The Orlando Magic lost three franchise tenured players last year, but this offseason they could quickly rebuild for future playoff runs.
The Orlando Magic were a busy team at this year’s NBA trade deadline. After years of just barely squeaking into the playoffs, Orlando finally decided to tear it down and start over. Aaron Gordon, a player on a pretty large contract, had been expressing his anger with the organization and ultimately requested a trade, thus beginning the end of an era in Orlando.
Gordon was moved to the Denver Nuggets for Gary Harris, RJ Hampton, and a 2025 first-rounder.
Next was Evan Fournier being traded to the Boston Celtics for Jeff Teague (who was immediately waived) and two second-rounders.
Lastly, and most impactful, was saying goodbye to Orlando’s franchise player of the last decade almost. The Chicago Bulls received Nikola Vucevic (and Al-Farouq Aminu) in return for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and first-round picks in 2021 and 2023.
The rebuild had begun. Three players of immense importance to the Orlando Magic over the previous seven-plus seasons were now gone. However, the return is not nearly as bad as it could have been. RJ Hampton was once a highly-touted guard prospect that many expected to be a lottery selection. Gary Harris and Otto Porter Jr., despite their massive contracts, are still experienced veterans that can help guide the younger players. Lastly, Wendell Carter Jr. is a very promising, defensive-minded big that could easily become the next franchise big.
The rest of the season proved to be irrelevant, as Orlando was simply ready for the offseason to begin. The Magic ended the season with a bold starting lineup of Cole Anthony, Gary Harris, Dwayne Bacon, Mo Vagner, and Mo Bamba. Looking at this lineup, people might think Orlando will be a bottom-feeder in this league for years to come, but with a successful offseason, this team can quickly bounce back.
The first good news for the Orlando Magic will be clearing Otto Porter Jr. off their payroll. The veteran wing’s large contract has come to an end after making a significant $33 million. Next, Jonathan Isaac should be fully healthy for next season’s opening night, with Markelle Fultz hopefully returning near the turn of the calendar. Finally, the last positive for Orlando came from the lottery. Orlando has the luxury of the 5th, 8th, and 33rd draft picks.
The lottery night was both promising and disappointing for Orlando as they failed to receive a top-four pick, despite being tied for the best odds of the top pick. Additionally, the Magic had a 51.2% of receiving a top-four selection, but somehow their pick fell just outside of it. This major let down was then eased by knowing they had the eighth pick from Chicago. If this pick had fallen into the top four, the Orlando Magic would’ve lost the pick until next year.
With all this in mind, what should the Orlando Magic’s plan for the future entail? Primarily, the success in the draft is an absolute need for this team as they have frequently been disappointed with their selections. Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz, and RJ Hampton are all young, exciting talents that could bloom into a strong backcourt in the coming years. Therefore, a guard should not be their focus.
Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. are both entering their rookie extension periods, which can mean one of two things. Either, Orlando can renew both and hope they become their cornerstone bigs of the future or they can renew one and give up on another. I am a firm believer, despite my prior love for him, that Mo Bamba’s time with the Orlando Magic is over. Carter Jr. offers the team more flexibility with him being of smaller stature, less injury-prone, and more successful in his time playing.
Now if one takes into consideration the talent available in this year’s draft, the main focus for the Orlando Magic should be in finding a wing. Isaac stands in at 6’11”, making him a prime subject for the power forward position. Chuma Okeke is a bit more undersized and can operate as a flexible wing. Terrance Ross is a bit more guard than forward, but his importance might be irrelevant as he becomes a large trade asset for many teams.
The fifth overall pick should ideally be Jonathan Kuminga or Scottie Barnes. Barnes would have a nice little Florida State reunion with Dwayne Bacon (if brought back) and Jonathan Isaac, but if Kuminga is available, then he should be taken. The eighth selection is much more uncertain. This draft is very guard and smaller forward focussed, which is not really Orlando’s need. A possible trade-up for Evan Mobley would be intriguing, especially with rumors of his stock falling, but to do so would most likely cost a lot.
Therefore, I think the best possible move for Orlando would be to either trade down or draft the best available talent. I am not overly fond of drafting based on skill over need, but in the case of a rebuilding Orlando Magic that could have a lot of roster flexibility, it is likely the wiser method.
The next main goal for Orlando should probably be finding a suitor for Gary Harris. As mentioned before, his contract is quite large and his recent play has not been extremely great, but teams would likely take him on for depth and defense. This roster is already very guard-centered and if they draft two forwards like many project, they will be in dire need of some big depth.
Isaac is tall for his stretch forward position, while Carter Jr. is quite small for his center position. Bamba’s inconsistency should be a worry for them, so finding a rebounding big man should be their free agency goal. Four possible options that come to mind include Nerlens Noel, Cody Zeller, Richaun Holmes, and Kelly Olynyk.
Olynyk and Holmes played pretty well this season and should get some decent contract offers. Zeller is certainly out in Charlotte and not too many people are very high on him, so this change of scenery could prove beneficial to everyone. Noel I would say is the least likely, and not due to performance or pay, but just because I expect him to return to New York as he filled in a big role this past year with Mitchell Robinson being out.
Orlando Magic Future Seasons
While many expect them to be in the bottom tier of the Eastern Conference, a high-quality offseason could bring this team back into the playoff picture as soon as next season. The importance of Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz to the Orlando Magic is extremely underappreciated. Cole Anthony, RJ Hampton, and Chuma Okeke should all improve after garnering valuable experience in their rookie seasons.
As long as the Orlando Magic can hit on one of their top-8 draft picks, this team should be in a position to threaten a playoff appearance as soon as next season. Even if they are not in that position come next season, they are certainly in a quicker rebuilding position than other squads like Houston. Give this team a year or two and they once again should be in contention, bringing the Magic back to Orlando.
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