The Magic’s offseason remodeling is just about done for the summer. Even though the NBA is now a twelve-month sport and you can never know for sure, it’s pretty likely that the roster Orlando currently sports will be the one it carries into training camp on September 25.
You can expect the team here at OPP to provide an analytical breakdown of that side ahead of the coming season, but before then I thought it would be interesting to simply try and rank the different moves. Which ones should Magic fans be excited about? Is there any cause for concern? Has the needle been moved on last year’s 25-win campaign at all?
The criteria being used for this is somewhat nebulous and features a healthy dollop of subjectivity, but it should still be an interesting and illuminating exercise. I’ve focused on net outcomes and the context of the ‘big picture’ as opposed to exactingly precise transaction minutiae, but ultimately each entry comes back to the same question: does this move put the Magic closer to success in the not-too-distant future? From first to worst, let’s dive in...
1. Drafted Mo Bamba
Sometimes the best moves are the simplest ones. Picking at six put the Magic largely at the mercy of other teams, so when they eventually hit the clock a lot of the tough decisions had effectively been made for them. Bamba was considered the best prospect left on the board and his selection a straightforward one, even for a team woefully deficient in the backcourt.
Bamba has a chance to transform the Magic, at least defensively. He’s athletic and absurdly long -- you might have heard a little about his wingspan -- and instinctive enough to warp opposition sets simply by virtue of his looming presence. Offseason folk stories (see: Summer League) also contain whispers of an emerging three-point shot, a development which if true provides equal parts intrigue and hope for his role on offense.
We’re years away from knowing for sure how valuable the selection of Bamba is for the franchise. At this point in time, however, the pick holds promise. If the Magic are ever going to emerge from this seemingly interminable rebuild it’s almost certainly going to involve their latest lottery selection emerging as an All-Star level talent. We’ll keep the collective fingers crossed.
2. Re-signed Aaron Gordon
Although it’s unclear if Gordon is a player around which a winning team can be built, it’s pretty apparent that the Magic negotiated a solid deal when locking down their restricted free agent for the next four seasons. The pact, which landed in the vicinity of $80 million, is good for both team and player. For the Magic, they retain young talent, avoid paying the max, and see the cap hit drop each year. For Gordon, he gets paid. Win-win.
All that’s left to do now is hope that the coaching staff can figure out how to ensure that this also translates into wins on the hardwood.
3. Appointed Steve Clifford
Speaking of the coaching staff, we’ve got changes! After two pretty uninspiring seasons, Frank Vogel is out, and the new man behind the clipboard is the now ex-Hornets head coach, Steve Clifford. In his time in Charlotte, Clifford enjoyed middling success, leading the team to two first round playoff exits and a cumulative record just below .500 across five seasons. It’s hardly Red Auerbach’s resume, but it’s one that the Magic of season’s past would have traded for in a heartbeat.
Like Vogel, Clifford comes to the Magic as a coach with a defensive identity. Unlike Vogel, there remains a chance that will still ring true after his time in Orlando. Most years he had the Hornets operating as a top-10 (or thereabouts) defensive unit, with a specific calling card of defensive rebounding, limiting transition opportunities, and an ability to keep the opposition off the free throw line. Considering the potential of the personnel now at his disposal, the decision makers in Orlando almost certainly would expect him to work the same … *ahem* magic … with this squad.
4. Acquired Jerian Grant
Is it crazy that I think I really like this move? When the Magic shipped Bismack Biyombo (and two second rounders) out of town the initial reaction from many was that it was nothing more than a small cost-cutting maneuver and a way to minimize the jam in the frontcourt. However, there’s a chance that Grant’s acquisition becomes more than a throw-in. While it’s unlikely that he’s the long term solution to the team’s point guard woes there’s a solid amount of evidence to suggest that he’ll be a valuable contributor this coming season.
Grant has spent his first three years in the league plying his trade for pretty uninspiring teams, so it’s not surprising that many are unfamiliar with his game. However, what his performance in relatively limited opportunities reveals is a floor general with good defensive instincts, a strong passing game, and an offensive skill set that intrigues should it continue to develop. He’s long and able to hound his opponent on the perimeter, while with the ball in hand he’s generally safe and able to search out efficient shots. Grant is going to get an opportunity to play for the Magic, and he might just turn some heads as he does so.
5. Acquired Jarell Martin
As a big with some propensity for outside shooting, Martin might be a decent rotation player, which makes his acquisition by the Magic a solid move. They were able to send the recently-acquired Dakari Johnson to the Grizzlies for the 6-10 forward (and cash!). Effectively, they turned the little-used and unlikely-to-return Rodney Purvis into someone who might carve out a spot in the rotation. The crowded frontcourt remains a hurdle, but in the NBA, longer odds have panned out before. For a rebuilding team with more question marks than sure things, bringing in Martin is worth a shot.
6. Signed Isaiah Briscoe
He might not be the point guard named Isaiah that a lot of Orlando fans were clamoring for this offseason, but he’ll do. The Magic obviously liked what they saw at training camp (and overseas) and signed him up to a team-friendly three-year deal, with little in way of guaranteed money. It’s unclear precisely how much Briscoe will contribute on the court, but he’ll get a chance to prove he belongs and find his way into the rotation. The main thing that determines his fate might be the outside jump shot: he was woeful at college but much improved during his recent season in Estonia. If recent form is more indicative of what to expect he could end up carving out a solid niche for himself.
7. Drafted Melvin Frazier
Familiar with Wesley Iwundu? Well, if you answered yes, you’re basically up to date with the scouting report on Frazier, as well. A defensive-minded wing with some hope of developing a three-point shot, it’s more likely that this second round pick tops out as an end-of-the-bench depth guy than anything greater. At this point of the draft you hope to get lucky, but you don’t lay awake at night sweating it.
8. Drafted Justin Jackson
Although he’s not a player in exactly the same mold as Iwundu and Frazier, feel free to copy/paste the entry above for Jackson. His injury history and fit in a crowded rotation makes it even less likely that he sticks with the team long term.
9. Signed Troy Caupain
Caupain managed to secure one of the team’s two-way contracts in early July, meaning that he’ll once again be a mainstay for the Magic’s G-League affiliate in Lakeland. His deal also brings with it the possibility of up to 45 days with the top squad, so he could end up being sighted in Orlando before all is said and done. Still, as a guy who doesn’t project as an efficient scorer, great three-point threat, or careful ball distributor it’s unlikely that his signing amounts to much in way of wins.
10. Signed Amile Jefferson
We are definitely into the realm of the unexciting now. Jefferson is tall, long and one hell of a rebounder, but unlikely to see much action in Orlando. He’s last in a long line of big men on the roster, and his two-way contract basically ensures that he’ll spend most of his time in Lakeland.
11. Waived and stretched Shelvin Mack
Mack’s exit from the Magic was telegraphed as far back as the signing of his contract, which featured a $1 million buyout option after the first year. Sure enough, Hammond and Weltman cut bait with last season’s assists leader, maintaining a long history of backup point guard signings that didn’t work out for Orlando. It’s a tradition, or an old Floridian town charter, or something.
The main concern with the move comes from the team’s decision to stretch the remaining money over the next three seasons. It’s a relatively small cap hit (made smaller still by Mack recently signing with the Grizzlies) that will look right at home alongside the remaining dead money owed to CJ Watson. It’s not a huge figure, but it does seem odd that the Magic didn’t just eat it this year, when they figure to be further away from contention and free agency relevancy than they will be in 2020. Why let the mess linger?
12. Acquired Timofey Mozgov
The big Russian was acquired largely for his willingness to ride the bench for the next two years and not agitate for playing time, which is an amazing thing to say about a man still due almost $33 million. And about the NBA in general. What we all wouldn’t give to be 7-feet tall and mildly coordinated.
Sure the moves might not be as splashy as some were hoping for. It’s certainly true that they deal mainly with the deepest end of the bench. However, there’s more than a faint hint of optimism to be found when looking at the overall picture. The Magic roster is better now than it was when the offseason began, and it’s possible to envision a path to relevancy.
It’s never going to rank as the best offseason in Orlando’s history but it is possible that it is one day remembered fondly. At this point of an interminable rebuild, it might just be enough.