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Goldstone’s Whiteboard: Seven players Magic should target at the NBA Trade Deadline

Aaron is focused on a list of young players on rookie deals who could thrive in Orlando

I mean, if you’re offered the opportunity to have a little fun at the expense of a franchise’s former front office, you have to jump all over it right?

As a Magic fan, you will have a plethora of “Five hypothetical trades” pieces to read through this upcoming week, and I’m sure they will all be great. I just thought I would go in a different direction with this article, instead choosing to produce some content that also helps us all take a trip down infamous Orlando Magic memory lane.

If you don’t recall what this piece is in reference to (really, how could you forget?), our story goes back to the Spring of ‘17, also known as the final days of the Rob Hennigan era. One of more memorable (and meme-worthy) moments of Orlando’s former general manager’s tenure with the Magic came minutes after the team signed swingman Patricio Garino to a multi-year contract.

Garino, who ended up playing just five games with the Magic (43 total minutes), posed for a picture signing his contract that his agent tweeted out later that day. Unfortunately, the whiteboard in the background of the photo included numerous names of players around the league that appeared to be targets of the organization (via trade, free agency, etc.).

The leaked photo quickly became the talk of the league (before the tweet was ultimately deleted). Hennigan was dismissed by the organization weeks later. While I take no solace in (nor enjoy making any jokes about) anyone being fired, it is safe to assume that numerous other poor decisions were mostly to blame for Hennigan’s removal - not the photo faux pas. Therefore, I dunk away.

Anyhow, this current iteration of the Orlando Magic (under a different regime - President of Basketball Operation Jeff Weltman and General Manager John Hammond) projects to have a busy week leading up to the NBA Trade Deadline ahead of them.

Many of their players, most notably guard Evan Fournier and forward Aaron Gordon, have already been the subject of many trade rumors circulating around NBA circles. After making the playoffs over the last two seasons, the Magic have been ravaged by injuries this season, and now the organization finds themselves five games out of the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference (position needed to qualify for the “play-in” tournament).

With starters Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac nursing ACL injuries (both out for the remainder of the season), the 2020-21 season doesn’t appear to be Orlando’s year. That’s why many experts and insiders around the league expect the Magic to be one of (if not the most) active teams around the league leading up to Thursday’s deadline.

To set the table, the Magic have three expiring contracts in Fournier ($17.15M), Khem Birch ($3.0M), and James Ennis ($3.3M). And arguably their most valuable trade piece, Gordon, has one more year left on his contract after this season (declines in value to $16.41M in 2021-22). Terrence Ross is another veteran who could be highly sought after by a contending team at the deadline, though he still has two years left on his deal after this season (and the Magic may value Ross as insurance in case Fournier walks).

I put together a list on my “whiteboard” of young players that I think the Magic should be targeting in potential deals this week. I’m not proposing any official deals in this piece, nor am I posting screenshots of hypothetical “Trade Machine” transactions.

My rules are simple. If the Magic are going to cash-in on Fournier and/or Gordon, move for a “soft-reset” this season, shift their focus towards building around Fultz/Isaac/etc., whatever you want to call it - these are the terms of what I would be looking for in return:

-A young player between 20-23 years of age (to fit along the same timeline as Fultz, Isaac, Cole Anthony, Chuma Okeke, and Mohamed Bamba).
-A player with multiple years remaining on their rookie contract (that could include this season), in order to give the team a “free look” at the prospect before committing further to them.
-Preferably, the young player could provide depth at a wing position.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. I’m just trying to find value somewhere in a player that may be lacking opportunities with their current club. The Magic could provide said player with a larger role and more minutes. I’m thinking something similar to how Tobias Harris (for J.J. Redick) and Fournier (for Arron Afflalo) were acquired by the Magic.

So, there you go. The only question left is, who’s on my whiteboard?

Oh, and no photos please...

NBA: Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Nassir Little (21 years old), Forward

Little is exactly the type of prospect the Magic should be targeting at the deadline. He’s a promising prospect who has played sparingly over the last two seasons in Portland, and the Trail Blazers may be willing to part with a bench “depth” piece in order to compete in the Western Conference this season.

The 25th overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft was a highly-touted five-star prospect in high school who starred at local Orlando Christian Prep (won back-to-back state titles from 2017-18). Little was named the MVP of both the McDonald’s All-American and the Jordan Brand Classic games. After spending one up-and-down season in Chapel Hill, Little left North Carolina for the NBA.

Upon entering the NBA, I projected Little to be utilized as an undersized “4”, standing 6-6 with a 7-1 wingspan and a 8-8 standing reach. And that’s exactly how he was employed by Portland in limited minutes over his rookie season (301 minutes played, 11.9 minutes per game in 2019-20).

Why Little would be at the very top of my list of potential targets at the deadline is due to the fact that he’s demonstrated significant improvement through 23 games this season. The Florida-native has improved his field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage, free throw percentage, true shooting percentage, offensive rating, player efficiency rating, and offensive box plus/minus numbers considerably from his rookie to sophomore seasons in the NBA.

I’m more encouraged now (than I was when he entered the league) that Little can play the wing offensively. And defensively (from the front office’s perspective in Orlando), Little’s appeal would clearly come from his potential ability to defend multiple positions (SG’s, SF’s, PF’s).

Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Anfernee Simons (21 years old), Guard

When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. How could the Magic pass up an opportunity to target a player who was named after one of the franchise’s all-time legends? Simons, who played his prep basketball locally in Orlando (at both Edgewater High School and Montverde Academy), was born into a household of Magic-fandom.

The Altamonte Springs native has spent the last three seasons coming off the bench for the Portland Trail Blazers. Like Little, the former 24th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft has endured sporadic opportunities to show what he can do for a contending club. Perhaps a move back home would be exactly what Simons is in need of?

Simons is shooting a career-high 40.8 percent from beyond the arc in 2020-21 (on 4.8 three-point attempts per contest). The 6-3 guard hasn’t excelled in the NBA at contributing in any other particular areas (besides outside shooting) to this point in his career, but an increased opportunity with a new franchise could allow for other aspects of his game to potentially emerge.

Of course, Simons was recently named the Slam Dunk Champion at NBA All-Star weekend (2021), where the hometown product sported a Tracy McGrady jersey during the competition (albeit a Raptors jersey, but still).

Jordan Poole (21 years old), Guard

If the Magic were to become seriously involved in trade discussions with the Warriors, whether that would potentially mean dealing Fournier, Gordon, or even Ross, then second-year shooting guard Jordan Poole would have the be part of those discussions (coming back to Orlando).

The 21 year-old wing, who played collegiately at Michigan, has made a significant leap in production this season. Poole, albeit in limited minutes, has improved his shooting efficiency across the board in 2020-21 (48% FG%, 62% 2PT%, 39% 3PT%, 65% TS%). The former 28th overall pick from the 2019 NBA Draft is averaging an eye-popping 25.0 points per-36 minutes on the year for Golden State. While those numbers have come in a small sample-size, Poole looks every bit the part of a wing that could flourish alongside Fultz, Isaac, Anthony, Okeke, and Bamba.

Unfortunately, the Warriors may be less inclined to deal Poole after his recent string of strong performances (18.0 points per game, 22.0 minutes per game over last four contests).

Aaron Nesmith (21 years old), Wing

I was a big fan of Aaron Nesmith for Orlando (at number 15) in last year’s draft (see my scouting report of Nesmith here). Sure, his game is far from well-rounded at this stage of his development, but the one thing he showed a good bit of at the collegiate level is exactly what Orlando’s young core needs more of moving forward – shooting and floor-spacing.

The 14th overall pick in 2020 has found some success from long range through his first 19 games in the NBA (36 percent on 2.6 three-point field goals per game), even in limited minutes on a contending Boston Celtics club.

The 6-6 wing shot 41 percent from beyond the arc in 46 games (over two seasons) at Vanderbilt. Nearly three out of every five Nesmith attempts from the floor were three-point field goals in Jerry Stackhouse’s NBA-friendly offensive system.

It’s unclear whether Boston would be open to moving on from their late lottery pick after just one half of a season, but they do possess a rather large trade exception which could accommodate either a Fournier or Gordon. Would the Celtics be more amicable to the idea of including Romeo Langford (rather than Nesmith) in a deal for one of Orlando’s starters? Langford (21), who was Boston’s 14th overall pick from the 2019 NBA Draft, played in just 32 games during his rookie season (and has yet to participate in a game this year). I’m not sure Langford and salary-filler would be enough to move the needle for the Magic in a theoretical deal for Gordon (more likely for Fournier, but I’m still not convinced). By the same token, it’s doubtful that Boston would give up on their lottery pick from just two years ago (Langford) for an expiring contract in Fournier.

By the way, here is my scouting report on Langford from a couple of years ago.

Kevin Knox (21 years old), Forward

I’m reaching a little bit on this one, I get that. I mean, if Kevin Knox is having difficulty getting run in Tom Thibodeau’s rotation with the Knicks, then I highly doubt he would be a good fit playing for Steve Clifford in Orlando either (very similar coaching styles/philosophies).

The former ninth overall pick from the 2018 NBA Draft started 57 games for New York his rookie season, but has made just four starts in 94 games from 2019-2021. His 14.1 minutes per game this season are a career low. Playing primarily the small forward position, Knox has mostly been a disaster defensively in the NBA.

He can score the basketball a little bit, but no one would ever accuse Knox of being the most efficient offensive player. In a very limited sample-size, the one-and-done former top prospect from Kentucky has been better this season, shooting 40 percent on three-point field goals. Nearly half of his attempts from beyond the arc have come from the corners in 2020-21, an area(s) of the floor where he’s found some success (54% on corner “three’s”).

The former Tampa prep standout got a long look from Orlando’s front office during the pre-draft process in ‘18. He’s clearly out of New York’s plans, so I wouldn’t give up much for him. But he’s still only 21, perhaps the Magic would be interested in giving Knox a fresh start (and a 100+ game audition for a second NBA contract in sixteen months) closer to friends and family in Florida?

Minnesota Timberwolves v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Jaylen Nowell (21 years old), Shooting Guard

Jaylen Nowell is quietly having a really solid season coming off the bench in Minnesota. The second-year wing is shooting a cool 39 percent on three-point field goals (3.8 attempts per game). The Seattle-native has increased his scoring average to 20.2 points per/36 in 2020-21. Nowell has scored in double-figures 17 times this season, including a 28 point outburst against the New Orleans Pelicans earlier this month.

The 43rd overall pick from the 2019 NBA Draft has already (considerably) outplayed his draft slot, and I would demand the former Washington Huskie in any trade with the Timberwolves (involving Gordon, etc.).

Unfortunately, Minnesota is very unlikely to move a player such a Nowell, who is making close to league minimum while also contributing in the positive way that he’s been chipping-in this season.

As crazy as it sounds, the Timberwolves might be more willing to include Jarrett Culver in any potential deal (with the Magic or anyone else) than Nowell. The former sixth overall selection from the 2019 NBA Draft has had a miserable sophomore season in the NBA, missing 22 of Minnesota’s 42 games (has suffered through an ankle and toe injury). In 2020-21, the former Texas Tech star has averaged 7.1 points (42.4 FG%, 22.2% 3PT%) and 4.5 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game (7 starts). The Wolves regularly employ a three-guard lineup surrounding All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns. With D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and 2020 first overall pick Anthony Edwards locked-in to Minnesota’s long-term plans (and Nowell playing so well), perhaps Minnesota is ready to move on from Culver (remember, the Wolves will also likely have a pick at the top of this year’s draft that includes Cade Cunningham, Jalen Suggs, and Jalen Green).

Culver (22) has been mostly bad offensively through his first 80+ games in the NBA. Some of the shooting concerns that I had with him coming out of the college certainly haven’t gone away. But he is a former top-ten pick; perhaps a change of scenery (in Orlando) could be just what Culver needs to jumpstart his career.

R.J. Hampton (20 years old)
Josh Green (20 years old)

The Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks are two teams that have been connected in trade rumors involving Magic players (Gordon, Fournier, Ross, etc.).

As stand alone pieces (along with salary-filler of course), I’m not sure either R.J. Hampton nor Josh Green are enough to justify trading away Gordon, but they would be a solid return for Fournier (and his expiring contract). But again, now you get into the “do we move on from a promising young player for a rental” territory.

Hampton has play in 21 of Denver’s 41 contests in 2020-21. The 24th overall selection from the 2020 NBA Draft is averaging 2.5 points and 2.0 rebounds in 9.2 minutes per game. The Texas prep star has played 20 or more minutes in a game just four times this season.

Hampton has yet to play in a game this month. He’s certainly a project; here’s my scouting report of the combo-guard from last year.

Green has played in only 19 of 40 games this season (5 starts). He’s averaging 2.2 points and 2.1 rebounds in 11.4 minutes per game. The former 18th overall pick from the 2020 NBA Draft has good size for a wing (6-6/200). He shot 36 percent from beyond the arc during his lone season at the University of Arizona. The IMG Academy product struggled with his outside shot in six games in the G-League “bubble” this season (17.6 3PT%).

I’m not quite as high on Hampton and/or Green as I am on some of the other guys mentioned in this piece. But theoretically, they fit the age/contract/situation that I would be seeking in potential deals for Fournier, or even as a piece in a Gordon deal.

Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.