It’s been a quiet summer for the Orlando Magic.
Fresh off a mid-season tear down and sporting a brand new pair of lottery picks, the Magic’s front office didn’t actually have all that much to take care of during the league’s annual silly season. Much of the work was already done back in March when they shipped Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier out of town in separate deals, establishing a foundation for the latest rebuild and ensuring that a young core — or the picks that would create such — was already in place before the offseason even began.
Outside the excitement of the draft night additions this was always going to be a relatively sedate stretch for the Magic. Still, even with things playing out according to those diminished expectations there are a handful of moves that require evaluation. How do the deals both done and dodged position the team moving forward? Which ones are most likely to contribute to sustainable success in the season to come?
From first to worst, let’s dive in.
Drafted Jalen Suggs
Sometimes the best choice ends up being the one that someone else made for you.
Already, it’s starting to look like this might have been the case for the Magic this offseason. Frequently attached to names like Barnes and Kuminga — the result of having fallen to the fifth slot in a draft that many pundits considered to feature a top tier of just four players — Orlando actually found themselves able to pounce when the Raptors executed a relatively unexpected pivot with the fourth selection. Instead of another forward with a questionable outside shot the Magic were able to shore up the backcourt with the dynamic Jalen Suggs, a player whom they were undoubtedly interested in but suspected wouldn’t be available.
It will be a long time before we know exactly how impactful this pick was for the franchise, but the early signs are already extremely encouraging. Suggs was giddily impressive in his Summer League debut, leaving a mark at both ends of the court on his way to a personal tally of 24 points (a game-high), 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and a pair of steals. He looked every bit the elite playmaker and tone-setter, positively dripping with genuine All-Star potential. It’s been a long time since the Magic have been able to say that about anyone in their backcourt rotation.
Any evaluation of Orlando’s summer in the years to come will begin and end with this pick. Right now, it’s looking like the franchise caught the break they have so desperately been seeking.
Put a new coaching staff in place
Once the Magic’s intended trajectory shifted it was likely always going to be a difficult proposition to keep Steve Clifford in the head coach job. Since arriving in Florida the veteran play caller had done an admirable job with an awkwardly constructed roster, turning Nikola Vucevic into an All-Star level offensive fulcrum and elevating the team to the status of ‘happy to be here’ playoff participants. Outside of the stagnation of some individual players, it felt like he had done all he could with the pieces afforded him.
When the veteran core was ejected and the latest rebuild began in earnest it wasn’t a surprise to find out that Clifford was also headed out the door. He’s evidently at a point in his career where he wants to contribute to a genuine contender, as evidenced by his signing on with the Brooklyn Nets in an consulting role. It makes sense for Coach Cliff, as it also makes sense for the Magic to realign their coaching staff with a new regime that is synchronized with the intent of the front office. Enter Jamahl Mosley.
With more than a decade’s worth of experience as an assistant, now is a time of perfect intersection for franchise and coach. Mosley has cultivated a reputation as a respected and valued communicator, capable of forging genuine and impactful relationships with the players under his watch. For a youthful team in the earliest stages of development such a fact is key. Add to that his experience on the defensive end — he was in charge of strategizing at that end of the court for the Mavs over the last three seasons — and you can see why Mosley appealed to Orlando’s front office.
Ultimately, the Magic landed one of the most intriguing names available during the offseason coaching carousel. They were also able to round out their staff with experienced assistants with a knack for player development, an important element that adds a further shade of favorable complexion to the makeup of the team’s new brains trust. There are a stack of different factors that go some way towards determining the success of any given coach’s tenure, but it would appear that the Magic have demonstrated sound reasoning and intent in arriving at their latest appointment.
Drafted Franz Wagner
Stop me if some of this feels familiar. The Magic used their second lottery pick during this summer’s Draft to select a forward with strong defensive instincts but an outside shot that still needs some work, and who figures to toggle between the three and four as the team figures out the position to which he is best suited. Franz Wagner, welcome to the club!
In the very early stages of a brand new rebuild, the Magic need to be in the business of adding young talent wherever they can. The hope will be that in picking up a promising player like the younger Wagner brother that they’ve improved both the general quality of the roster, along with their chances of eventually finding a star-level talent. Although such an outcome would be one hell of a leap for Wagner relative to his early projections, the fact that he seems destined to at least carve out a career as a dependable contributor makes this a palatable selection, imperfect fit and all.
Waived Dwayne Bacon
Addition by subtraction. In what amounted to far too many minutes last season, Dwayne Bacon was an absolutely brutal contributor to Orlando’s on-court product. He was one of the team’s least impactful players by basically whatever metric one might choose to apply, finishing either at or towards the bottom of team rankings in terms of PER, VORP, win shares, box plus/minus and true shooting percentage. That he also led the team in minutes was genuinely an affront to the gods of the sport.
As well as being a net-negative contributor Bacon was also the basketball equivalent of a black hole, swallowing up possessions with nary a consideration for his teammates. He was literally one of the least likely players in the league to record an assist, hogging the ball on a team that finished the season filled with young players who needed the developmental opportunities that a team-centric system could have offered. He was both an ineffective basketballer and also a player who blocked the opportunities of his teammates. It’s tough to devise a worse combination.
By trimming Bacon from the roster the Magic have excised one of the guiltiest contributors to last season’s unhealthy performance. The 2021/22 team still won’t win many games, but they should at least be magnitudes more watchable. This move helped to make sure of that fact.
Check back soon for Part II as we discuss Robin Lopez, Moe Wagner and much more.