Wendell Carter Jr. has had himself a very good six months.
With his stock plummeting in Chicago he found himself traded to the Magic as part of the Vucevic deal, a move that presented the chance to get his career back on track. The big man fully seized the opportunity, cementing himself as a starter down the stretch of last season, impressing in training camp and preseason, and now inking a four-year, $50 million extension that provides him with the comfort of significant security until 2027.
As things currently stand, the annual $12.5 million hit that the extension represents will make Carter Jr. the 13th highest paid center in the league next year, although that position figures to drop a little once deals for players like Ayton and Nurkic are done. It’s a total significantly below the dollars it took to secure recent extendees like Jarrett Allen in Cleveland and Clint Capela in Atlanta, and in line with what was nabbed by Richaun Holmes from the Kings and Robert Williams from the Celtics. Essentially, the Magic will be paying WCJ as a league average starting center from next season.
In that context — middle of the pack relative to the thirty available starting slots — the agreement probably feels like solid value for a player that has demonstrated the capacity to be good, but not a reliable game-changer. It’s also in line with what a number of experts were saying about the extension when it was still just a possibility; John Hollinger, for example, had Carter Jr.’s value over the next four years projected at $49 million. From that perspective it appears that the deal made to lock up the fourth-year big was an appropriate call by the Magic.
It’s also a move with at least some potential to eventually be seen as a fortuitous underpay. WCJ has already flashed a little expansion to his game this preseason, showing off a confident and accurate long-range stroke, as well as some defensive flexibility toggling between the four and the five when asked to play alongside Mo Bamba. If they become lasting additions to his repertoire then his ceiling projects to be noticeably higher than previously assumed.
The contract also doesn’t really impact Orlando’s bottom line moving forward, particularly next season when they still project to have more dollars to theoretically spend than just about any team in the league. The Magic are blessed with a pretty clean cap sheet, with no player currently on the books for more than Jonathan Isaac’s $17.4 million at any point over the next five seasons. The space will eventually get eaten up by extensions and the addition of even more lottery talent, but at the moment the opportunity still remains to lock in the current talents that establish themselves as essential to the core and to add to that with a shrewd outside signing for major dollars. At least in isolation, this four-year pact doesn’t hamper the team’s maneuverability in that regard.
If any trepidation does exist with the announcement of the deal, it’s likely a result not of the dollar figure but the number of years and the reports of a total guarantee. Carter Jr. has only played 141 games across his first three seasons; with no track record of sustained health, a fully guaranteed, four-year contract carries with it significant risk, even at a reasonable cap number. The half-decade commitment is also mildly worrying for a player who is yet to provide meaningful value over a replacement level player and who has consistently posted negative plus/minus metrics. WCJ is hopefully far from a finished product in the league, but with this extension the Magic are essentially betting that he has another level or two that can be reached.
One final piece of the puzzle to consider is what this deal means for the other fourth-year big on Orlando’s roster, Mo Bamba. It was always significantly longer odds that the team would extend the sixth overall pick from the 2018 class, simply because of how little he has shown in his career to date. Still, Bamba’s potential remains tantalizing and the organizational changes of late appear to be working in the big man’s favour — could he actually wrest the starting gig from Carter Jr.’s grasp? What would that mean for the future of the pair in pinstripes? Or is Bamba simply going to provide more of what we’ve already seen, inconsistent contributions punctuated by moments of promise? If that’s the case, expect the team to be in no rush to re-sign him, even at a reduced dollar figure. This extension kind of feels like the Magic might be simultaneously pushing in on Carter Jr.’s success while hedging against Bamba’s failure.
All things considered, it’s hard to be too critical of the Magic re-upping their relationship with WCJ. He’s made solid contributions since arriving in Orlando, and is now being paid in the years to come at a rate in line with his relative value. While it’s true that there’s some inherent risk to any deal, this appears to be one that both the team and player can feel okay about.