Orlando Magic Daily Mailbag Volume 43: A new future this New Year

The Orlando Magic have gotten out to a blazing start this season and established themselves as a potential playoff team this season. But there are always questions for the next step that everyone is eager to answer.
Goga Bitadze's solid showing as a starter has thrown the Orlando Magic's future in some flux as they continue through this season.
Goga Bitadze's solid showing as a starter has thrown the Orlando Magic's future in some flux as they continue through this season. / Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
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Orlando Magic Daily Mailbag: Wendell Carter's return

Are the Magic messing up chemistry by throwing Wendell Carter back into the lineup?

This has been the biggest debate for the last few weeks since Wendell Carter returned to the lineup. And there was at least some good early evidence that his return was a little disruptive. He did not look great in those early games and was still getting a feel for things.

When he missed last Friday's game against the New York Knicks and Goga Bitadze returned to the starting lineup, everything seemed to be much more in sync. It was like riding a bike and Bitadze never left.

That would suggest the chemistry was thrown off with Carter back in the lineup.

But that is how bringing players back from injury always looks. It always takes a little time to get them back into the swing of things and regain confidence. Especially after the prolonged absence Carter had, missing a little more than a month, it is not like NBA 2K and you just go seamlessly into the lineup.

The Magic were always going to need to exhibit some patience with him and his recovery.

How does Wendell Carter adjust or fit into the Magic's new offense?

However, having said all of that, Wendell Carter has struggled to find his fit. His 3-point shooting is certainly a bigger threat, but he has not had a lot of touch around the basket. The Orlando Magic want to use him as a passer and pivot at the elbow, but the confidence just is not there.

Moving him to the bench and easing him into the group was probably the call they should have made from the start. He has looked better and is gaining confidence as a shooter, especially with that second group. The team is gaining confidence in him too.

Now though Carter is dealing with his own bout of knee tendinitis. He is going in and out of the lineup. It is just hard to establish any kind off consistency this way.

It has been tough.

But it is still clear how much better the Magic can be with Carter in at center because of that versatility. That potential as a 3-point shooter especially gives him and the team a new dynamic that they have been missing.

Still, the fluidity is not there. And so it is just about being patient for him to get there. If he can be big in the paint -- that is the big element missing for him since he returned -- then his ability to work the perimeter fits the versatility kick the Magic are always on.

What happens now with Goga Bitadze?

What does that mean for Goga Bitadze? That is a really tough question.

All things being equal, Bitadze has earned his place on this team and should get playing time. But so does Moe Wagner and so does Wendell Carter when he is healthy. The Magic have a logjam of solid centers for this team.

Bitadze has been excellent as a starter, averaging 8.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game this season in his starts. The team looks to have a good groove in understanding his game and setting him up for putbacks.

If Carter does take a whole lot longer to get into shape and back to form, then playing Bitadze is going to look a whole lot more attractive.

The one problem with Bitadze is that he is a proof-of-concept player.

His play this year has shown how much having a better above-the-rim presence could help them. But he has also shown that the team needs a center that can hold the ball a little bit more and space the floor -- that is why last year's version of Carter is something that is still worth chasing.

What all of this has done is throw the Magic's center position into question. It feels like the Magic are going to have to find a long-term solution at center -- a solid screener, shot-blocker and floor spacer -- sooner than we thought.

Bitadze is a solid placeholder for now. But not anywhere near the placeholder last year's version of Carter could be holding that spot down.