The Orlando Magic youth movement continues with the end of the Khem Birch era.
The backup center has long been in a complicated position as the Magic’s backup center: a productive, hustling, high-energy, true professional and favorite of Steve Clifford’s, but also a blockade between Mo Bamba and more playing time.
That no longer will be the case with the Magic reportedly set to waive Birch...
The Orlando Magic are planning to waive center Khem Birch in order to give him an opportunity to play more, with the Toronto Raptors as his likely landing spot, sources tell @ShamsCharania and me. Birch is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) April 8, 2021
Disappointing way for Birch’s nearly four-year tenure with the Magic to come to an end, but if he does land with the Raptors, it will be a nice homecoming for the Canada native before he tests the market as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
There is one obvious question to ask: Why didn’t the Magic trade Birch at the Match 25 trade deadline to get something in return? For a team that gave Evan Fournier away for a pair of second-round picks, I’m going to assume the Magic front office called every team to gauge their interest in Birch and made every effort to move him, but there simply wasn’t a buyer willing to sacrifice even a second round pick for a rental backup center. If there was an offer of any kind on the table, bad move by the Magic.
Birch went undrafted out of college and played overseas before landing with the Lakeland Magic and eventually making his way to Orlando in 2017. He became Nikola Vucevic’s full-time backup during the 2018-2019 season when Bamba, after being selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2018 draft, suffered a season-ending leg fracture.
Birch - with his ability to defend multiple positions, and set quality screens, and create extra possessions with his offensive rebounding, and make proper defensive rotations - held onto the role as Bamba returned but continued to struggle with fundamentals and conditioning.
This season, Birch set career-highs in minutes (19.8), points (5.3), rebounds (5.1), assists (1.1), and field goal attempts (4.4), while also starting to incorporate the three-point shot (albeit just 19 percent on 0.4 attempts per).
Birch’s departure means the Magic’s center rotation is now set in stone with Wendell Carter Jr. and Bamba for the final 21 games and beyond, barring more trades. With the more well-rounded Carter starting, Bamba is now the official backup with nobody behind him at center for Clifford to give minutes to. The move came hours after Bamba set a new career-high with 19 points but continued to struggle at the defensive end. He’ll have more of an opportunity to play through those struggles and learn from them as the rebuilding Magic close out the season.
A season that began with Vucevic and Birch topping the Magic’s depth chart at center, ends with a 21-year-old and 22-year-old in their place.
Wishing the best of luck to Khem! He’ll be missed.