Orlando Magic fans had right to be frustrated when talks between the Magic and free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas fell apart. But with Thomas’ training camp availability in question as he recovers from his nagging hip, it may have been the right move after all.
The Magic followed a 25-57 campaign by largely standing pat in free agency (outside of reportedly having talks with Thomas).
True, the Magic certainly upgraded with pterodactyl Mo Bamba, but little else was done to bolster a depth chart that struggled to win games.
With the exception of deals bringing in a couple of former 2015 first round picks in Jerian Grant (19th) and Jarell Martin (25th), the Magic largely stood pat, especially at one of its most critical positions: Point Guard.
Don’t take my word for it. Incumbent starter D.J. Augustin, Jerian Grant and Wildcat Isaiah Briscoe all found themselves on the outside looking in of Bleacher Report’s Top 15, 247 Sports’ Top 20, and Hoops Hype’s Top 30!
The Magic have every right to expect improvement even without a top ten facilitator. After losing 197 games to Aaron Gordon, Jonathon Simmons, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, Jonathan Isaac, and Terrence Ross, health may be a prized free agent acquisition in and of itself.
Newly resigned Aaron Gordon also should give Magic fans a sense of hope entering his fifth season. At just 23 years of age (Happy Birthday, by the way!), Gordon posted stat lines of 18 points and eight rebounds per game and graded out impressively as a ‘creator’ according to BBall Index:
Off-Ball Movement: A-
Roll Gravity: A
One on One: B+
Post Play: A-
However, this offseason’s events still had President of Basketball Operations, Jeff Weltman, and General Manager, John Hammond, desperately close to taking a flyer on former MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas.
Isaiah Thomas and the Orlando Magic are negotiating a possible deal, according to league sources. Nothing has been agreed to yet, but it seems both sides want to get this done.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 4, 2018
A deal you should expect to get done this offseason, per multiple reports: Isaiah Thomas to the Orlando Magic.— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) July 4, 2018
Just one season ago, Thomas finished his 2016-17 campaign as a Boston Celtic by averaging 29 points and six assists, in addition to scoring 53 points in a postseason win over the Washington Wizards.
The former two-time All-Star and All-NBA athlete would go from ‘backing up the Brinks truck’ to a forgettable 2017-18 season in which he struggled through hip issues and locker room disagreements. After being traded from Boston to Cleveland to Los Angeles, Thomas went from a near certain $100 million payday to a veteran minimum deal in the 2018-19 offseason.
As unfair as IT’s story may appear on paper, the fit in Orlando seemed more than ideal. The Magic have been desperate for a slasher who can collapse a defense and create for his teammates on the perimeter (Fournier, Gordon, Ross) and in the post (Vucevic, Isaac, Bamba). IT could’ve taken and surpassed his 19 field goal attempts from a year ago, and recouped much of his value as he enters his 30s. At a modest 5’9 and lingering hip issues, it may have been his best bet.
The Orlando Magic and Isaiah Thomas never were negotiating a possible contract. Is it correct to say the Magic explored the possibility of signing Thomas? Yes. But there were no negotiations. The addition of Jerian Grant indicates Orlando had decided not to ultimately pursue IT.— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) July 8, 2018
So why didn’t talks between the Magic and Thomas progress? Were the Magic worried about upsetting a culture that hadn’t seen the playoffs in six seasons? Were they concerned about the trigger-happy scoring sensation taking much-needed reps from their youth movement in Gordon, Isaac and Bamba?
Or, were the Magic concerned for another reason:
As Isaiah Thomas continues to rehab his hip, Denver is signing veteran guard Donald Sloan to a training camp deal, league sources tell ESPN. Denver has 15 guaranteed contracts.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 19, 2018
Thomas’ athleticism that provided the scoring prowess around players much taller and longer than he may never return. Weltman and Hammond may have contemplated this possibility sought to save the Magic from another season lost to injury and disappointment.
The Magic need all of their players healthy and active in the 2018-19 season. While the playoffs may be far from the ultimate and realistic goal, continuity and progress certainly will be. The Magic appear set with their lineup as is, and it may have been the right call after all.