With the NBA Finals completed and the Warriors once again crowned the champions, the offseason can finally begin in earnest. For the Orlando Magic, idle since the team closed its 22-win campaign on April 10, now is when they’ll be at their most active and featured prominently in the thick of the basketball discourse.
The most pressing order of business is, of course, the looming rookie draft, with the Magic scheduled to kick off proceedings after finally enjoying a dash of lottery luck a little over a month ago. Who they ultimately select at number one – whether that’s Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero – is hardly the only item on the side’s offseason agenda. Even with genuine playoff aspirations still some 12 to 24 months away, Orlando’s decision-makers have plenty of work to get through over the summer.
In anticipation of the offseason kicking into high gear as we race from the Draft to Free Agency, and then to Summer League and eventually Training Camp, let’s explore three big picture questions facing the franchise over the next few months.
Are we getting mo’ Bamba or no Bamba?
For all the conversation and consternation that the Magic’s top pick at the upcoming draft will generate, it may actually be that the most perplexing question facing the franchise is that of the fate of Mo Bamba. What are Orlando to do with their shot-blocking, three-point bombing, but ultimately contract-less center?
The former sixth-overall draft selection is a restricted free agent heading into the summer, with an almost $23 million cap hold and an approximately $10 million qualifying offer presenting numbers that Orlando’s brass will at some point have to contend with. What’s a fair figure for a former lottery pick who hasn’t yet met expectations? How do last season’s career-best figures impact the monetary equation? What should one make of the fact that his projected role will be that of a backup in an increasingly crowded frontcourt rotation?
This relevant line of questioning doesn’t even take into account some of the broader contextual factors also requiring consideration. The Magic are going to need to find a backup center somewhere before the start of next season, and the free agent class at the position isn’t overflowing with suitable options. Late career veterans looking for either a payday or contention don’t seem to align with Orlando’s circumstances, while other potential targets like Thomas Bryant and Isaiah Hartenstein don’t necessarily represent a better outcome than the known quantity that is Bamba. Might bringing back Mo be the sweetest course of action simply by default?
The Magic are actually in a tighter than expected place when it comes to filling out their roster. The free agent market isn’t exactly brimming with players that are seemingly a match with both the team’s needs and timeline, a circumstance which might actually favor Bamba. When you factor in the poor optics of letting a lottery asset walk for no return – not to mention the intrinsic pull of a good ol’ fashioned sunk cost fallacy – a strong case starts to emerge for the return of the big man and the familiarity that he represents.
Even then, re-signing Bamba poses some risk for the Magic, one that is intertwined with the size of the currently theoretical contract. It’s likely that any discussion about dollars starts around his qualifying offer mark, but is $10 million a year for a reserve center a wise investment? Particularly one seemingly without a track record of nudging his team’s numbers in the right direction? Or is it actually smart to make one last bet on the potential of wingspan, knowing that there’s basically always an exit plan thanks to the relative flexibility of mid-sized contracts on the trade market?
Mo Bamba hasn’t yet made it as a member of the Magic. However, the winds of fortune currently seem to be blowing in the direction of a Disney return, even if it’s ultimately in a noticeably different role for the seven-footer. Such an outcome may just be the best for all involved … at least for now.
Will the addition of shooting and scoring be a priority?
Okay, enough is enough. It’s time that this team adds some damn scoring punch.
No matter which way you choose to slice the statistical pie, Orlando was one of the truly insipid offensive teams in the league last season. They ranked 28th in field goal percentage (43.4%), 28th in three-point percentage (33.1%), 28th in effective field goal percentage (50.3%), and 28th in free throw rate (0.228). Add it all up and you arrive at the second-worst offensive rating league wide, with team’s 103.9 nudging only incrementally ahead of the moribund OKC offense (103.8). In terms of the viewing experience, the Magic were a tough hang.
As it seemingly has been for quite some time, the Magic’s biggest issue on offense was the inability to put together a lineup with a suitable density of long range threats. Across the 2021/22 regular season, NBA teams combined to average 35.2% on shot attempts from deep. Orlando’s roster featured precisely three players who exceeded that rate on at least 100 attempts: Gary Harris, Mo Bamba and Franz Wagner. That two of that trio are about to hit free agency should set some alarm bells ringing.
At the point guard slot, the Magic currently have a complete non-shooter in Markelle Fultz (17 total attempts in 18 games) and an inefficient bomber in Cole Anthony (33.8%). It’s hoped that Jalen Suggs is the shooting guard of the future, but the case can be made that, as a rookie, he was literally the league’s least impactful outside shooter. Chuma Okeke missed more threes (253) than anyone on the team other than Anthony (259). Jonathan Isaac hasn’t attempted a triple since February of 2020. Wendell Carter Jr. embraced the role of stretch big with relative success, but even after posting a PB from beyond the arc he’s still a sub-30% shooter for his career. How is a rotation featuring this collection of talent expected to spread the floor?
Defense is important, obviously; it’s literally half the game! But at some point any team needs to recognize the necessity of balance, and actively work towards rectifying any of the imbalances they have allowed to develop across the roster. For the Magic, that means the prioritization of players who can get buckets, preferably in the form of outside shooters who can begin to unclog the painted area inside. It would be a welcome new feature for the team’s offense, as well as the type of development that stands to make life easier for players who like to attack downhill, such as Fultz and Suggs.
It requires a fair trip back through the record books to locate a Magic player who truly dazzled as a scorer. If this current iteration of the team is ever going to extricate itself from rebuilding status, it’s imperative that they find and develop someone who can eventually grow into that role. Let’s hope that in the coming weeks the team can tilt its talent base in that direction.
Can they nail the draft?
Realistically, nothing matters more this coming offseason than Orlando’s ability to leave the league’s annual Draft with a bona fide game changer. Although the team is currently sporting a roster with a good collection of already valuable and potential-laden players, it’s unlikely that any of those currently in pinstripes have the capacity to establish themselves as a perennial all-NBA talent (if we squint … Franz?).
It’s also probably fair to say that superstars traditionally haven’t been known to angle for a home in Central Florida, so the trade and free agency routes won’t exactly be bursting with possibilities moving forward. Sides like the Magic simply have to capitalize when opportunity knocks – and this week it’s the draft looming at the door.
As such, the injection of a highly touted rookie with the first overall selection seemingly presents the best chance for Orlando to shift its fortunes in the seasons to come. If the team’s front office can hit a home run with this selection – an outcome for which they’re now well-positioned but still no certainty – they’ll finally have the foundation from which they can build something both genuinely competitive and truly sustainable.
As long-time fans of the league already know, however, the Draft can be a fickle entity, even for those teams that are making decisions from the top of the mountain. The Magic endured a lot of losing over the last eighteen months to ensure that they would possess the best odds at navigating the extreme volatility of the annual rookie entry event. For the first time in a long time it feels like the team fully controls its own fate.
All that’s left is to trust that those in charge can make this moment count.