The calendar is about to flip to July, which means that the chaos of the NBA offseason is almost upon us! This is the time of year when teams and fans alike can both dream big, and when the solution to your problem is only a contract offer, a convoluted trade, or a kidnapping away. Let’s dive in and look at the riddles the Magic will be seeking to solve when the clock strikes 12:01.
1. Will Aaron Gordon be donning pinstripes next season?
This is undoubtedly the biggest question that the Magic will need to answer come the start of free agency. At this point Gordon is the main prize that the team has to show for the past six years of rebuilding. Losing him now would be a tough sell to an already exasperated fan base, particularly one that just watched the recently departed Victor Oladipo emerge as a legitimate All-NBA talent and end-of-season award winner. It would result in some serious despondency.
Gordon is coming off his best season as a pro to date, and of all the potential currently on the roster, seems the best chance of one day developing into an All-Star. A scorching percentage from deep during the opening stretch of last season had him looking like a lock for the league’s mid-season showcase. However, the inevitable cooling off and closer attention from opposition defenses meant that he was unable to maintain this momentum. Still, it was a solid campaign for the fourth year forward.
Solid enough, in fact, that there figures to be some serious interest in Orlando’s restricted free agent. The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks has pegged Gordon as one of the most interesting in this situation, and rumours have already begun trickling out about overtures from the Pacers, Mavericks and Suns. It’s pretty easy to envision one of these teams making a significant play for his intriguing mix of talents, while Gordon himself has made no secret of his desire to land a max contract offer. Are the Magic ready to commit over $100 million to the former fourth-overall pick?
Although it’s the most important question, it might actually possess one of the simplest answers. League executives have apparently felt for quite a while that the Magic will match any offer for Gordon, even if he happens to secure a max deal. The team’s cap situation is pretty ugly -- such are the sins of 2016’s excess -- but the idea of losing him for little to no return simply won’t be palatable for this talent-starved side. Whether or not his long-term future is in Orlando’s suddenly crowded frontcourt remains to be seen, but it feels like a safe bet that Gordon will be back in Florida in 2018-19.
2. Is there a point?
Before we careen into a dysteleological debate about whether or not life truly is “a tale told by an idiot,” I should clarify that I’m actually referring to Orlando’s current backcourt dilemma. After cutting bait with Point God Shelvin Mack the Magic only have one point guard -- D.J. Augustin -- under contract for the 2018/19 season. On a team full of young, developing talents not known for their individual playmaking skills it’s a legitimate area of concern.
Augustin has proven himself to be a capable if uninspiring starting quarterback. Even though it’s likely that management feels comfortable bringing him back in this role it’s still imperative that the franchise add meaningful depth at this position during the offseason. Teams traditionally carry three point guards on the roster to balance minutes and cover for injury, and the Magic will also want to ensure that they have steady hands who can be trusted to feed those they’ll have pounding the paint and camped out on the perimeter. Who might that be?
Our very own Mike Cali has already spent some time pondering this question, identifying many of the targets the Magic are likely going to be flinging darts at. But are any potential bullseyes? Fred Van Vleet would be a nice (and age appropriate) addition, but his strong play last season probably puts him out of Orlando’s price range. Dante Exum is a sexy suggestion, but he comes with a bundle of question marks and a worrying lack of outside shooting for a team already starved from beyond the arc. The majority of other players floated as options are either old (Jameer Nelson, Jose Calderon) or simply not coming to Florida (Chris Paul, Isaiah Thomas).
Are there any stones left unturned? Seth Curry and Patrick McCaw are two other interesting names, although both are more naturally suited to the two and might be found to be over their heads in a bigger ball handling role. Nick Calathes is possibly on his way back from Europe, but it’s fair to wonder if he’s a solid fit for the Magic at this point of his career. Could the team instead make a move for someone like Terry Rozier or Eric Bledsoe, both of whom are thought to be available (for very different reasons) should the right trade reveal itself? As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.
And, you know, if all else fails there’s always … Elfrid Payton?
3. What’s going on in the frontcourt?
At the moment the answer to this questions is ‘a minutes crunch’. The Magic have gone big at the last two drafts, and when you add that to the existing size of Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo, Khem Birch, and (the probably returning) Gordon -- whose best position remains the four -- one might wonder what is going on. It’s a fair sentiment.
Simply put, not everyone is going to be able to secure the playing time they would like this coming season. Even with the positional versatility promised by some there won’t be enough minutes to go around. With the team committed to the development of youth it means that the veteran faces are the ones that are going to quickly find themselves on the outside looking in.
Vucevic and Biyombo figure to be the two who don’t fit into the team’s long term plans in any meaningful way. Vooch has been the Magic’s centerpiece post-Dwight, but it feels like he has become emblematic of the team’s lack of success during this stretch. Additionally, his status as an expiring contract simply adds to the inevitability of his exit.
As for Biyombo, he’s locked in for two more years at a truly repugnant annual hit of $17 million. His on-court contributions just don’t work for this team or seemingly in the modern NBA at all, and his trade value could politely be described as nonexistent. The Magic are stuck with him and would do well to simply accept the sunk cost and bury him at the end of the bench.
Is Mo Bamba ready to play meaningful minutes? Are Gordon and Jonathan Isaac compatible? Can the front office find a trade destination that makes sense for Vucevic? There are currently a number of questions that come to mind when looking at Orlando’s frontcourt. It’s imperative that the team finds some answers this offseason.
4. Will there be another opportunity to worship at the Church of Hezonja?
The answer to this question is undoubtedly yes, but the likelihood of it happening in the state of Florida is slim. The front office made an early call on the Croatian wing when they declined his fourth year option ahead of last season, a move which basically sealed his exit from Orlando. Super Mario is a free man.
Hezonja has obviously been a disappointment since being drafted fifth overall in 2015. However, he showed real promise when the opportunity presented itself last season, setting modest career highs in basically every statistical category. Most importantly, he genuinely looked like a player who could slot into any team’s 8-man rotation. While this is a pleasing outcome for the individual it creates a headache for the Magic, who no longer have any measure of control over his playing future.
Despite the fact that on social media he doesn’t sound like a man intent on leaving the Magic, Hezonja’s return remains very much a long shot. The team has limited cap space and a number of needs, and his second half surge may have actually pushed him out of their price range (classic Magic). His positional overlap -- he’s a wing that might be most effective deployed as a small ball four -- compounds the equation, meaning that it’s likely we’ve already witnessed him deliver his last service in pinstripes.
5. Is there a chance the Magic could get LeBron, Kawhi or Paul George?
It might not be a franchise altering offseason coming up for the Magic, but it will certainly still be an interesting one. There are tough questions requiring answers, and should they hit on the right solutions there’s a real chance to set a foundation for success in seasons to come.
Be sure to let us know in the comments how you would like for the Magic to navigate the next couple of weeks.