The Orlando Magic have taken a major step toward becoming contenders in the Eastern Conference.
The young group has been battle-tested, with a significant part of the roster dealing with injuries the last two months. Goga Bitadze was a revelation during that stretch and has proven he can and should contribute to an NBA rotation.
The Orlando Magic picked up Bitadze after the Indiana Pacers waived him as a former first-round pick two seasons ago. The Magic took a flier, and it has certainly paid off. He started 31 games this year and showed his ability to set screens, rebound and defend the paint.
He averages 1.5 blocks per game, the best on the team and 14th in the entire league. He is a force on the interior and does not shy away from altering shots at the rim.
Bitadze plays hard and plays for his teammates. This is evident in how he cheers for his teammates on and off the court. He does everything he can to get others open shots on offense.
Bitadze, most importantly, understands his role and plays within himself. He rarely tries to find his own shot and does an excellent job of finishing through contact. He focuses on setting screens and rolling hard for easy baskets at the rim or offensive rebounds. His best skill on offense is cleaning up missed shots for dunks.
There is no doubt that Bitadze's value is at its peak since he was selected as the 18th pick in the 2019 draft. He is averaging a career-high in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and field goal percentage. He looks like a rotation player.
Unfortunately for Bitadze, the Magic are one of the deeper teams in the NBA. Wendell Carter has found his footing after missing most of the first half of the season and is providing much-needed offense for a group that is 24th in the NBA in offensive rating.
And that has to make the Magic wonder if there is something out on the trade market they could get for Bitadze. Is he a player they could move? That is the same situation that created intrigue for the Magic's other big men.
As Orlando looks at its big-man rotation. Bitadze is on the outside and might have value around the league.
Carter is averaging 14.7 points per game and knocking down 40.6 percent of his threes while taking 3.2 per game. Not many guys in the league can shoot at that percentage with his physical frame of 6-foot-10, 270 pounds.
He has provided much-needed spacing for the starting unit and given Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Markelle Fultz room to operate in the half-court.
There was a point only weeks ago where it was rumored Orlando was considering trading Carter and shifting their attention to Bitadze as the full-time starter. Still, Carter's resurgence has silenced that conversation.
Carter is shockingly still only 24 years old and playing in his seventh NBA season. He has room for improvement on a team-friendly contract.
He is making less than 10 percent of the total cap space allotted and is under contract for the next two years. It is understated how much of a bargain he is.
Carter is currently the 23rd highest-paid center. For reference, Clint Capela makes almost double what Wendell Carter makes this year, and Carter's contract decreases in amount each of the next two seasons. He and his contract are a keeper.
Goga Bitadze is not only competing with Wendell Carter for minutes, but Moe Wagner is also a Magic player deserving of playing time. He is fifth on the team in scoring and is well-rounded on offense. He is a great screener, cuts hard for finishes in the lane and can knock down the open three.
Wagner is everything you could ask for in a seventh-man role.
He is averaging 66.1 percent shooting from the field on 2-point field goals. When 78 percent of your shots are from inside the arc, that is undoubtedly impressive and simply efficient.
Wagner will not intimidate any defense with his athleticism, but he is a hard-nosed worker who battles on both sides of the floor. It does not hurt that his younger brother is a star for the team.
Wagner brings energy off the bench that stimulates the second unit. He also complements Jonathan Isaac well, as they can both switch onto smaller guards better than Goga Bitadze. Wagner is a great help defender who will step in to sacrifice his body and take a charge, while Isaac can help with his unbelievable shot-blocking ability.
Jonathan Isaac's continued progress as a full-time contributor also mitigates Bitadze's value to Orlando's rotation. Isaac can defend the paint arguably better than Bitadze, which lessens the need for Bitadze's rim protection.
Bitadze does not have the offensive skill set to compete with those above for playing time with the Magic. The team is in desperate need of scoring. Carter and Wagner are offensive players who can hold their own on defense.
This is not a slight on Bitadze as he might be the best third-string center in the NBA and, sadly, not a good fit with Orlando's current unit moving forward.
It is a necessity for every team making a playoff run to have additional rim protection and size. Teams would undoubtedly be interested in acquiring the seven-footer at such a modest salary of $2 million this year.
Teams like the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder would love to add a player like Bitadze to their bench for the stretch run. He would have a significant role in each team's rotation who are lacking interior size.
The real question is what would the Magic receive in return?
Orlando would probably prefer not to absorb long-term contracts in a deal, and Bitadze is not worth a first-round pick. His small salary also limits what the team might acquire, even with the Magic having a little bit of cap room to absorb some money in a trade.
If a second-round pick is all the team can garner for Bitadze's services, Orlando would likely lean toward keeping him past the trade deadline. Magic fans need not be reminded of the team's injury history, so he can be a safety net for any additional injuries that might occur during the remainder of the season and playoffs.
The main reason the team could move Bitadze is his expiring contract at the end of this season. Bitadze will certainly have suitors this summer who would offer the 24-year-old a multi-year contract to serve as a backup center. I doubt the Magic would match an offer to pay a player currently out of their rotation.
If the team trades him, they will be gambling without a third-string center who has started 38 percent of the season and knows the system and team. Bitadze can play the role coach Jamahl Mosley asks of him and does it well. He has been a true success story, finding a new home in Orlando and rebuilding his value as a center who can contribute in this league.
Orlando might prefer retaining Bitadze to finish the season rather than trade him for a minimal return, but he could be part of a larger deal.
The Magic have been linked to several trade candidates as the deadline approaches, and including Bitadze in a deal to bring in a point guard who can stretch the floor might be enough for Orlando to pull the trigger.
If a team insists on acquiring Bitadze as a part of a deal to improve an area of weakness for the Magic, that might outweigh the additional 30-plus games he could hypothetically play in.
Again, I doubt he is part of Orlando's plans after this season, so bringing in a complementary player to stars Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner makes sense.
The Magic want to retain their assets as they have a bright future. They hold all their first-round picks and have a large portion of their core intact. But there is a clear need for additional shooting. If Orlando finds a deal they like that brings in necessary offensive upgrades, the team has no choice but to consider it.
The Magic will be active talking to teams ahead of the deadline. Bitadze seems to be a name rival teams could call asking about his availability. Several teams could use his services. He has real value, but his small salary may make it difficult to strike a deal.