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Victor Oladipo showed why the Magic must keep Aaron Gordon

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The Magic cannot afford to see another player spend their prime in another uniform

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

While watching Victor Oladipo and the Pacers play the Cavaliers in the first round, during what was another postseason-free spring in Orlando, I couldn’t help but wonder if it could have been the Magic.

If Orlando had the present-day version of Oladipo on their current roster, would the Magic have been the equivalent of the fifth-seeded Pacers team that pushed LeBron James and the Cavs to the brink?

It’s one hell of an assumption to make considering the dismal season the Magic had and the fact that we’ll never know if Oladipo would have truly developed in Orlando the way he has after a brief stint in Oklahoma City, where he was inspired by Russell Westbrook and transformed his conditioning regime. But assuming Oladipo’s development progressed at the same rate - where he emerged as a consistent shooter, improved on the drive-and-kick, and thrived in transition – the impact he would have had on the Magic’s internal improvement would have been significant.

With that lesson learned the hard way, it’s imperative that the Magic lock up Aaron Gordon long term and do not create a scenario where history could potentially repeat itself.

Whether it was Shaquille O’Neal playing in Los Angeles, Tracy McGrady or Dwight Howard playing in Houston, or Oladipo playing in Indiana, Magic fans have seen far too many of their one-time cornerstone players spending the prime of their careers in another uniform.

When Gordon finally hits his peak, he must be in a Magic jersey.

NBA: Miami Heat at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Set to enter restricted free agency, it’s easy to highlight the flaws in Gordon’s game (most notable being his inconsistency and his at times highly questionable shot selection) and declare that he is not worthy of a max contract. But in the case of the Magic, where climbing out of a perpetual rebuild will be dependent almost entirely on the NBA Draft or improvement from within, the organization must pay Gordon not for what he is or what he has done, but for what he one day could be.

They have to pay Gordon, what could be an estimated $25 million per year, as if he is destined for an Oladipo-like leap.

Such is life for a small-market, financially-strapped organization that will have difficulty luring premier free agents in the superteam era. Giving up on young players with promise has added risk for a team like Orlando, especially in the post-Oladipo era.

For all that can be blamed on former Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, trading Oladipo is not one of them (IMO anyway). As I’ve said before, I actually liked the trade at the time. The Magic needed the rim protection that we all assumed Serge Ibaka would provide and Oladipo was coming off a season where he had slightly regressed, though looking back that was likely more a product of a poorly assembled roster of young players looking to establish themselves. Either way, nobody saw this coming from Oladipo, not when he was with Orlando or Oklahoma City.

Indiana Pacers v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Two Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After seeing Oladipo become a first-time All-Star, a lock to be the league’s Most Improved Player and a legitimate franchise player, it plants the seed that Gordon could be capable of reaching that level should he expand his game (which he began to do this season) and the Magic put the proper pieces around him (like a starting-caliber, traditional point guard that can shoot from the outside and beat defenders off the dribble, a coach that will be around longer than a year or two, and better perimeter shooters that will open the floor for Gordon to operate).

Just 22 years old, Gordon seemed poised to reach that level early in the season when he first began to show signs of being a potential franchise player. With the Magic emphasizing pace and perimeter shooting, Gordon seemed to be emerging as more than just an uber-athletic dunk-or-nothing type of offensive talent, shooting 50 percent from the field and at one point was even leading the league in three-point shooting. That proved to be unsustainable, and with injuries mixed in, Gordon was wildly inconsistent for much of the second half of the season, settling for shots and making just 39.7 percent of his attempts over the final 32 games of the season. Despite ending the season shooting a career-low 43.4 percent, Gordon set personal bests with 17.6 points per game and 33.6 percent shooting from three.

There is plenty of room for improvement, but at Gordon’s age, there is also plenty of time for improvement.

Gordon showed flashes. Now Orlando must show patience. And that patience will not be cheap.

When Gordon is inevitably offered a max deal by a team willing to gamble on him, it will be in the Magic’s best interest to match it and pay him like a player that will one day be more efficient, more consistent and more like Victor Oladipo.