those numbers from last year and are curious if Carter, with some health, can get back to that production. This and his front-loaded contract that pays him $13.1 million this year and only $12 million next year, make him attractive to teams that need a potential starting center.

Orlando has been able to hold its boat steady with Goga Bitadze protecting the rim and Moe Wagner bringing energy off the bench. Still, the team can see it needs an upgrade at the position.

The same could certainly be said about the point guard position too.

Markelle Fultz has appeared in only eight games this season thanks to left knee tendinitis (the same knee he tore his ACL in 2021). But his weaknesses have become far more pronounced. He is averaging only 8.0 points per game and 3.6 assists per game.

He is on an expiring $17 million per year contract. It seems unlikely considering the Magic's needs for outside shooting that he would be back next year.

If the Magic have two positions they need to shore up to take their team to its next level, it is likely in these two spots. Whether that is something they can find in the trade market is another question.

And what teams would be willing to give up to acquire Fultz or Carter or whether the Magic might have to convince someone to take either of these two players to get the thing they want is also another question.

The Magic are not in the position of selling high-priced players (Jonathan Isaac might be another player on a long-term deal that the team could be looking to move with his fully non-guaranteed salary of $17 million for next year). They need to get value in return to keep advancing and improving their team.

Determining exactly what that value is or that worth will be the question the Magic have to answer in the next four weeks before the deadline hits. Perhaps the team needs to see these players play first before making those final determinations.

But regardless of those critical choices, these two players are clearly in the crosshairs. The market dictates what happens at the trade deadline and Carter and Fultz are the two players the market is curious about -- regardless of whether the Magic are shopping and exploring what their worth is (again, the Magic leak nothing).

If Orlando is going to make a major move at this year's deadline, it is safe to bet one of Carter or Fultz will be part of it.

What that move might ultimately become is still the part that is up for debate. The Magic have held onto their continuity and their atmosphere as closely as they can.

Moe Wagner, especially, has repeated that Orlando's mission is a long-term one and something he believes deeply in. That is why the momentary struggles do not bother him, it is part of the learning process for the group. Miami Heat coach credited coach Jamahl Mosley and the group for not skipping steps in building their defense and their team.

Nobody expected the Magic to stay at the 2-seed for as long as they were around Thanksgiving.

But as the midpoint of the season approaches, the Magic are starting to lose ground in even avoiding the Play-In. Injuries have once again been an issue and while they seem momentary, it will be a while before the schedule softens. Orlando is hoping it does not lose too much ground in the short term.

The Magic are still not likely to look at this season as something that requires "saving." Making the Play-In Tournament would still be a success in many ways, although certainly not the success the team believed earlier in the year.

Any move the Magic make likely will be focused on impacting the team for the next 2-3 years rather than focused on helping this team reach a short-term goal. That may cause them to be cautious in trading Carter or Fultz. Certainly for Carter with hope he could recover his form next season or as the season progresses.

The Magic still have 12 games before the trade deadline. That is still a lot of time to assess and evaluate the roster. But that time is running out.

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The lines are getting drawn on who the Magic might have to deal to make something work. Orlando may well be accelerating its timelines to make choices on Fultz and Carter.