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After Serge Ibaka trade, the Magic still have work to do

Trading Serge Ibaka for Terrence Ross isn’t enough to correct the personnel missteps the Magic have made of late.

NBA: Orlando Magic-Press Conference Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic made a major trade Tuesday by sending Serge Ibaka, their starting power forward and highest-profile offseason acquisition, to the Toronto Raptors for Terrence Ross and a first-round selection in the 2017 NBA Draft. In recent days it became clear via media reports that Orlando was open to finding a new home for Ibaka. One wonders if it’s not done dealing; after all, the team still has several glaring holes, and the trade deadline stands just nine days away.

“I think that, for us, this deal made sense for a few different reasons,” Hennigan said in a news conference the team held at Amway Center. “I think as we’ve watched our team play over the course of the season, clearly, something’s amiss. And we’re all frustrated by the way our team’s performed to date. We felt it was necessary to try to shake things up somehow, someway.”

Indeed, something is amiss in Orlando. After acquiring Ibaka on Draft night—for the steep price of Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and the Draft rights to Domnatas Sabonis—signing Bismack Biyombo, and hiring the well-respected Frank Vogel as head coach, the Magic had designs on taking a major step forward and contending for their first playoff berth in the post-Dwight Howard era.

Instead, the team owns the East’s second-worst record and the league’s second-worst point differential. While anyone could have predicted its offensive struggles, given the team’s lack of perimeter shooting, floor spacing, and competent point-guard play, the defense’s subpar performance must come as some surprise: through Tuesday, the Magic rank 22nd in defensive efficiency.

Worse, and taking a wider view, the Magic’s once-rich stockpile of assets is almost bare. In the past year they’ve traded valuable veterans like Channing Frye and Ilyasova as well as two solid-if-unspectacular youngsters in Oladipo and Tobias Harris. Their young core is Biyombo, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic, and now Ross. It’s an okay bunch, sure—I am, in particular, cautiously optimistic on Gordon’s star potential—but after five seasons of rebuilding, “an okay bunch” doesn’t really cut the mustard.

The Magic’s failure to take a step forward in 2016/17 is on the players, yes, but also on the front-office staff who assembled them. In a vacuum, acquiring a solid role-player on a team-friendly contract and a low first-round Draft pick in exchange for a pending unrestricted free agent isn’t such a bad move. But in the NBA, no move takes place in a vacuum. It’s fair to wonder if Orlando might have been better off keeping Harris and Oladipo and attempting to retool with them. Would that team, under the stewardship of Vogel, really be any worse off than the current group? That such a question is reasonable to ask, in light of where the team stands at present, serves as an indictment of Orlando’s personnel moves over the last year-plus.

One hopes Hennigan and his crew learn from the mistake they made in trading for Ibaka, chiefly that in a rebuild, it is imperative not to skip steps. Orlando was thinking short-term with that trade and failed to account for the bigger picture.

What does that picture look like now that Ibaka’s gone? A bit brighter, with Ross under team control for the next two seasons and another Draft pick in the war chest. But even if one acknowledges that the return for Ibaka was fair, one must also admit that the Magic have shortcomings on both sides of the ball and are still a ways away from becoming a perennial playoff team.

Orlando corrected a mistake with Tuesday’s deal, but it still has plenty more corrections to make.