The Magic have just one point guard on the books next season. His name is Markelle Fultz.
With D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams set to test the market as unrestricted free agents, the Magic have decisions to make in shoring up their point guard depth.
You’d think the financially-limited Magic would have interest in retaining at least one, if not both, given Augustin’s much-needed shooting ability that helps provide the spacing Fultz cannot, and Steve Clifford’s affinity for for the always-hustling MCW.
And yet, the Magic reportedly have interest in trading for Knicks point guard Dennis Smith Jr., according to Marc Berman of the New York Post.
I’m very skeptical of the report, which is likely just rehashing the Magic’s previous interest in Smith, an uber-athletic point guard who has mostly disappointed over his first three seasons in the league. He was an option for the Magic in the 2017 NBA Draft when Elfrid Payton was the incumbent starting point guard and Orlando ended up taking Jonathan Isaac with the sixth pick and Smith fell to the Mavericks at nine. Reports of the Magic’s trade interest first circulated when Smith became available on the trade market in 2019, before he was dealt to the Knicks in the Kristaps Porzingis deal.
At the time, trading for Smith made sense for a Magic team that had Augustin as its starting point guard and Jerian Grant as its backup. Now? Not as much.
Not when the Magic have such a similar, but superior, young point guard in Fultz. Smith, like Fultz, can get to the rim with ease and when in the right system can be an effective playmaker. But, like Fultz, he can’t shoot from the outside.
Smith shot just 29.6 percent from three last season, topping Fultz’s 26.7 percent. Smith’s percentage was down from 32.2 percent in his previous season, which was split between the Mavs and Knicks. His attempts per fell from 3.9 in 2018-2019 to 1.6 in 2019-2020 as his minutes (and probably his confidence) were reduced.
In his first 21 games with the Knicks after the trade in 2019, he did show promise as a starter, averaging 14.7 points and 5.4 assists in 28.6 minutes per game. But he was plagued by injury and the death of a family member during the 2019-2020 season, battled Frank Ntilikina for playing time, and watched Elfrid Payton of all people emerge as the starter on a dismal Knicks team. Smith last season averaged just 5.5 points and 2.9 assists while shooting 34.1 percent from the field in 15.8 minutes per.
He is, however, just 22 years old and seemingly has untapped potential. He has also been working with former NBA sharpshooter Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf to help correct his jumper.
Perhaps another change of scenery could do for Smith what the trade to Orlando did for Fultz. Taking on another reclamation project with a player who has clear upside can prove to be very beneficial for a team with limited maneuverability like the Magic. But Smith will need playing time to prove his worth, and with his rookie deal coming to a close, a decision on retaining him would have to be made somewhat quickly.
Before getting that far, the question is what would the Magic have to give up to get Smith from the Knicks, even with his diminished trade value. If you believe Berman’s report of how the Knicks are looking to trade back in the draft and a “bigger deal could work with the Magic,” that suggests a trade involving the eighth pick and Smith for the Magic’s 15th pick and (insert player here).
What’s the Knicks asking price in that scenario? Mo Bamba? A larger trade involving Aaron Gordon?? Even if Smith is a consolation prize and the end game for the Magic is to move up in the draft, it’s not a return that’s worth losing an asset for.
Based on salary and need, I’m not so sure there’s a player who fits in that package for a deal to make sense for the Magic. And even if there is, Smith doesn’t make much sense for a team in desperate need of shooting he can’t provide.