Orlando Magic getting a meeting with superstar free agent means they're in a new ballgame

The Orlando Magic are reportedly one of the teams that will get a meeting with Paul George. Whether they sign the All-Star forward or not, the team is in a new stratosphere.
The Orlando Magic may not end up with Paul George in free agency this summer. But just getting a meeting with him opens doors for th franchise they have not seen in a very long time.
The Orlando Magic may not end up with Paul George in free agency this summer. But just getting a meeting with him opens doors for th franchise they have not seen in a very long time. / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of free agency, president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman expected some doors were open for the Orlando Magic in this free agency that were not open before.

The Magic had money before, but they did not have the team on the court that could entice one of the best free agents on the market.

They would have to overpay for a veteran to provide some leadership in the locker room. Or they would be content to roll their cap room over to the next year hoping they would develop enough for things to change.

The top guys did not bother to give them the time of day.

Weltman has been especially patient. After the Magic's 34-win season in 2023, he opted to return the same roster, adding only two draft picks in Anthony Black and Jett Howard and a veteran in Joe Ingles.

That proved to work for this young team. The Magic improved by another 13 wins and had a 47-35 record. They were the 5-seed in the Eastern Conference and pushed the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games. Paolo Banchero emerged as an All-Star and one of the best young players in the league.

The Magic indeed are in a new stratosphere. And with $50 million in cap room after the team declined options for Joe Ingles and Mo Wagner on Saturday, the Magic have some free-agent muscle to push around.

But it was not always clear the Magic would do anything more than get connected to the big free agents as a team with cap room. And as the days were counting down toward free agency, it felt like the Magic were going to be left behind, going after someone smaller and lower on the fans' free-agent list rather than the All-Stars or big names.

It felt like free agency might pass the Magic by and the team would again have a conservative offseason.

Maybe things have not changed. But maybe they have. Even if it is symbolic.

New doors have indeed opened for the Magic. There is no denying that now.

And even if the Magic do not net one of the biggest fishes in free agency this offseason, they have hit a point where there is no turning back.

Orlando is a place where stars want to go. And the Magic are star hunting when they hit the transaction market —whether it is free agency or trades—now. This summer is assuring that.

The whole NBA world is waiting on Paul George's decision after he declined his option to return to the LA Clippers. He is the first big domino to fall in free agency one way or another. And the Magic will be in the room to tip it over and start the offseason.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports George will meet with the Philadelphia 76ers, LA Clippers and the Orlando Magic on Sunday when free agency begins. After many months of rumors connecting the Magic to the nine-time All-Star, there will finally be a face-to-face with George. The Magic will get to make their case to add him.

That is something the Magic could not even imagine a few years ago.

The Magic sensed as they competed for the Playoffs this year that their winning window was open. This is further proof that Orlando has entered a new club in the NBA. They have reached a new level in the league's hierarchy.

Paul George has praised the Orlando Magic before, Paolo Banchero has opened doors

Paul George's interest in the Orlando Magic and his willingness to listen to what they have to offer is a sign the Magic have reached a new level in the league.

That was obvious with the Magic reaching the Playoffs and Paolo Banchero reaching his first All-Star Game. It became more obvious with Banchero averaging 27.0 points per game in his first Playoff series, including three 30-point games.

That is something that gets noticed around the league. The Magic have a guy that other players notice.

That includes Paul George who praised Paolo Banchero on his podcast.

That is the biggest thing that has changed for the Magic, of course. Orlando has a star player who could attract other stars and get them interested in playing alongside him.

Banchero's ascendance to stardom is the thing that has transformed the Magic. And no matter who the Magic acquire this offseason, the team's whole project still depends on Banchero and his growth. As the central player on the team, Banchero's development will determine how far the team will go.

George is certainly someone who senses that. He knows he is coming to the end of his career at 33 years old (entering his year 34 season). And while he is still productive, he wants good teammates around him. In many ways, George would be happy to be a running mate to a young star like Banchero.

It is hard to argue that George would not dramatically change the team, even if his production has declined. He averaged 22.6 points per game and shot 47.1 percent from the floor and 41.3 percent from three.

George is comfortable playing off the ball as a primary 3-point shooter—he made 45.4 percent of his 4.4 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game according to data from Second Spectrum. But he can also take over games and be the primary scorer -- he had 11 games of 30 points or more this season.

There is a reason George is the top free agent on the market.

It is not impossible that the Magic are seriously interested and George is clearly interested enough.

But the biggest thing is the Magic are in the room with a star. And they should be in the room with the star for the foreseeable future. That is what Banchero will attract as he continues to improve.

The Orlando Magic are still not favorites to sign Paul George

The Orlando Magic will get a place in the room with Paul George, but they are still not the favorites to bring George in. The Philadelphia 76ers have an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid and a better playoff track record. They were always the favorites—even if there were reports their interest cooled a few weeks ago.

George also appears to be seeking a full four-year max contract. All indications are the Magic were trying to bring in veteran players on short-term deals. That might knock them out for George again.

The Magic may pivot quickly to their secondary plans after their meeting with George is over. Marc Stein reports on his Substack that league insiders are still linking the Magic to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Isaiah Hartenstein, but getting on Paul George's short list has put those thoughts on hold.

The Magic may yet still have a fairly moderate summer, devoid of the superstar free agents that move the needle or generate headlines. That still seems like the most likely outcome—do not get it wrong, signing Caldwell-Pope would still improve the team even if it is not nearly as exciting.

But Orlando is playing a different game now. Even if they fall short in their meeting with George and he signs elsewhere, the Magic are now competing for the top free agents and eventually the top trade targets too.

They have a star that will intrigue other stars around the league.

They are star-hunting now because of Banchero and how the team elevated itself into the playoff stratosphere. This is a team that star players want to join. And this is a team that has the resources to go get them when they become available.

With this meeting, the Magic should have the go-ahead and confidence to be much more aggressive and envision big things for their team. They should be able to pick out their targets to improve their team.

It may not come in this year's free agency. But the Magic are playing a different game now. More doors have indeed opened for them.