Signing a center will cost the Orlando Magic a lot more

Most of the offseason focus for the Orlando Magic has been on finding a guard. But if the Magic want to add some center depth, it will cost them a lot more.
The Orlando Magic will have a lot to consider this offseason. Chasing after a center could be an expensive proposition.
The Orlando Magic will have a lot to consider this offseason. Chasing after a center could be an expensive proposition. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest need everyone seems to want to address with the Orlando Magic is at guard.

The Magic exited the playoffs watching Paolo Banchero have to carry a lot of the playmaking burden and struggle with it at times. When put under pressure, the Magic did not have a way to vary their attack.

This is why so much attention has been placed on trying to find a point guard this offseason and during the transaction period. Free agency has focused on Malik Monk, Tyus Jones, and D'Angelo Russell. The trade market has looked to Anfernee Simons, Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Dejounte Murray, and Trae Young.

It is clear this is a major need the team needs to resolve. Orlando has to find a lead guard to pair with Jalen Suggs. What kind of guard is the question the Magic are truly going to have to answer.

But that is clearly not the only need. And many of the team's needs and how they approach them overlap.

They need a lead guard but also a lead guard who can shoot it. They need a lot of things to help the team take their next step.

But they are also existing in a marketplace too. And everything has a cost somewhere down the line.

One of the Magic's biggest needs may well be finding a rim-protecting center. And Orlando may be hunting in free agency for some help and certainly some center depth (with Goga Bitadze also a free agent this summer).

That comes with its own cost-benefit analysis.

This summer features a very tight center market. And if the Magic are in the market for a big, it could prove extremely costly even for a team with tons of cap room.

The Orlando Magic's questions at center start with Wendell Carter

Most of the trade scenarios the Magic face likely have them trading starting center Wendell Carter.

The fact the Magic are open to trading Carter is not merely about his difficult, injury-filled season. It is also about questions of whether Carter can be the team's long-term center considering he does not play above the rim.

Carter has always defended the rim well—despite all of his struggles, opponents shot 58.4 percent at the rim against him in the regular season according to Second Spectrum, an improvement from 64.0 percent during the 2023 season. But Carter got exposed some in the playoffs.

How much was that about his injury—he had surgery on his left hand for a second time after the season ended—and how much of that is just a fact with Carter—he has never played more than 67 games in any season of his career.

It may not be the most immediate need the Magic have to resolve, but it is a question still lingering in the background. Do the Magic need an upgrade at center?

If Carter is the best the Magic have to offer in trades, then they have to consider how they replace him at center and what is available on the market.

This summer offers a very tight free agent market for bigs, with only two real options at starter

The biggest problem with fishing for centers is that this is not a strong free agency market for centers. And the two biggest center free agents are going to be sought after not only by their previous teams but also by others.

Isaiah Hartenstein and Nic Claxton figure to be biggest names on the market. They will generate a ton of interest for any team seeking a center.

Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports suspects Hartenstein could garner a contract worth nearly $100 million over four years. That is more than the four-year, $72.5 million contract the Knicks can offer with their Early Bird Rights.

New York has $37.1 million in room before cap holds, but they are likely to try to retain OG Anunoby so that drops the Knicks' actual cap room down to $6.5 million (including Hartenstein's $10.7 million cap hold). That would not get New York nearly capable of matching a rich offer of even more than $20 million per year.

That is almost certainly what Hartenstein would get after averaging 7.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while anchoring the Knicks' staunch defense.

The Orlando Magic were interested in Hartenstein two years ago before he signed with the New York Knicks. Teams like the Detroit Pistons (even though they have Jalen Duren and Isaiah Stewart) could be looking for a veteran big, as could the Oklahoma City Thunder. They also have some money to throw around, thus driving up Hartenstein's price in a tight center market.

Nic Claxton of the Brooklyn Nets seems set to garner the same amount, although it is much more likely the Nets retain him (they own his full Bird Rights). Claxton averaged 11.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game with 2.1 blocks per game.

It is largely believed the Nets will exercise those Bird Rights to retain Claxton this offseason as they try to bounce back from a disappointing season.

After those two? The next best center option is the rugged Jonas Valanciunas, who struggled to stay on the court during the New Orleans Pelicans' playoff run—he averaged only 22.5 minutes per game in the playoffs and only 23.5 minutes per game for the season.

Those three are about it for starter-quality centers.

The Orlando Magic have to consider where they can make sacrifices this offseason

A team is a carefully constructed thing. And the Orlando Magic are going to have to work to balance all of their needs as they approach this offseason.

It is still unclear just how aggressive the Magic intend to be.

Will they seek out a massive change, adding two starters to the mix? Will they be more conservative and look to use their cap room—anywhere between $30 and $50 million depending on some things they do with options—on one additional starter and fill out the roster with depth?

This indeed feels like the summer the Magic have to spend with upcoming extensions due for Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs. Orlando cannot sit on its hands. The Magic's time of free money will end soon and the front office knows it.

But Orlando has to be aware too of where it can fill in gaps and what it can still sacrifice. Finding the right players is still just as important.

And one of the scenarios the Magic have to play out is whether they can and should go after one of the high-priced centers on this free-agent market. That opens the door for trades.

The last thing that can happen for the Magic is to get caught holding the bag so to speak. Nobody wants to be left out when the musical chairs stop.

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That is the risk apparent in chasing a center in free agency. If the Magic are dealing Carter, that likely means they know one of these two centers is on the way or another center is coming via other means.