The NBA is now only two weeks away from the annual trade deadline, a period that sees teams feverishly working the phones in a bid to alter the fates of their respective franchises while fans descend on Twitter and await the next Woj Bomb. It’s one of the most exciting days on the basketball calendar!
In preparation, I already spent some time asking what should be motivating the Magic decision makers in the leadup to this moment, ultimately coming to the conclusion that this season’s playoff push isn’t as important as the years to come. Still, that’s not to say that I want to see the team punt on the deadline entirely. Firstly, Orlando are more than likely going to the postseason again in 2020, so they’d be crazy not to try and address some of their deficiencies. Secondly, it simply wouldn’t be much fun to sit this out!
Join me as I take a look at the goals, the targets, the longshots and the bait (as well as a wild suggestion) that could potentially come into play for the Magic over the next fourteen days. Fire up the trade machine!
Goal #1 - Shore up the frontcourt
With Al-Farouq Aminu and Jonathan Isaac both on the long term shelf, this one is self-explanatory. The Magic have a sizable hole in their frontcourt rotation, which they’re currently patching with a combination of Khem Birch at the four, Amile Jefferson and Gary Clark. No part of that sentence screams successful playoff basketball.
While Birch has performed admirably since being forced into such duty, it’s simply not a good basketball fit. Watching the games reveals a player who is a complete non-threat on offense, as well as someone who has occasionally been taken advantage of defensively as a fish out of water. It’s a move that doesn’t play to his strengths while also emphasizing some of his weaknesses, and it would be surprising to see the numbers hold up over a longer stretch. Consolidating the forward rotation will be a key consideration for the Magic as they approach the deadline.
Goal #2 - Find playmaking and scoring in the backcourt
Not far behind on the concern index for Orlando would be the state of the backcourt, specifically point guard depth. Markelle Fultz has been great and will hopefully remain a key piece of the team for years to come. However, that’s where things start to get dicey. Behind him is only DJ Augustin — currently injured and a pending free agent — and reclamation project Michael Carter-Williams. The fact that the team has had to recently turn to a point-guard-by-committee approach that has featured players like Aaron Gordon and Wes Iwundu as the lead ball handler for sequences says everything one needs to know about the dire nature of the situation.
Related to this is the team’s very real need for a greater scoring punch somewhere on the roster. The Magic have struggled offensively for a number of years now, so the addition of a player capable of both creating their own shot and generating opportunities for others would be a boon for a side hoping to get back to the postseason. If this comes in the form of outside shooting, all the better.
Goal #3 - Position the team for future improvement
As I’ve touched on before, it’s essential that Orlando’s front office not lose sight of the forest for the trees as they navigate this trade deadline. While making the playoffs is a very real and admirable goal for this team, the fact remains that as currently constructed they’re not really set up for any sort of long term success. In fact, the Magic are probably much closer to their ceiling than their floor with this core, so any moves that limit the flexibility of the team to add talent in the future should be viewed with a healthy dollop of scepticism. Such a transaction would need to be the determining factor that catapults the side into a higher bracket of contention, and those sorts of deals are notoriously difficult to execute.
If the Magic were to make a deal, what sort of players and assets do they possess that could get the wheels turning in the first place? Orlando has a full suite of draft picks at their disposal, with zero outgoing picks and an extra second rounder incoming courtesy of the Lakers. Additionally, they also now have confirmation of a $4.6 million disabled player exception, which can be used to either sign or trade for a player for the rest of the season. These all help to create more options as we head towards the deadline.
However, the meat of just about every transaction in the NBA is players, so let’s consider who it is currently on the Magic roster that might have to make way for any new additions.
There are a number of serious championship contenders known to be in the market for a backup point guard, and Augustin fits the bill perfectly. He protects the ball, shoots the three, is comfortable in the halfcourt grind, and has a mid-sized expiring contract that is easy to fit on the books. Considering these factors alongside the needs of the Magic, why would they ever move him?
Well, the best place to start is probably with that previously mentioned expiring contract. If Orlando hold onto Augustin they risk seeing him walk for nothing at season’s end, an unenviable spot for a cap-strapped team looking to get better. So while the veteran is obviously valuable to the current roster, it may simply be that the team can extract greater value moving forward by sending him out of town for a less accomplished player with a higher potential ceiling. Remember, you’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelette.
The French two-guard is frequently mentioned as a potential trade chip that the Magic might cash in, a function of his bounce-back performance this season and his status as a potential free-agent. Would Orlando’s front office have the stomach to re-sign him if he does opt out? Remember, Fournier will likely be one of the best free agents on the market, and bringing him back would lock the team into this current roster for the foreseeable future whilst also certainly pushing them into the luxury tax in the seasons to come. Are the Magic instead better off seeing what they can get for him now?
Birch has gone from an over-qualified luxury as the team’s third-string center to a miscast starter at power forward, remaining throughout an asset with some positive value around the league. He’s a high-energy contributor who was great down the stretch for the side last year, with a reasonable contract that runs through next season. The Magic would have to address their frontcourt deficiencies before they let him go, but it’s easy to see how he might be a part of any deal that goes down.
Out of the names floated so far this one seems the least likely, but Bamba is almost certainly the only asset the Magic might be willing to give up that still possesses the allure of significant potential. Everyone else on the block is largely a known entity, and although Bamba has been a little underwhelming to this point in his career, he is still less than two years removed from his draft. He’s young and possessed of intriguing potential, two characteristics that the league at large has always been able to talk itself into. He’s in play if the deal is right.
Orlando don’t have any true untouchables, but both Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz are as close as one can get. Nikola Vucevic is, at least currently, an incumbent All-Star on a hefty contract. Aaron Gordon is the only established frontcourt presence still standing. Terrence Ross is one of the few feared shooters on the team. Wes Iwundu and Michael Carter-Williams are both more valuable to the Magic than any other team. Al-Farouq Aminu is, for this season at least, just a number on a salary spreadsheet. It’s hard to see a situation in which any of these players pack their bags.
Check back soon for Part II, where I’ll suggest some trade targets and longshots for the Magic.