On the first day of free agency, everything seemed to play out exactly as the Magic brass hoped it would.
The day was highlighted, of course, by the Magic’s re-signing of Aaron Gordon for the bargain price (by today’s NBA standards, anyway) of $84 million over four years. That figure is considerably less than what many thought Gordon could receive as a restricted free agent.
The dominoes fell perfectly for the Magic, as other teams thought to be in pursuit of Gordon made signings of their own that limited Gordon’s options and paved the way for the Magic to bring him back at a rate they are happy with. Credit for this must be given to Jeff Weltman and John Hammond for not panicking when faced with the possibility of watching the Magic’s best hope of becoming an All-Star walk away if he did in fact receive an offer that exceeded the price the Magic were willing to pay (if that price even existed in the first place).
The Magic immediately tendered Gordon a qualifying offer, allowing him to determine his worth in what proved to be a dry market. Teams like the Pacers, Suns and Mavericks, knowing that the Magic would match any offer, perhaps opted not to issue an offer sheet of their own, knowing their available cap space would be tied up while the Magic mulled matching it and other free agents signed elsewhere. LeBron James signing with the Los Angeles Lakers also may have facilitated Gordon’s return to Orlando, once it removed the Lakers from the equation.
All said and done, the patience the Magic showed with Gordon possibly saved them as much as $5 million to $6 million per year. The team-friendly contract gives the Magic flexibility and could also be used as a trade chip over the next few years should Gordon not mesh with his frontcourt mates.
This is a great price for the Magic. Gordon is their best asset by far. And this helps create flexibility for Orlando going forward. https://t.co/xGOG04pSqR— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) July 2, 2018
For the financially strapped Magic that goes a long way, particularly when combined with the cap hold for Mario Hezonja now off the books, as well.
Some might say that losing Hezonja is a failure on the part of Weltman and Hammond, who declined Hezonja’s fourth-year option for $5.2 million in February and gave him the power choose his destination. That could prove to be true. But at the time, declining Hezonja’s option wasn’t nearly as second-guessed as it is now that Hezonja showed flashes and confidence during his unexpected boost in playing time due to injuries to Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac and Gordon.
The failure that was Hezonja’s tenure with the Magic is more the fault of Orlando’s previous regime and coaches that built a roster that left Hezonja buried on the bench and underutilized until it was too late.
And keep in mind, Hezonja didn't leave Orlando for money, he left for opportunity.
The decision to let Hezonja walk could certainly come back to haunt the organization. For Magic fans who have seen their favorite players demand trades, depart in free agency and spend their prime years in another uniform, the thought of Hezonja thriving elsewhere is a legitimate concern.
Dear Magic, thanks for developing #MarioHezonja the last half-season. P.S. thanks for treating him like he beat up Scott Skiles and Mickey Mouse the first two and a half. Sincerely, a beleaguered and beset #Knicks fan— Scorers Table Tonight (@scorerstable0) July 2, 2018
But until that happens, if it ever does, the first day of free agency in the summer of 2018 will be viewed as a successful day for the Orlando Magic. A day when the front office brought back a key piece at a salary the organization was able to dictate, and also a day when the Magic didn’t overpay for role players to fill a need as they so often have in the past.
There are still moves to be made, but the Magic are off to a good start.