With the Finals in the rearview and the Draft on the imminent horizon, the machinations out in Magic-land are winding towards an outcome. By triggering a full-scale rebuild at the trade deadline the team positioned itself to be major players at the annual entry event, even if the unfortunate bounce of ping pong balls took some luster off the totality of the team’s draft capital haul.
With maneuvering at this point basically confined to the trade market, a key question has emerged: should the Magic’s decision makers be looking to locate a transactional rabbit in their hat to better position the team for success moving forward? Is there a chance they could craft a deal that significantly sways the side’s fortunes?
Let’s examine Orlando’s trade possibilities as we move into the home stretch of pre-draft positioning.
When the deflating Draft Lottery reveal of the Magic’s logo at the fifth slot took much of the wind out of the fandom’s collective sails, online prognostications immediately turned to the prospect of Orlando trading up. Armed with a pair of lottery picks and a roster littered with young players that could be categorised anywhere from ‘interesting’ to ‘underwhelming’, there seemed to be at least some possibility of cobbling together a package that could get one of the top four sides to bite. As yet, such speculation hasn’t resulted in even the mildest of legitimate rumor rumblings.
Don’t make the mistake, however, of assuming that this reflects a complacent Magic front office. The duo of Weltham and Hammond would likely take just seconds to accept any sort of offer that requires only a realistic package to vault the team into the draft’s upper echelons. However, the complicating factor is that this type of tango inevitably requires two. And why would anyone currently positioned ahead of the Magic want to make themselves a dance partner?
Detroit and Houston are teams in serious need of elite level talent, with the looming draft presenting both with what is likely their best chance in the next little while to secure just such. Cleveland have already accumulated a bit more in way of interesting prospects, and while they’d, ahem ... love (I’m sorry) to move off the money they owe an apparently Olympic-level forward the third pick represents a chance for them to both settle on a core and add a meaningful piece that meshes with the direction they ultimately take. Toronto? The intention is for their tank job Lottery trip to be simply a one-and-done scenario, as one would expect them to lock in a super intriguing backcourt talent that shores them up for the years to come. Their stroke of draft luck was a gift they won’t be exchanging for anything Orlando could offer.
Each of the top four have overwhelmingly good reasons for staying right where they are when it comes to draft order. As such, a leap by the Magic would require a similarly overwhelming offer, almost undoubtedly to the tune of 5 and 8 this year, a choice of players from the current roster, and draft capital in the years to come. For a team on the ground floor of what will be a multi-year rebuild that’s probably too big of a risk to take.
Although a consolidation of Magic trade chips to allow the team to grab the dynamite rookie at the top of their wish list is an enticing dream, it’s difficult to see how it could be considered a realistic one. Instead, perhaps the best hope is that a bolter wins the heart of a team at the top of the draft, allowing Orlando to stay put at five, take whoever falls, and thank the basketball gods for the good fortune. Unfortunately, even though the NBA draft has been known to deliver a shock or two in the past, current intel seems to suggest that such an outcome remains a long shot.
In all likelihood, when July 29 hits the Magic will remain on the clock as expected come the fifth overall selection, adding a player they hope will be a significant part of the equation that solves the franchise’s problems moving forward. Trading up, while nice in theory, doesn’t seem to be possessed of the practicality required.
The discourse surrounding the 2021 Draft has increasingly reflected the belief that the top tier of talent is a pool only four deep, an awkward possibility for the Magic and their fifth overall pick. Having already noted the difficulty of moving up from their current position, what are the chances that the team instead pivots in the opposite direction and looks to wade into lower reaches of the draft?
Any question of moving down is ultimately one of value. Could the move of either pick five or eight (or both) provide the type of return that the team ultimately believes will put them ahead in the years to come? It’s difficult to see some other team giving up the type of young player or future draft capital that the fifth pick would require for the Magic to land on the right side of this theoretical ledger. The eighth selection, however? Well, that may be a stronger possibility.
Orlando is already a very young team, with at least seven players currently on the roster who will go into next season with four seasons of experience or less. As such, there’s a world where the front office simply doesn’t want to add another two to three rookies (after accounting for their early second rounder) to the list. Would they consider shipping pick eight out of town for draft considerations in the seasons to come, or perhaps a veteran in their mid-20s who could still grow alongside those currently in pinstripes?
There’s certainly a chance, although much will depend on the team’s own big board and internal projections. If a triumvirate of rookies seems to be the value play they’ll stay right where they are. If they’re feeling nonplussed about the draft options in front of them at any point it’s certainly conceivable that they kick the can down the proverbial road, coordinating a deal for selections in the drafts to come that have the potential to provide more bang for buck.
Ultimately, though, trading down feels about as unlikely as the Magic moving up. Instead, Orlando will almost certainly parlay the opening tank job of the current rebuild into a pair of lottery picks they hope will eventually develop into a dependable foundation for the franchise. To maximise that possibility two bites of the apple feels like the smart play.
The big names
The other possibility that exists when it comes to trade opportunities at next week’s draft is in relation to some of the notable names now attached to the market. Initial rumblings of a demand out of Oregon — and the subsequent textbook denial — are a clear indication of Dame Lillard’s current dissatisfaction, the Blazers now just the latest team to be faced with a trade reckoning involving their franchise superstar. The name of Washington’s Bradley Beal also continues to surface, although that currently seems to have more to do with the sides that would like to add the sharpshooter than it does with the Olympian himself. Still, it’s conceivable that the Wizards see some writing already on the wall and decide to proactively jump before the figurative push is ever felt.
That being said, even if these two players are made legitimately available the Magic won’t be serious contenders to land either of their services. The team has neither the assets nor the current winning culture that make such transactions a reality, ensuring that the two scenarios are complete non-starters. However, they’re not the only All-Star talents currently being linked to a summer relocation.
Ben Simmons — very obviously, very publicly, very painfully — had a terrible playoff experience. Against the Hawks he melted down in a way that basically ensured his status as the second star in Philadelphia was untenable moving forward. He was detrimental to the team’s chances on the court, and it was apparent by the end of it all that he had lost the backing of both his coach and his teammates. It’s an impossibly tough set of circumstances to bounce back from, meaning something is going to have to give in the city of brotherly love.
So if a change of zip code is inevitable, could it be that Central Florida is a potential landing spot? The Magic and the 76ers brass have conspired on deals a couple of times before, including most recently for another distressed, former top pick. However, with Philly getting the worst end of that trade they may be hesitant to again go down a similar path, even if it’s one that the Magic should absolutely be considering.
Simmons, for all of his limitations as a player, would immediately be the best player on Orlando’s roster. He’s a three time All-Star, a two time All-Defensive selection, an All-NBA third team member as recently as last year, and a former Rookie of the Year. He has the length and agility to defend at any spot on the floor, while also offering quality playmaking when the ball is in hand. Sure he can’t shoot or run the pick and roll, but the Magic could likely handle that — they’ve been dealing with similar for years.
The 6-11 All-Star would improve Orlando at both ends of the floor, while also giving the team an elite pillar to purposefully build around. The roster construction would have to be incredibly precise to maximise his skill-set (and minimise his weaknesses), but free of the Embiid-sized shadow in Philadelphia the team he lands with could more closely craft their identity in Simmons’ image. Surrounded by shooters on the perimeter and athletes on the break, and partnered with a traditional point guard who could both leverage him as a rolling threat and relieve some of the on-ball duties, it’s possible to picture a scenario in which Simmons and his new team thrives. That’s the new vision Orlando would be building towards.
The price for Simmons might ultimately end up being too rich for the tastes of the Magic’s front office, but it is absolutely something they should be considering. Even with two lottery picks next week and the likelihood of more in the years to come, there are no guarantees that Orlando will unearth a player who reaches the heights at which Simmons even currently resides. Keep in mind that at just 25 there’s also a strong chance that Ben’s best is yet to come, particularly if he can land in a location that prioritises building around him as the centerpiece. Why couldn’t Central Florida be that place?
To be clear, it’s unlikely that the Magic’s decision makers would want to alter and accelerate their rebuild plans with the addition of a player like Simmons. It’s also equally unlikely that the Klutch client would be angling for a trade to Orlando. Still, even though in this instance the stars will not align, this is an opportunity that the team should be sniffing around as we head towards next week’s festivities.
Play the role of armchair General Manager long enough and it’s possible to craft narratives that see the Magic trading up, trading down, or even trading out of the draft entirely for the return of a star-level talent. Realistically, though, these scenarios don’t seem all that probable, with Weltman and Hammond much more likely to use a pair of lottery selections to kickstart the rebuild they set up back at the end of March.
In a week we’ll know for sure which way, if at all, the trade winds are blowing in Orlando.