The Orlando Magic, like the rest of the NBA's teams, are preparing for a frenzied free-agent period. Beginning December 9th--just 16 days before the season tips off--teams can begin to sign players to new contracts; until that time, the NBA has prevented them from making offers--written or otherwise--to prospective free agents, though teams are indeed permitted to have contact with player agents. How the NBA plans to enforce this rule is both beyond me and the scope of this article.
At all rates, the Magic face few questions with regard to their own free agents. Orlando's roster is plenty flawed, as we saw in its first-round playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks, which had all the elegance and pleasantness of a fully-blown balloon's erratic, flatulent flight when one suddenly lets the air out of its neck. However, the questions for Orlando don't so much concern keeping good talent from leaving as much as how to add talent from the outside.
Starting shooting guard Jason Richardson, reserve utility forward Earl Clark, and break-glass-in-case-of-emergency big man Malik Allen are Orlando's only free agents. President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith told the Orlando Sentinel that re-signing Richardson, who turns 31 in January, is his highest priority this offseason.
Below the jump, an evaluation of the Magic's free-agent standing with regard to its incumbent free-agents-to-be. This site will attend to Orlando's options with regard to other free agents later.
I'd argue that Smith ought to have higher priorities--and many of you echoed similar sentiments in the comments section yesterday. After averaging 19.3 points per game as the Phoenix Suns' go-to offensive player, and with All-Universe point guard Steve Nash feeding him pocket passes, Richardson posted 13.9 points per game with Orlando; hardly drew fouls or did anything but shoot from the outside; and flamed out to the tune of 10 points per game in 30.6 minutes on 33.3 percent shooting in the postseason.
But in the sense that Richardson is the lone free agent Orlando has who played a significant role on last year's team, Smith is right.
Behind Richardson, the Magic lack depth on the wings. Were he to walk outright in free agency, J.J. Redick would presumably inherit his starting role. Behind him would be veteran wing Quentin Richardson, along with rookies Justin Harper and DeAndre Liggins. Further complicating matters is the fact that Harper is more of a combo forward than a swingman, while the defensively-minded Liggins resembles more a combo guard than a classic wing.
(I am now reminded of the conversation Quentin Richardson and I had regarding positionality and apprehend I've written the previous paragraph as though I wasn't paying any attention at all.)
The decision between a shooting guard rotation of Jason Richardson or J.J. Redick-and-change isn't really between the two at all; it's not binary. Smith could elect to sign another team's unrestricted free agent to take Jason Richardson's place, or acquire one via trade... and from those options arise several other options which are too numerous to cover here. The point is that Orlando's most glaring flaw is its play on the wings, and more specifically shot creation from the wings. Jason Richardson did little in his 60-game Magic career to indicate he has the shot-creating ability requisite for an Orlando two-guard. Redick and Quentin Richardson don't have it either.
I would not rule out Clark's return entirely, but I also would not be surprised to see him sign with a rebuilding club that can better attend to his development, which is a gentler way of saying a team that can afford, from a competitive (i.e. not in the literal financial sense) standpoint to play him heavy minutes. Coach Stan Van Gundy raves about Clark's work ethic and potential as an impact defender. Orlando doesn't have a player with Clark's combination of speed, size, and hops; that Van Gundy assigned Clark to guard the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Dirk Nowitzki last season attests to the confidence Van Gundy, who prizes defense, has in the young forward.
But Clark is far from polished, as one might expect from a lottery pick whose original team elected not to exercise its third-year contract option on him. Specifically, Clark's offensive game is what one might gently term "unrefined." Clark has yet to develop a consistent jumper, and thus defenses need not attend to him outside the immediate basket area. He does not have the handle requisite to be a slasher in the Thaddeus Young mold, nor is he a back-to-basket threat (to be fair to Clark, there are maybe, like, five good back-to-basket players in the NBA anymore). What he provides on offense is energy, as his rebounding numbers--three per 36 minutes, 10.1 percent of all available offensive boards--indicate.
But Clark, at 6-10, shot 44.1 percent from the field with Orlando. Which tops his rookie output of 37.1 percent, incidentally.
I don't mean to pile on Clark here. Orlando is wanting for athleticism and defense, which he can provide. I would not at all oppose the Magic's re-signing him at a price in the $2 million range.
As for Malik Allen? The veteran contributed 23 points, 32 rebounds, and 30 fouls in his 18-game Magic career, playing behind Dwight Howard following the trade of Marcin Gortat to Phoenix. Orlando needs a backup center, to be sure, but one who can provide more than one rebound every six minutes and can convert better than 35.5 percent of his shot attempts.
Which free agents ought Smith retain, and at what price? How risky a maneuver is letting Richardson walk, thus having to rely on free agency to round out the roster at two-guard?