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Staying or going: A closer look at which Magic players could be moved this winter

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Aaron runs down Orlando’s roster and talks trade likelihoods as February 8th draws closer

NBA: New York Knicks at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With the minor holidays now behind us, 2018 brings us the most important time of the year for NBA fans. Yes, that’s right. It’s NBA #TradeSZN!

The official NBA Trade Deadline this year is Thursday, February 8th (3:00 PM EST). As of this first week of January, the Magic currently sit at 12-27, fifteen games below .500. This puts the Magic eight games off the pace from earning a playoff berth in the East and now one game behind owning the distinction of possessing the NBA’s worst overall record (TANKATHON ALERT).

A few national media members have already weighed in regarding how they feel the Magic should approach the Trade Deadline as an organization.

Yesterday, Haley O’Shaughnessy and Paolo Uggetti from the Ringer wrote that the Magic should be sellers:

“The Magic are an inconsistent team full of misfit players, and need to stay as bad as they are now to have the best shot at a top-three draft pick. This may be the time for new GM John Hammond to start moving things around and figuring out a clear identity to the team.”

Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report wrote last week that:

“Most of this puzzle was assembled before the organization (Orlando) overhauled its front office. Key figures like president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond have few attachments to these players and perhaps little interest in completing whatever this picture is supposed to be.

Orlando should be one of the most aggressive sellers leading up to the deadline. If the only move to make is shedding bad money, that helps improve flexibility and likely increases this club's draft lottery odds. If certain veterans can bring back high-upside prospects or draft considerations, the Magic could quietly have one of the league's more productive trade seasons.”

With just over a month remaining to make transactions (not including unforeseen buyouts), I expect Jeff Weltman and John Hammond to be as active as any executives around the league. What (if anything) the Magic can accomplish in the next few weeks remains to be seen. In this season of evaluation for Weltman and Hammond, creating future cap flexibility is something that may prove to be more easily said than done. The Magic won’t make a move just to make one (I hope. I mean, Rob Hennigan is gone); if an offer fails to be made to the Magic that provides anything of value in return for a player on the roster, then I’m sure the organization will play out the season, provide remaining minutes to guys on the team that are more likely to be around moving forward, and prepare for the draft and free agency.

But for the sake of good ‘ole fashioned trade chatter fun, I’ve gone ahead and placed every member of the Magic in tiers according to how “safe/unlikely” or “realistic/likely” I perceive their availability in a trade this winter to be. Again, keep in mind, these tiers are based off of the likelihood members of the Magic get traded in the next month (next summer, next season, etc. = different discussion).

Settle-in, invest in some Central Florida Real Estate, buy your Disney season passes; you’re not going anywhere:

Jonathan Isaac


Isaac is without a doubt the safest member of the Orlando Magic, he will be with the organization for the remainder of his rookie deal (through the ‘20-’21 season). The Florida State local product was the first selection of Orlando’s new management team (Jeff Weltman, John Hammond), and they will give Isaac every opportunity to develop into the player they believe he can be with the organization.

The Magic have placed Isaac in an injury rehabilitation and conditioning program for the time being as he recovers from a chronic ankle injury. He is being listed as “out indefinitely” by the organization. This is the correct move by the Magic by the way. He will not be rushed back until he’s ready (whether that’s sometime this season or not).

No escaping for now; will not be traded this season:

Aaron Gordon


The Magic will not give up their Bird Rights with Aaron Gordon, he’s not going anywhere. I realize that Gordon is due to become a restricted free agent this summer, but it’s strongly presumed that the organization will do everything they can to bring him back.

Since Gordon is a restricted free agent, it will ultimately be Orlando management’s decision whether Gordon is with the Magic next season or not. But I just don’t see Weltman/Hammond trading away Gordon now and giving up their ability to match any offer for him this summer.

Bismack Biyombo


The Magic are still a year (or two) away from realistically thinking about dumping Biyombo’s contract on another organization. Remember, Biyombo still has one guaranteed year at $17 million left on his contract (‘18-’19), AND a second year (‘19-’20) player option of $17 million left (that he will absolutely opt-in to).

Besides, the Magic would have to almost certainly take back an awful contract if they were going to send Biyombo packing, and I don’t see management going in that direction.

Maybe the story will be different around next season’s deadline, but for now, the $34M Biyombo price tag is too much remaining paper to even get another team on the phone.

Wes Iwundu


In last year’s draft, the Magic had three picks in the 25-35 range. The organization came away with just Iwundu. New management seems intrigued by his length, versatility, and defensive potential.

Iwundu’s contract is not guaranteed for as long as his rookie counterpart Isaac’s is, and its technically very movable if need be to make salaries match, so I don’t have Iwundu in the same tier of long-term safety/security as Isaac. One would assume that Iwundu is very safe for this season though.

Probably not going anywhere, but “stranger things” have happened (for two seasons in Hawkins, Indiana AND for many seasons in Orlando):

Jonathon Simmons


I’m just going to come out and say it; I think Simmons has been exposed a little bit the last few weeks. His play has been really poor. He’s been dribbling entirely too much, he’s been forcing things that aren’t really there, and he’s been turning over the basketball carelessly time after time. I don’t blame Simmons, I just think he’s being asked to do more at this moment than he’s probably capable of. Like many guys on the Magic right now, Simmons has struggled to take on a larger role trying to fill in the void created by losing Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier to injuries.

I still think Simmons has significant value though. His contract is incredible, Simmons is due $6 million next season guaranteed. His deal also includes a team option in ‘19-’20 (due $5.7M). I’m sure, mostly because of his bargain of a contract, that the Magic still include Simmons in their future plans. As the first wing off the bench, I think Simmons can still be a positive piece on the Magic (next season and beyond).

I only include Simmons in this “you never know” tier because his contract is so reasonable. A six million dollar deal guaranteed for only one year beyond this season is very movable. If a team in playoff contention (Houston, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, and Washington seem like they could use some more quality depth on the wing) targeted Simmons and made Orlando an offer they couldn’t refuse (some combination of a young prospect and/or a pick), it wouldn’t completely shock me if Simmons was traded this year. I have him at something like 75%-25% that he stays in Orlando beyond this season, but again trading him isn’t completely unworkable or out of play.

Evan Fournier


For me, Fournier is in a similar situation to what I mentioned earlier about Biyombo. He has a lot of remaining money left on his contract ($34 million guaranteed over the next two seasons, and a $17 million player-option for the ‘20-’21 season). With potentially over $50 million dollars remaining due to Fournier, he seems to be still a season or two away from being able to be moved.

The only difference is that Fournier can be a difference-maker for a team. I certainly wouldn't consider Fournier’s deal to be an albatross of a contract. Fournier absolutely has value around the league, but I’m just not sure what teams would be willing to give up to acquire him. Any playoff contending team that would be open to acquiring Fournier this winter wouldn’t be willing to give up a player in return that’s a major piece of their team.

Like Simmons, I strongly assume Fournier will be with the Magic next season. It just doesn’t seem like the Magic would be able to bring back a player in a deal for Fournier that would mean as much to this organization as Fournier does (his shooting/scoring ability). But stranger things have occurred.

D.J. Augustin


I struggled with this one, I really went back and forth. Holistically, Augustin feels like a veteran point guard that contending teams would be interested in trading for. In theory, Augustin could catch fire in a random game here or there and help a team win a game down the stretch (or even in a playoff series) this season.

The problem? Not Augustin’s $7.25 million this year; probably not even the $7.25 million he’s due next season. But I doubt teams would be willing to pay Augustin $14.5 million guaranteed over the next two NBA seasons beyond this year (through ‘19-‘20). Again, the money he makes isn’t really the issue for me with Augustin, it’s the years left on his contract. I think teams looking for a quick fix would agree, and probably looks elsewhere for a player with a shorter-term contract that expires before Augustin’s does to fill their back-up point guard needs.

Besides, keeping Augustin through the trade deadline (and bringing him back next season) helps Orlando. Depending on what they decide to do with Elfrid Payton, Augustin provides stability and a veteran presence at the position coming off the bench. Like Biyombo, I think the Magic will find more luck if they look to trade Augustin at next year’s deadline.

Terrence Ross


Terrence Ross has a very movable deal, he’s only under contract for one more season after this year (‘18-’19: $10.5 million guaranteed). However, the severity of the injury he suffered in late November pretty much takes Ross off the table to be traded before this February.

Ross endured a sprained MCL in his right knee, as well as a non-displaced fracture of his right tibial plateau. The organization has acknowledged that Ross will miss “a significant amount of time”, but management has not officially ruled Ross out for the year. By no means do I expect Ross to be back by February’s trade deadline. Best case scenario, he could be back by the playoffs, but that would still be assuming a pretty aggressive rehab process on Ross’ part.

Ross, a career 38% three-point shooter with Toronto, has shot 33% on 3-PT attempts in Orlando (PER of 10.8 as a member of the Magic). Ross was off to a very cold start to his ‘17-’18 campaign, shooting a career worst 41% from the field. However, Ross was surprisingly producing defensively for the Magic, his loss on the perimeter has made a significant impact on the defensive end of the floor.

Like others mentioned in this piece, I think Ross is more likely to be moved at a later time down the road. Ross could be a prime asset potentially moved this summer for a late first or early second round pick. Because of his injury, I don’t see why a team would target him this winter.

No one is calling about these guys (can someone check to make sure the phone is not off the hook?); but if you want ‘em, you (probably) got ‘em:

Arron Afflalo & Marreese Speights


Afflalo and Speights are both on minimum deals that expire at the end of the season. I don’t see many contending teams calling about the availability of either guy. I mean, they did have to sign minimum one year deals in Orlando just last summer for a reason.

But if a contending team was interested in either veteran to provide depth at the back end of their bench, I’m sure the Magic wouldn’t be hesitant in the least to pass them along. I just can’t envision any team giving up anything significant (even a second round pick) for either Afflalo or Speights.

Shelvin Mack


Remember, the Magic only partially guaranteed Mack’s contract next season. Only one million of the $6M Mack is due next year is guaranteed as long as he’s waived before June 29th. If a playoff contending team is looking for a fourth or fifth guard this year, Mack could be their man. He filled that role for Utah last year in the playoffs. And the structure of Mack’s deal could provide a team an opportunity to shed money towards next year’s cap situation.

Best case scenario, maybe the Magic could get a second round pick as a payoff for taking on $5-7 million of unwanted salary in exchange for Mack. Maybe.

Mario Hezonja


I know Mario has shown some signs of life lately, I get it. But the Magic were already trying to trade Hezonja to whoever would bite before the league mandated deadline to pickup fourth year rookie options in October came and went.

Teams weren’t interested in Mario then, or at least they weren’t offering anything for Mario that interested Orlando’s management. Maybe teams will begin calling now due to his improved play.

The Magic declined Hezonja’s fourth-year rookie option, effectively making him an unrestricted free agent next summer. Orlando could still technically opt to re-sign Hezonja, but that seems highly unlikely. Organizations know this, so why would they give up anything to acquire Hezonja now (when they can just wait until next summer, that is if they wanted to acquire him in the first place)? Do any of us really envision Mario making a difference for a team in the playoffs this upcoming season?

Have the Louis Vuitton, Neiman Marcus, and Gucci travel bags ready; Orlando’s most valuable (and realistic) trade assets that could be moved by February:

Nikola Vucevic


Kevin O’ Connor of The Ringer included Vucevic in his piece two weeks ago entitled “15 players to target before the NBA Trade Deadline”. O’Connor said of Vucevic:

“The 27-year-old big man is shooting just 34.3 percent from 3 this season, but he’s enough of a threat to warrant attention from defenses, which creates space in the paint. He can attack a rotating defender off the dribble and finish around the rim with either hand, or go to work in the post in mismatch situations. He runs the floor hard, making him a natural fit for teams that like to play at a fast pace. The Swiss 7-footer has also improved his passing and is posting a career-high 19.0 assist percentage.

It’s easier to come off the bench for a winning team. Vucevic hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since 2011–12, when he was a rookie with the 76ers, and even then he played just three minutes of a second-round blowout game. Now that he’s developed, it’d be interesting to see him playing with an appropriate offensive workload and better defenders by his side. Vucevic, who is under contract through next season, isn’t good enough to help the Magic win, but he could be good enough to provide the bench punch that a playoff team needs.”

It’s fairly rare for national media members to be tuned-in to what’s going on with the Orlando Magic, but in this case, I tend to agree with O’Connor’s Vucevic take here.

I still think Vucevic is one of the more underrated big men in this league. He rebounded nicely from an abysmal year last season to become one of Orlando’s most valuable players this year.

But his contributions have rarely lead to overall victories these past six years. I don’t blame him exclusively, not at all; over the course of his time in Orlando there have been many other mitigating factors that have slowed down the progression of the franchise (poor point guard play, tons of young guys getting major minutes, lack of roster cohesion, lack of a defensive presence next to Vucevic, god awful trades, multiple coaches/schemes, etc.).

Vucevic fracturing his left hand (non-shooting hand) a couple weeks ago complicates his immediate future with the organization. With only one year left on his contract ($12.75M next season), Vucevic was presumed to be Orlando’s most valuable trade chip this winter (prior to his injury). He had surgery December 26th, and is expected to be sidelined for six to eight weeks. The NBA Trade Deadline is in five weeks, so that would put Vucevic on schedule to return to a perspective new team shortly after they acquired him.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that his injury, while certainly untimely, probably won’t completely hinder Orlando’s ability to move him (if that’s what Weltman and Hammond decide to do). A playoff-contending team most likely wouldn’t be dealing for Vucevic to start him, but he could potentially be quite productive serving as a sixth or seventh man in the right situation (Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, maybe Boston).

However, does his injury ultimately diminish the kind of return Orlando would be seeking in a Vucevic trade? That is the question.

Elfrid Payton


Elfrid Payton has been a slow starter in every season of his four year career in the NBA; this year was no different. Payton missed nine of Orlando’s first 13 games due to an injured groin. When Payton returned to the lineup, he was mostly ineffective (11 points per game, just under 3 turnovers, shot 54% from the free-throw line) throughout November.

Payton has since picked up his play (starting in December), especially in Orlando’s last 10 games (15.9 points per game, 54% from the field, 7.2 assists). Payton has been more assertive and aggressive, mostly likely due to the fact that Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, and Nikola Vucevic have been in-and-out of the lineup at various times throughout the end of the calendar year. Payton has turned himself into a positive offensive plus-minus (offensive box score +/- of “+0.8”, highest of his career) player: his offensive rating (108), true shooting percentage (55%), and FG% at the rim (69%) are all career high marks this season.

Still, his improved play has not translated into a lot of wins for the Magic, and that has been the case with Payton in others seasons as well. He goes through red-hot stretches, and puts up solid counting statistics when given a larger role, but the Magic still lose. I know a lot of Magic fans refer to his contributions as “empty stats”. According to Basketball Reference, Payton has a +/- metric of -7.0 (per 100 possessions) when he’s on the court this season, the team actually performs worse (-3.1) this year when he’s on the floor (However, the Magic are better when Payton is on the floor versus “off” over the course of his career). I just want to see him become more consistent on the defensive end; take more pride in defensive fundamentals, become less of a liability defending the pick-and-roll, etc.

I digress, apologies.

With all that being said, I still think Elfrid Payton may be Orlando’s most valuable trade chip this winter. He’s only 23 (turns 24 in February); he’s already shown that he is capable of producing off the bench (went through a tremendous stretch last season coming off the bench temporarily, before he was inserted back in the starting lineup). As a third guard for a contending team, Payton might have some value.

On a team with other strong defensive players, Payton wouldn’t be as much of a defensive liability (especially if he came off the bench, which he likely would). On a team with other strong perimeter shooters/scorers, Payton’s lack of an ability to stretch a defense wouldn’t be as much of an offensive liability. In the right situation, I could see Payton thriving; pushing the pace, providing scoring and play-making off the bench, coming up with a key rebound or steal here or there.

But like Vucevic, the likelihood of Payton getting traded in the next month also comes with an asterisk*. What complicates Vucevic getting traded is his injured left hand. For Payton, a major complication that ultimately may keep him from getting traded this winter is the fact that he’s due to become a restricted free agent this summer.

It’s not unheard of for a player to be traded during the last year of their rookie-scale contract, when they are due to become a restricted free agent. Essentially, a team that would theoretically be trading for Payton would be trading for his “bird rights”; the right to be able to offer Payton top dollar on the market, as well as match any offer sheet he signs with another club. Have any organizations around the league really put that much forward thinking into Elfrid Payton though, and if he has a future with their prospective organization beyond this season?

Look, this was always deemed to be “a season of evaluation” by Jeff Weltman and John Hammond. If they have decided at this point that Elfrid Payton is not in Orlando’s future plans, why not look to deal him now? You clear Payton’s cap hold that would kick in next summer, you clear opportunities on the floor to evaluate others the last few months of the season, etc. I’m certainly not calling for the Magic to give Payton away. The last thing I want is for the organization to give another 20-something prospect away for pennies on the dollar, only to see him thrive in another situation. It’s all about what other teams are willing to give up.

I just get a sense that if a team is willing to give up a somewhat valuable first round pick for Payton, or a legitimate young prospect, then Weltman and Hammond will have to take a long look at that kind of proposal.


Orlando has some players on their roster that I’m sure management would be willing to move, should the right deal present itself. Perhaps there are even some members of the Magic that other organizations will go out of their way to seek out to help fill out their rosters for a potential playoff run.

It remains to be seen what Orlando’s roster will look like towards the second weekend in February. One thing we all can assume though is that Orlando will be quite active.

So, where did I go wrong? Let me hear about it below Magic fans. And Happy #TradeSZN!