Orlando Magic's direction harder to see with Malik Monk staying with Sacramento Kings

Malik Monk appeared to be one of the Orlando Magic's main free-agent targets this offseason. But the guard agreed to a new contract with the Sacramento Kings, taking him off the board before free agency begins.
Malik Monk made the surprising decision to stick with the Sacramento Kings rather than hit free agency. Leaving few clues of the direction the Orlando Magic can head next.
Malik Monk made the surprising decision to stick with the Sacramento Kings rather than hit free agency. Leaving few clues of the direction the Orlando Magic can head next. / Harry How/GettyImages

The early days after the NBA Finals' conclusion brought little news. The starting gates had opened for teams to negotiate contracts with their own free agents, but very little had happened.

It seemed like everything was set for a busy free agency period to begin on June 30 at 6 p.m. Eastern.

News was trickling out slowly. And free agency is starting to take shape as the league prepares for some seismic shifts—the NBA Draft promises to bring some chaos to the NBA's offseason.

Late Thursday night, the league saw its first surprise move and the first reported signing that will force teams to make new plans and adjust their free agency ideas. Especially the Orlando Magic.

One of the Magic's purported targets is going to stay at home.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports the Sacramento Kings and Malik Monk agreed to a four-year, $78 million contract, taking one of the best shooters in the free agent market off the board at a surprisingly low price ($19.5 million average annual salary).

Monk was long considered one of the top targets for the Magic this offseason. He averaged 15.4 points per game and shot 35.0 percent from three coming off the bench last year. On top of that, he averaged 5.1 assists per game.

He was considered a potential starting-caliber player who could play as a volume and spurty shooter who could double as a sometimes point guard and playmaker. It felt like he was the kind of young shooter the Magic could invest in to solve their shooting and some of their playmaking needs.

That was not the case. Instead of getting a big contract and a clear path to starting, Monk seemed to settle in near the max the Kings could offer using his Early Bird Rights. A big contract worth $20-plus million may not have been available.

Not that Monk would have known that since he or his representatives cannot negotiate with other teams—right?

The reaction from Magic fans was pretty despondent. This was one of their favored targets. And so the question is where do the Magic go next?

Orlando Magic could be cautious with their money

It would appear the Orlando Magic did not seem willing to spend money on someone like Malik Monk. There is already some reporting that they may not be willing to spend on undersized guards or wings. They may be reserving contracts for that starter slot on someone more proven.

Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports has been reporting for the last week that he is skeptical the Magic would offer more than the $18.7 million salary D'Angelo Russell is declining to hit free agency.

Russell was expected to get a salary similar to if not slightly more than Monk when they both hit free agency. If that is still the case, then Russell would not make significantly more than what he lost in free agency.

Considering how few teams have enough cap room to chase after a big-name free agent, it might be better for him to exercise his player option and return to the Lakers for another year.

At the very least this initial shocking signing helps set the market. Undersized shooting guards with some playmaking and questionable defense are going to get less than $20 million. That would seemingly make it a bargain for the Magic to chase these players if they want. But it also seems like these players are holding out for more.

In this sense, the Magic could still be looking to save some money. That could keep them from getting one of the big fish in this free agency in Klay Thompson.

Tim McMahon of ESPN said on The Hoop Collective podcast the Golden State Warriors have reportedly made a contract offer to Klay Thompson, one of the biggest fish the Orlando Magic might be pursuing. There is also reporting suggesting Thompson wants longer than a two-year deal.

The Magic have long been reported to be chasing Thompson. But here they reportedly are also being cautious and looking to a short-term deal, albeit a fairly wealthy one.

Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports suspects the Magic are looking to give Klay Thompson something like a two-year, $70 million deal to Thompson as a sort of mega version of the Joe Ingles contract from last year.

This is the kind of contract that seems to becoming more prevalent around the league. Teams are willing to overpay on short-term contracts with quick outs rather than commit to a long-term deal.

That is certainly something Thompson is not looking for either.

That leaves a lot to be desired. Some of the Magic's biggest free-agent targets do not seem to be getting the contracts they are looking for. And right now, it does not seem like the Magic are meeting the price they want.

Everything is still rumored. Nothing becomes certain until after teams can begin negotiating with free agents. But no one can pretend that the teams and the player agents do not have some idea of what the market looks like before those negotiations can begin officially.

What the Magic are looking to accomplish this offseason still feels uncertain. And it feels even more uncertain now that Monk is off the board.

Paul George is the elephant in the room

The biggest fish of all is still out there of course.

And the fact that Malik Monk took himself off the board before the Orlando Magic or Detroit Pistons could give him a major offer and there is at least some reporting the Magic are not looking to meet the price on other big-name free agents, suggests the Magic's attention may be elsewhere.

Everyone has expected that Paul George would leave the LA Clippers after the Clippers balked on giving George the same three-year, $152.4 million contract Leonard signed this winter. The wide assumption was that he would end up with the more veteran Philadelphia 76ers.

That may not be the case, as Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Thursday:

This could merely be some early public posturing from one side or the other. It could be a ploy to draw the sides closer together.

But if this is the case, there are not many teams that could meet George's contract demands—a max contract for George would take up 35 percent of the salary cap for a deal starting at $49.4 million, virtually all of the Magic's projected cap room. But the Magic are still one of those teams.

Is this the tide going out for the Magic to make a big offer on George and win the headlines during free agency? Or are the Magic actually looking to be more frugal than everyone anticipated, skipping out on spending big money on any of the available free agents?

Is the Magic's path to success and improvement found in the trade market more than in free agency? Will this be how they use their considerable cap room?

Is the Magic's goal to stick with financial flexibility over spending big?

These are all the questions that Monk's decision to stay with the Kings raise. It becomes even more unclear what direction the Magic will go. Nobody seems to have any inkling of which direction the Magic will head next.

Next. Paolo Banchero Paul George 06.20.24. Paolo Banchero receives praise from All-Star free agent. dark

A lot of paths still remain open. Perhaps the Magic have already established their plan and this is all a preview of that plan getting executed. Orlando has a week to put it into action.