Orlando Magic stuck between developing and winning now, stand pat at deadline

The Orlando Magic stood pat at the trade deadline. That does not mean changes are not imminent, it means they still have something to learn as they transition to a winning team.
The Orlando Magic opted to stand pat at the trade deadline, believing their group could come together to make the postseason without sacrificing any long-term flexibility.
The Orlando Magic opted to stand pat at the trade deadline, believing their group could come together to make the postseason without sacrificing any long-term flexibility. / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA's 3 p.m. trade deadline passed to crickets at the AdventHealth Training Center and Kia Center.

The pressure of a playoff chase and the promise of this team's future coming into focus was buzzing around the team, seemingly forcing it to make a move and get involved in the trade market to ensure the team's spot in the East.

It is a new feeling for a franchise lost in the woods for anything resembling contention. The team was set to buy and seek ways to improve the team.

There were apparent weaknesses the Magic had to consider improving. The team's offense has dropped into the bottom 10 in the league, and the spacing has looked rough. Orlando is one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league.

Orlando had a lot of things it needed to address immediately and set up its potential push for the postseason.

But the Magic still have another consideration. They are not all-in on this season.

They are still a development outfit building for a future beyond this season. They are still looking at a window for the next few seasons.

The Magic are still balancing their long-term vision and their short-term needs. At this year's trade deadline, nothing seemed to materialize to serve both goals. And so they stood pat, willing to see what this young group could do in its first winning season together.

The Magic are caught between a team ready to win and a team still building its future. And that is a tough place to make a deal. They are not quite buyers willing to expend future assets to shore up their short-term success. But they are not quite sellers looking to grab more future assets for expiring contracts or phased-out players.

Maybe, quite simply, the players the Magic might have wanted to trade did not net returns that made them appreciably better.

Orlando will stick with what it has and hope the end of the season justifies that decision before answering the bigger questions about the roster in the offseason. It is always much easier to make moves in the offseason than in the chaos of the trade deadline. And conversations started in February can carry over into June.

The team is not done, in other words. But the Magic are willing to let this year's team go as far as it can before making these weighty decisions.

And there is a lot to work with despite clear needs the team will have to fill.

Orlando is over .500 (and has never been below .500 this season) and is eighth in the East. They are on track to make the Play-In Tournament at least -- sitting 6.5 games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets to miss the Play-In entirely.

This has been a wildly successful season after returning most of a 34-win roster last year. Orlando is likely to make another 10-win jump this year.

The Magic also have a lot working in their favor the rest of the season to make them believe this group can make a late-season push.

In addition to a top-5 defense in the league, the Magic are the healthiest they have been since the start of the year. That fact alone -- and how much better the team has played since Markelle Fultz, Wendell Carter and Jonathan Isaac returned to the lineup -- gives the team plenty of confidence it can accomplish its goals the rest of the season.

Orlando also has a home-heavy remaining schedule, with 19 of the team's remaining 31 games at the Kia Center. That includes an eight-game homestand in March. Orlando is 15-7 on its home floor, the fourth-best home record in the Eastern Conference.

On top of this, the Magic have the easiest remaining schedule in the league by opponent win percentage. They have a 13-6 record against opponents below .500.

There are plenty of opportunities to gain ground in the standings -- the Orlando Magic trail the seventh-seeded Miami Heat by 0.5 games and the sixth-seeded Indiana Pacers by 1.5 games. The fifth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers are only 3.5 games away.

Everything is within striking distance.

Still, those facts may have led some to believe there was an opportunity to shore things up on the roster and make a real push to get results this season. That is where the conflict of the Magic's position lies.

Orlando has some very clear needs. And the Magic must address their shooting woes especially this offseason.

That deficiency will surely arise and factor in whatever postseason game or series they end up in. The Magic have enough to overcome it in a single game, but probably not under the pressure of a seven-game series. The team needs to feel that pressure, see where its young players might crack and buckle, and which players can improve internally to fill those holes.

Ultimately, Orlando's only goal should be figuring out ways to make life easier for Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. And shooting would undoubtedly do that.

Plenty of questions are on the roster, as this young team is inconsistent. But, in the end, that may have prevented them from making a deal.

Fultz and his expiring contract could not be moved for something valuable because of his injuries and inconsistent shooting. Cole Anthony had a poison pill on his deal and has struggled mightily, making it harder to move him.

Carter has proven to be the Magic's best center option and probably was not available to deal unless a starter came back in return. Chuma Okeke and Gary Harris have both struggled on the court this season.

It is hard to envision the Magic getting appreciably better with those issues. Serving both their short- and long-term needs in any deal would have been tough.

The Magic did not find anything that either set the team's future up or made them better in the short term.

Orlando saw no reason to upset the apple cart at this point. The team has grown at a solid pace and has set itself up for the postseason. That was all anyone could ask for at the beginning of the season. It is success that has created the pressure to pick up the pace.

If Jeff Weltman is anything, it is patient. He understands this year is not the prize. It is what this team will develop into.

The team knows -- or it should know -- it will have to make moves soon, though. Continuity can only last so long. And this group's clear shortcomings will put a ceiling on their success. This year is as far as this group is likely to go.

But for now, Orlando opted to hold firm and wait. It did not take the bait for a short-term sugar rush without a long-term benefit or not sacrifice any part of what it has built for some undetermined future.

Next. Point guard need 02.08.24. Point guard is Orlando Magic's next need to fill. dark

The Magic know what they are building. They know the team is developing at the right pace and getting better. And they know that they will have to make some tough decisions soon.