The Orlando Magic will not be huge buyers at the trade deadline despite fans wanting to see the team make a massive upgrade to keep up in the Eastern Conference.
But a move does need to be made to stay as competitive as possible in the packed middle ground of the Eastern Conference. The team sits in eighth place in the East but is just 1.5 games out of the sixth and final full playoff spot.
The margins are tight, and the Magic have been slipping through what is acknowledged as the most challenging part of their schedule.
Since Dec. 1, Orlando has lost 16 of its last 27 games as teams have begun to decipher the team's limited playstyle without a volume three-point shooting approach. Injuries and the struggle to keep up with outside scoring from opponents are showing the Magic's need to improve the roster before the Feb. 8 trade deadline and that the Magic will need to make moves to be the sustained winner they aim to be.
The Magic valued their continuity this offseason. But it is looking more and more like the team has reached its ceiling with this group. The team will need more.
Rumors are flowing around the league about key role players and stars getting shopped. It is that time of year.
For Orlando, a trade deadline move for Orlando looks more like a Terry Rozier to Miami-type deal rather than a Pascal Siakam to Indiana-type deal. Orlando will not be trading away players of extreme value to the team but instead trying to move or consolidate bench players into a future starter or significant contributors.
Paolo Banchero is the cornerstone of the Magic franchise, and Franz Wagner is their bona fide number two option. There is no need to blow up the team's development for the sake of a star being available on the block.
The Magic are still about setting up the team's long-term future. The Magic still need to find a way to make their team better in the present, too.
With the Magic not likely to part with Wendell Carter unless a serious upgrade is coming back their way and the rest of their trade assets being expiring contracts with limited playing time like Chuma Okeke or injury histories and absences this year like Markelle Fultz or Gary Harris, the Magic will have to be creative to get the kind of upgrade they want for this season.
As big a star the front office could look to acquire is by first looking at a potential trade between two other teams. The Los Angeles Lakers have reportedly been in talks to acquire Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray for a package centered around 27-year-old D'Angelo Russell.
The issue for Atlanta, and where Orlando comes in, is Atlanta does not want Russell. Per Shams Charania, Atlanta is looking for a third team to move off of their disgruntled wing, as well as Russell.
"The hold-up was that Atlanta wanted to find a third team for D'Angelo Russell," Charania said on the trade. "He's got a player option for next season. They want to find a spot where they might be able to get an expiring contract back."
Orlando front office executives should have their ears perked -- at least a little bit. Atlanta is looking for an expiring contract from a third team and the Magic have two -- Fultz and Harris. One of those two (likely the former) would be involved in a trade here. And the Magic could be a team interested in a player like Russell to give the team some offensive punch.
The bigger point for the Magic is: If they want to avoid moving Carter, which is who the market seems eager to see the Magic trade, they will have to be creative and get involved in these kinds of deals. Orlando must seek an upgrade, but the team does not have much to offer on the market right now.
So, does this work for Orlando? Will this disrupt any development within the organization centered around one of the youngest rosters in the league?
At the end of the day, the Magic are not making moves to help anyone but themselves. They need to add players that improve their roster not just make a trade to make a trade or be a facilitator for someone else.
Getting involved in this rumored deal with the Lakers and Hawks is one way to do that.
Russell has been a nearly 20 points-per-game player in the last five years. He has been thrust in a variety of roles since getting drafted second overall in 2015 -- a young up-and-comer with the Los Angeles Lakers; star player, and number one option with the Brooklyn Nets; a 1A/1B with a slew of similarly-talented players with the Minnesota Timberwolves; and finally, a microwave-like scorer alongside the team's number one option in his second Lakers tenure and his long weekend with the Golden State Warriors.
This year, Russell is averaging 16.6 points per game and 6.2 assists per game as the Lakers' lead guard. He is shooting 47.9 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from three. Perhaps more importantly, Russell still has the ability to take over games. He has three 30-point games this season, giving the kind of offensive burst the Magic are seemingly missing.
At the very least, Russell is an offensive upgrade over Fultz and could give the Magic some needed offensive variety and spurt.
Orlando needs a guy who can create his own shot if Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner are struggling. They need a guy to take the defensive attention off of them. Rusell can do that.
Money-wise, Russell has an $18 million player option for 2025, which Orlando needs to keep an eye on if a trade goes through. It is the difference between a pretty expensive rental and an extra year to work out a longer-term player for the ninth-year pro if all goes well for the remainder of this season.
The only small downside of sliding into the potential Russell trade would be the development of first-round pick, Anthony Black. The 20-year-old has started 29 games this season with the usual up-and-downs a rookie point guard would have while stepping into the NBA as a teenager. He has also shown flashes of potential as the next great Magic piont guard with performances like his career-high23-point, 4-steal performance back in December.
The Magic need to be thinking about some win-now moves. And they will need to get creative to add impact players. A player like Russell may not have the ideal size or defensive reputation the Magic want, but he may be the best the team can do on this market. And he would solidify the team's point guard position and boost the offense.
His skills would undoubtedly help. And if it costs the Magic expiring contracts or players, they are willing to move on while keeping the rest of the team intact, even better.
The game the front office needs to play is no longer about playing all the young guys for development. Even with no changes to the roster before the deadline, this is a playoff-caliber team that needs to be treated with elements of "win-now" while still protecting the consistent improvement from the bunch of 20-somethings they want to turn into starters.
A Russell trade would not only continue to allow the team to operate with their identity but also give the team a great scoring option and a huge boost on offense, making sure Orlando stays competitive as the postseason inches closer.
It just might take doing something creative to get involved and come out winners in the end.