For SB Nation NBA’s first summer theme day, we were tasked with selecting eight players on the current Orlando Magic roster to protect in an expansion draft.
With a new mix of young talent, and veterans, the Magic could face some tough decisions should this actually happen. There’s seemingly no right or wrong answer to who to protect because you simply do not know what a player could be at the end of a long-term contract, or how a player in their first few years could develop.
When the email first came across about selecting players, I immediately picked eight in my head. I thought I had the best eight and was set for smooth sailing.
That simply was not the case.
After taking multiple things into consideration — age, contract, standing within the league and skill set — I was able to select eight players and feel confident about the eight that I picked.
From the start it was clear two players were locks no matter what: Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Issac.
At only 21, and heading into his fourth season, Gordon has shown flashes of being a special player on both ends of the floor. After trying to play the three for much of last season, and seeing inconsistent production, Gordon began finding a real comfort level playing the four at the tail end of the season.
After the acquisition of Terrence Ross at the trade deadline, Gordon saw his per-game numbers jump considerably at his natural four spot. In the Magic’s final 24 games, Gordon averaged 16.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game, while shooting 50.3 percent from the field. Only Gordon’s assists (1.9 pre All-Star) and three-point shooting percentage — 29.2 before the All-Star break, and 28 percent after — decreased over the final 24 games.
Gordon is eligible for, what will likely be a hefty contract extension, and has shown flashes of being able to become the next face of the franchise for the Magic.
The other clear lock, Jonathan Isaac, is in much the same boat as Gordon. At 19, and getting ready to enter his first season in the NBA, Isaac is a player you can’t let go. He showed flashes of brilliance at FSU, and played well during the Orlando Pro Summer League last month.
While there are some questions about if Gordon and Isaac can play together, you can’t let either one of them walk. With the desperate need to find a star player, and both of these players holding that star potential, there’s zero chance the Magic would let either one be put up in an expansion draft.
After the Magic’s two young, potential stars, things get a little more complicated. The Magic have a handful of younger veterans who are entering what will likely be the primes of their careers.
Nikola Vucevic leads this group, and is someone who, in all likelihood would be considered a lock by some. With two years remaining on a very team-friendly contract, and consistent production on court to back it up, Vucevic would be a hard piece to, potentially, give up.
Going along the same lines as Vucevic, I saved Terrence Ross.
Ross, who spent the majority of his career with the Toronto Raptors, has playoff experience, and is on one of the most affordable, team-friendly contracts of any wing in the league. He’s a solid three-point shooter, which the Magic desperately need, and can play multiple positions. Ross is the type of player that an expansion team would want to add, so protecting him for the final year of his deal makes sense.
Every team needs a point guard, and, while he’s been up-and-down his entire career thus far, Elfrid Payton would be tough to let go. While he struggles to shoot the ball with any consistency, and has games where he plays with seemingly no energy on either end, he’s an affordable option at point guard, and one who came on strong last season.
Much like Gordon, Payton saw a dramatic increase in some statistical categories post-All-Star break last season. Across the final 24 games, Payton averaged 13.5 points, 8.4 assists an 7.0 rebounds per game, while shooting 50.8 percent from the field. While his points only went up one a game, his assists and rebounds both jumped nearly three per game, and his shooting and three-point percentages went up five percent.
The final young vet that I protected was Jonathon Simmons.
Simmons, who comes to the Magic after a few successful seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, is, again, on a very team-friendly deal, and brings forth a lot of intangibles a team needs. He’s a hard nosed defender, and can get out and make a difference in transition, much like Gordon, Ross and Payton can.
Add in Simmons’ versatility on the wing, and you have the beginnings of a highly interchangeable roster, a trend that’s running rampant in the league now.
The final two spots will bring up the most discussion. They weren’t easy, but after weighing a handful of factors, I protected... Arron Afflalo and Marreese Speights.
Holding on to two, cheap veterans who have a lot of experience seems really important, especially for a Magic team that has struggled to find any consistency from their vets the last few years. While Afflalo and Speights might not make the biggest impact every night, they’ll have the games where they have a big effect.
Add in the fact both are on one-year contracts, and selecting them seemed to make even more sense. They also both posses the Magic’s biggest need: shooting. That can’t be replaced super easily, especially at the price the Magic are paying them — both signed for the veteran minimum.
Outside Looking In
The biggest name I did protect was Evan Fournier. This is by no means an indictment on Evan and everything he has done for the Magic in his tenure. It’s much more about the money that he’s making, compared to the money that others are making.
As I mentioned with Afflalo and Speights, both are on veteran minimum contracts, which would be very desirable for a team that’s in an expansion draft. With Fournier set to make roughly $17 million per season for the next four years, the Magic could open up a lot of cap space if he was selected.
There’s also no guarantee that Fournier would be selected. Yes, he’s young and would have team control, but would an expansion team want to pay him that money for the long-term? Or would they prefer to try and find younger guys on more affordable contracts?
Should he not get taken, he comes back, no harm, no foul. Should he be selected, the Magic get out from that long-term money, and open up some needed flexibility for the upcoming summers.
The other semi-notable player left off the protected list would be Mario Hezonja. The soon-to-be third-year swingman has struggled to find any footing whatsoever in the league. His main skill, shooting, has not translated to the league at all, and he hasn’t developed many other areas of his game yet either.
Risking losing Hezonja isn’t something that would hamper the Magic, unless he were to develop into an actual impactful NBA player. Hezonja has shown nothing to lead anyone to believe he has that coming, however.
The other players not protected are listed below.
Now we ask you. Do you agree with who we protected? If not, who would you have saved? Is there someone that shouldn’t have been protected that was?
Share your thoughts in the comments.