The end of the Mario Hezonja era in Orlando could be near.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports that Orlando declined the fourth-year option for Hezonja, who the Magic selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Hezonja will now become an unrestricted free agent in July.
Orlando has declined the fourth-year option on Mario Hezonja, fifth overall pick in 2015 Draft, league sources told ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 31, 2017
Today marked the deadline for the Magic to exercise the rookie option on Hezonja, who was slated to make roughly $5.2 million in his fourth season. Based on the 22-year-old’s development and production, the front office may have viewed as too costly with extensions for Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton looming.
Depending on what Hezonja commands on the open market, the possibility still exists that the Magic could resign him. That decision, though, now belongs entirely to Hezonja. It seems likely the two will go their separate ways given the Magic’s salary cap flexibility and that Hezonja could be searching for more opportunity, a change of scenery and a chance at redemption.
Hezonja has showed signs of life this season, shooting 50 percent from the field, but has averaged just 5.5 points per game while playing limited minutes in his two-plus seasons in Orlando.
Earlier today, Basketball Insiders reported that the Magic and Kings held recent discussions regarding a trade that would have sent Hezonja to Sacramento for Malachi Richardson.
Whether a trade is completed before the deadline, or Hezonja walks in free agency this summer, it appears that the Magic will soon be distancing themselves from one of the organization’s greatest draft day blunders.
Given Hezonja’s age, and the relatively team-friendly salary he would have made next season, the move is still somewhat of a surprise. With Hezonja now playing for a contract, it will also be interesting to see how he is used and how he responds.