Orlando Magic are in on meager free agency after declining Joe Ingles' option

The Orlando Magic were expected to decline the second year of Joe Ingles' two-year contract. The move sets them up to be players when free agency begins Sunday evening.
The Orlando Magic declined the second year of Joe Ingles' option, setting them up to spend in free agency. But the market is quickly evaporating for them.
The Orlando Magic declined the second year of Joe Ingles' option, setting them up to spend in free agency. But the market is quickly evaporating for them. / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages

Even the most expected moves still sting a little bit.

The Orlando Magic will reportedly decline the team option on Joe Ingles' contract, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by Jason Beede of the Orlando Sentinel. That sends the veteran into free agency and clears $11 million in cap room for the Magic to spend this offseason.

The two sides are expected to remain in contact with the potential for Ingles to return on a smaller deal.

That speaks to how beloved and important Ingles became in the locker room as the extreme veteran of the group.

But the focus for the Magic is now on free agency. And moving off Ingles' deal seems to set the Magic up for making some major moves this offseason. Unfortunately for them, the market seems to be drying up and the Magic even seemed fairly cool on the options ahead of them.

Declining Joe Ingles' deal maximizes the Orlando Magic's cap space

The Orlando Magic were projected to have somewhere between $30 million and $50 million in cap space. Declining Ingles' team option puts them closer to the high end of that range.

According to Spotrac, Orlando has $85.5 million committed to next year's team, excluding Moe Wagner's $8 million team option (we will get to that). Adding in Tristan da Silva's $3.6 million rookie cap hold before he signs his rookie deal and the $1.9 million qualifying offer for Trevelin Queen, and the Magic's total entering free agency sits at approximately $91.0 million.

That puts the Magic at approximately $50.0 million in cap room. There are perhaps a few other cap holds the Magic will hang onto (Goga Bitadze's is $2.1 million for instance and a few historic cap holds the Magic hange onto for some reason). But those are merely placeholders the team could eliminate or maintain as needed.

The final projections from Spotrac after the draft, including the expected options the Magic would decline, Orlando is expected to have $49.5 million in cap room this offseason.

ESPN came up with some different math to project the Magic with $44 million in cap room.

Regardless of what the final math is, the Magic have significant cap room. And eliminating the $11 million in Ingles' contract gives them significant spending power.

As of writing at 11:45 a.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, there was no reporting on whether the Magic will pick up the team option on Mo Wagner's contract. Doing so would increase the team's cap room further.

The Magic would then be expected to use the Room Mid-Level Exception to bring back Wagner (the Room MLE is set for $8 million this year, so the cap maneuvering serves to work as an extension for Wagner).

Of course, the Magic would only need to use the room MLE if they intend to spend so much that they lose cap room to bring him back. It is not yet clear if the Magic would need an exception to bring him back (they have Early Bird Rights on him too).

Many of the projected targets for the Orlando Magic have taken themselves off the board

On the day before free agency begins, it is getting even harder to predict what direction the Orlando Magic will go.

Marc Stein reported on his Substack that the Dallas Mavericks have become more serious players for Klay Thompson adding a new team to a mix that was expected to be just the Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers. The teams that miss out on Klay Thompson will then likely turn to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, another player the Magic have been connected to.

After that, it is not clear who the Magic would target to add to their roster. And the trade market for significant players may have cooled after Friday's deal that sent Dejounte Murray to the New Orleans Pelicans.

It is becoming clearer that teams like the Magic are going to be hesitant with the number of long-term contracts they give out. That is likely why Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell likely opted to return to the Lakers rather than test free agency. It is also likely why Malik Monk opted to secure a long-term deal with the Sacramento Kings rather than take a short-term deal in free agency.

Those moves have taken down several reported targets—and fan-favorite targets—in free agency. The pool is starting to dry up.

With Thompson perhaps off the board, the Magic seem to be focused on spending more moderately. Although perhaps there is more competition for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope than they might expect for an overpaying two-year, $50 million.

But even spending $25 million on Caldwell Pope leaves them with roughly another $25 million to spend.

Especially considering the team knows it has to improve to maintain its spot in the standings and continue growing into the championship team they hope to become.

Orlando will have to spend—teams are required to spend 90 percent of the salary cap now (and estimated $126.9 million assuming the cap falls in at $141 million). But it is getting increasingly difficult to project who the Magic will spend that money on.

Orlando Magic could still bring Joe Ingles back

Declining Joe Ingles' option then seems to put the team in on this free agent class in some fashion, however. The team could still try to maneuver a trade—and their cap room can be used to absorb extra salary in such a deal. But Orlando has maximized its flexibility now to spend this summer.

But that does not end their story with Ingles. The Magic seem open to bringing Ingles back on a smaller deal (likely a veteran's minimum). And Ingles enjoyed his time in Orlando and chose Orlando for his family.

The fit with Ingles was always a bit weird. He does not have the athleticism or size that has become readily associated with Jeff Weltman's vision for the Magic. But Ingles fit in well, adding his playmaking and passing to the team in small doses off the bench.

The 36-year-old forward averaged 4.4 points per game and shot 43.5 percent from three in 17.2 minutes per game across 68 games played. He was a steady contributor all season as a shooter and a mini-playmaker.

Still, the playoffs exposed his limitations. His lack of mobility on defense made it difficult to play him for too long. It exposed the Magic's need for some more mobility at forward behind Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Jonathan Isaac. Perhaps they found that in draft pick Tristan da Silva.

The potential to bring back Ingles on a smaller scale deal speaks to how beloved he is—and how much Ingles and his family liked their time in Orlando.

But this is a decision all about creating cap room and space. It is about signaling the Magic's intention to use their significant space in some way.

Orlando is not going to sit on their hands in the offseason this time around. At least, they shouldn't.

The question everyone has is who will they spend it on?