Everyone has their eyes on the trade deadline.
There is a month to go before the Feb. 8 deadline now. The playoff picture is starting to become clearer -- entering Tuesday's games, every team 4-8 in the Eastern Conference had an identical 21-15 record -- and the stakes for the rest of the season are coming into focus.
As the team gets closer to the midpoint of the season, everyone is asking questions about what the Orlando Magic will do.
Injuries have ended up hitting the team hard -- although not as hard as the last two years -- and have kept the team from realizing its full potential. But the Magic are still in the thick of the playoff race with a lot they can still accomplish.
For the first time in a long time, Magic fans see themselves as buyers at the deadline. They should be going out and looking for things to add to the roster and boost the team.
The Magic organizationally are likely to remain fairly conservative and are not looking for a move to ensure they make the playoffs or secure home-court advantage or a spot in the 4/5 game this year. Orlando still wants to build the team that gets out of the first round next year and for the next 2-3 years.
That turns the question then not to who the Magic might acquire -- and there are plenty of targets from a veteran like Malcolm Brogdon, a first-time starter like Tyus Jones, a sharpshooter like Buddy Hield or a big fish like Dejounte Murray -- and more to what the Magic might give up.
That is where the real problem for the Magic lies.
Orlando may not have the players it needs to swing a big deal at the deadline with the expiring contracts of Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris and Chuma Okeke or with the injury concerns from Wendell Carter and Jonathan Isaac (whose contract was fully guaranteed for the year earlier this week) this year and more.
Orlando will have a lot of key decisions to make. And the team is probably going to have to make some real sacrifices and some major investments with their cap room this summer. Whether that means the team dives head-first into the trade deadline is another question.
The sharks are circling. The winning window is open and the Magic cannot waste a moment of growth in that window.
It is why Carter may be the player who could turn the deadline for the Magic. What Orlando ultimately wants for him and whether the team is even willing to move him could be the tipping point for the team to do something at the deadline.
And there is at least some thinking this could be the case.
Marc Stein wrote on his Substack (subscription required) that some rival executives believe Carter could become available at this year's trade deadline. What anyone might offer for him or what the Magic are looking for would be the mystery in this case.
And a lot of that starts with getting Carter back on the court.
Carter has appeared in only 13 of the team's 37 games this season, missing 20 after a fracture of the third metacarpal in his left hand in early November. When he has played he has struggled, averaging 8.1 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game in 24.4 minutes per game.
His minutes are getting cut some because he is struggling to overcome a nagging right knee tendinitis injury that has kept him out for four of the 12 games since his return from the hand injury.
He has averaged only 7.3 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game in his eight games since returning. He is at least shooting better, but still making only 47.6 percent of his shots overall.
The knee issue is very real and has slowed both his ability to finish around the basket -- he is at least shooting 8 for 16 from three since returning from the hand injury. And that is just making it hard to assess anything from Carter.
This might be the key to the deadline for the Magic though.
They have been able to handle the center position this year with this team with Goga Bitadze and Moe Wagner. There is at least enough of a glut there that Orlando could roll the dice and make a big push to improve the roster elsewhere -- waiting for the offseason perhaps to shore up the center position.
Carter might be the player of consequence on the roster the Magic are most willing to trade that could net them the most in return.
The trade deadline is about buyers and sellers. Much like how the Magic were willing to take back Wendell Carter in the Nikola Vucevic trade, another team might be willing to take Carter back to give up something the Magic need to buy.
In this instance then, it is important to listen to what the market is saying. If the Magic want to add significant players to their roster, they are going to have to give something the market wants.
The rumors at least for now are thinking that Carter could be the player the Magic might have to give up to play in this cycle. He might be the one the team has to push in to make the kind of improvements to the roster that will help the team finish this playoff push.
In the end, it seems like Carter's play one way or the other will hold the key to the Magic's success in the tight playoff race or their ability to make improvements at the deadline.