As free agency quickly approaches, the Orlando Magic have a lot of questions surrounding them.
Will they keep All-Star Nikola Vucevic and sixth-man Terrence Ross, and return the same roster they did last season? Will they keep just one of Vucevic or Ross? Could they lose both?
Whatever the front office of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond decide to do over the coming weeks will not only shape the direction of the franchise for the 2019/20 season, but also the years that directly follow.
There’s no secret that the Magic would like to bring back both of their veterans, who are coming off their best years as pros, and try to build on their first playoff appearance since 2011/12.
Would running it back with Vucevic and Ross be worth it for the Magic? Or could they allocate those funds in different directions and find multiple players who could make impacts on shorter, and cheaper deals?
After all, while they did win their division and make the playoffs for the first time in seven years, they still just barely squeaked into the playoffs, and finished a mere two games over .500.
While the Magic will have options, those options will be limited thanks to poor spending and future planning from the previous regime led by Rob Hennigan. Both Vucevic and Ross come with big cap holds — $19.8, and $15.7 million respectively — which renders the little bit of space the Magic would have had non-existent.
However, should one, or both of them agree to terms with a new team, the Magic could then be looking at as much as $21.4 million in space to work with. That could make a big difference as Weltman and Hammond continue to preach patience, and look to build the team “the right way.”
Knowing that Weltman is going to work with patience could mean they would be more receptive to the idea losing Vucevic and Ross, even if it means taking a step back next season. The ultimate goal is to build a team that contend as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, not one that is in no-mans land fighting for the seventh or eighth seed every season.
That being said, when you look at how the roster is currently constructed, and the likely timeline of some of their younger players, bringing back a guy like Vucevic would make sense for the Magic, especially if they can get him on a shorter two- or three-year deal.
Simply put, Mo Bamba isn’t ready for starter minutes at the NBA level. He missed the second half of his rookie season with a stress fracture in his lower leg, and when he was healthy, looked lost on the floor. Typically it takes big men a little more time to get used to the NBA game, so staying patient with Bamba is something they’re going to do, and keeping Vucevic would allow him to be more prepared for a heavier load of minutes.
When things would get tricky, and murkier for the Magic is if they tied themselves to Vucevic for four or five years. A five-year deal for Vucevic signifies he’s your building block, and that you believe he’s your center of the future, not Bamba who you just used the sixth pick on in last years draft.
Ross on the other hand is slightly different. With fewer long-term options on the wing, Ross would have a role to play moving forward. The question would be, can he replicate the same production he had last season, or was it a matter of a streaky player being hot in a contract year?
Much like with Vucevic, I think the years, and not so much the dollar amount would matter for Ross. I think, ideally, the Magic would like to keep some short-term flexibility open for the next few off seasons, while not taking a big chunk out of their pay roll for three, or four years down the line when Isaac, Bamba and, if he’s able to get healthy, Markelle Fultz, could be looking at long-term contract extensions.
The Magic have already made a few moves that could shine some light on the direction they’re going to go in the coming weeks on Tuesday, picking up Wes Iwundu’s team option, and tendering qualifying offers to Khem Birch and Amile Jefferson.
Having both Birch and Jefferson as restricted free agents could mean the Magic are already bracing for the possibility of losing Vucevic, giving themselves cheaper options to fill the void that he could leave.
The next few weeks are going to be big ones for the Magic, not only for this season, but for the following few seasons as well. What they do, especially with their own free agents in Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross, will shed a lot of light on the direction the team is going.
If they elect to bring both of them back, they’re buying into the success they had this season, and showing that they believe both can help them take the next step this season. If they don’t, they’re showing a big belief in their young core, and the potential for bringing in more high impact free agents over the coming summers.