A rumor (which had been assumed for weeks) became much clearer in late September when multiple sources broke the news that rookie forward Chuma Okeke would delay signing his NBA rookie-scale contract until next summer. The Orlando Magic are over the NBA’s salary cap for the 2019-2020 season, but now find themselves with some “wiggle-room” under the luxury tax threshold (now that Okeke will not be signing this year). Okeke will likely miss the majority of this upcoming season as he continues his rehab coming back from an ACL-injury to his left knee.
Orlando’s management group, led by President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, was able to manufacture an advantageous situation for the organization in their off-season negotiations with Okeke. Instead of occupying a spot on Orlando’s full roster in ‘19-’20 while he’s still recovering, the former Auburn star will likely sign a deal with the Lakeland Magic (Orlando’s G-League affiliate) when he’s ready to play basketball this season (if that times comes at all).
If Okeke were to have signed this year, his starting salary would have been roughly $3.1 million. His rookie contract would have put the Magic just under the NBA’s luxury tax threshold, and I mean just (by roughly $700,000).
Without his contract, the Magic now have two open roster spots (14th & 15th man) and an estimated $3.6 million dollars to work with (under the tax apron).
Orlando is currently carrying 20 players on their training camp roster through the early stages of the preseason schedule. The Magic will need to trim their roster to a maximum of 15 players (not including Amile Jefferson and Josh Magette, who signed two-way contracts) before Opening Night (October 23rd).
Will the Magic sign someone (with the intention of that player making the Opening Night roster)?
At this point, that question is a difficult one to answer.
Weltman has expressed numerous times during his tenure in Orlando that he likes to carry 14 players on the roster, at least early in the season, to provide the organization with some flexibility. If the team were to suffer a set of injuries to various players, the Magic would have the option of signing someone mid-season due to their available roster spot.
We saw a situation play out last season when the Magic brought in Michael Carter-Williams on a 10-day contract (after guard Isaiah Briscoe went down with an injury) without the flexibility of an open roster spot. Orlando was able to temporarily sign the former NBA Rookie of the Year due to an injury exemption, but ultimately had to waive Briscoe in order to make room for Carter-Williams on the full roster.
However, this year the Magic have potentially two open roster spots. Theoretically, they could sign someone to provide depth at the end of their bench, and then still have that open 15th spot in case something should occur down the road.
Josh Robbins of the Athletic asked Weltman last week about the possibility of adding someone to Orlando’s roster in the immediate future.
“As we go through camp, we’ll be evaluating our roster and seeing what opportunities present themselves, and we’ll get to that when we get to that,” Weltman told Robbins.
If they do bring someone in, what exactly do the Magic need?
I don’t get the sense from reading Robbins’ interview with Weltman that the Magic are eager to make any imminent moves. The front office feels good about the roster, particularly the depth of the roster, and there really aren’t any glaring holes on this team that need to be addressed.
Still, extra bodies are always a valuable thing to have throughout an NBA season, both in practice and throughout the year as bumps and bruises begin to pile up.
I know one thing for certain. The Magic have six players on their roster under the age of 25 years old; their player development staff already has their hands full this season working with Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, Mohamed Bamba, and Melvin Frazier to help them continue to reach their full potential.
If they are going to sign a 14th man, it will probably be a low-maintenance, veteran-type presence that can provide stability on the back-end of their bench.
“There’s no reason to just sign a guy just to sign him,” Weltman added in his interview with Robbins. “We don’t need another young player to develop. But if we see an opportunity, we’ll always be on the prowl for that.”
If the Magic do elect to sign someone, then who?
The Training Camp invitees
DaQuan Jeffries, B.J. Johnson, Vic Law, Isaac Humphries, Jon Davis
All five of the guys on this list signed Exhibit 10 contracts with the Magic this off-season, meaning they are eligible to earn up to $50,000 dollars in bonuses if they spend 60 days with the Lakeland Magic (assuming they are waived prior to the start of the season).
Law, Humphries, and Davis appear to be long-shots to break camp with Orlando. Law, a product of Northwestern, has only appeared in one of Orlando’s first three preseason games. Humphries, who played a year at Kentucky (‘16-’17) before heading back to his native country of Australia to play professionally for a year, has played a total of eight minutes for the Magic this preseason. Humphries split time between the Atlanta Hawks and Erie (Atlanta’s G-League affiliate) last season. Davis was just brought into camp this past week, so one would figure that his odds of making the roster are even greater than the rest. I would assume that we see Law, Humphries, and Davis playing in Lakeland to begin this season.
Johnson is a player the Orlando organization is relatively familiar with. The La Salle product spent training camp and the preseason last year with the Magic, before ultimately landing in Lakeland to begin the ‘18-’19 season (went undrafted in 2018). Johnson started over thirty games for Orlando’s G-League affiliate, scoring 15.4 points per game while shooting 44.4% on three-point attempts.
Johnson logged minutes towards the end of last season with both the Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings before being waived late this summer. He’s appeared in two games for Steve Clifford this preseason, scoring 7 points in a total of nine minutes of action.
Jeffries has appeared in all three of Orlando’s preseason contests, but he’s yet to score a point in 17 total minutes off the Magic bench (0-6 FGA’s). The Tulsa wing impressed many over the summer, playing for the Magic in the Las Vegas Summer League after going undrafted in late June. Jeffries started five games for the Magic, averaging 13.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.4 steals (12-22 on 3PTA’s). The 6-5 Oklahoma native dazzled at times in Vegas, putting on full display his unique combination of athleticism, run-and-jump ability, and outside shooting touch.
Remaining Free Agents/A player that is waived prior to Opening Night
It’s hard to predict who could potentially fall into this category, but this may be exactly what Weltman and Hammond are planning to do with the remaining roster spot(s).
Maybe not sign a remaining free agent necessarily. If the Magic were planning on doing that, they would have probably zeroed in on a guy and brought him in to camp by now (although there are some interesting names still out there unsigned - no, I’m not talking about Carmelo Anthony). But just as a point of reference, veterans such as Jamal Crawford, Devin Harris, Iman Shumpert, and (gulp) J.R. Smith are still at home on their couches as the season quickly approaches. The Magic have enough room to sign a player to a contract slightly above the veteran-minimum, although it’s unclear whether it would even take that much on the table to bring one of them in.
Perhaps the Magic are waiting to see if a veteran they deem as a player who can help the club ends up getting waived from another team prior to Opening Night. Those kind of situations are fluid and happen somewhat regularly as NBA team’s attempt to trim their roster from 20 players down to 15.
It would probably take a “perfect storm” of situation, signability, and willingness to come to Orlando for the Magic to bring in an established veteran player at this point of the off-season.
I’m not saying it won’t happen; the right kind of veteran can bring invaluable leadership and presence to a team like the Magic, who are looking to build upon last year’s success and vault their way up the hierarchy of the Eastern Conference.
But it’s a lot more likely at this point that the Magic guarantee a guy like Jeffries or Johnson as they prepare to break camp, still leaving that 15th slot open for a veteran player if needed (and let’s all hope it isn’t - #BanInjuries).