When the Orlando Magic made the decision to trade prospects Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis last year, they chose the ‘win-now’ approach. As a return in that trade, the Magic received veteran forward Serge Ibaka. Ibaka, who is known for his defensive capabilities, consistent offense, and veteran leadership, set the tone for the remainder of the offseason.
The Magic began to build a fiercely defensive team, signing veterans such as Jeff Green and Bismack Biyombo to accompany their rising stars, which include Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. When the current NBA season started, Orlando was rife with expectation, as this team looked set to make a serious playoff run.
By early December, this goal was beginning to look entirely possible. The Magic ranked as highly as 5th overall in defensive rating and achieved impressive wins against teams such as the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons. However, since early December the Magic’s season has been increasingly filled with frustration. Although still in the playoff race, the reality of making the postseason is once again falling away from the Magic. Sitting 17-26 on the season and 12th placed in the tightly contested Eastern Conference, the Magic are now faced with a dilemma that could not only impact the rest of this season, but many seasons to come.
Finding a Solution to the Orlando Magic’s Midseason Dilemma
It has been widely reported that the Orlando Magic are planning to be active in the trade market. However, the dilemma the Magic now face is whether to make one final push for the playoffs or trade some expendable players and continue the rebuild in the offseason. Both scenarios have positives and negatives for Orlando but a decision will likely have to be made sooner rather than later.
The ‘Win Now’ Scenario
If the Magic are serious about making playoffs this season, they still have plenty of time to do so. With half the season and the all-star break still remaining, the Magic can engineer a trade and challenge for the eighth seed. The playoffs are by no means impossible for Orlando, sitting only 4 games outside the playoff places. If the Magic were to pull off a trade, the possibility of postseason basketball is still likely.
However, for the Magic to acquire star talent, they will likely have to overpay to get it. This could mean giving up players such as Elfrid Payton or Aaron Gordon, both of which are young and are having fairly decent years for the Magic. By doing this the Magic may sacrifice success in future years and could be forced to rebuild all over again. Although this move may be beneficial and send the Magic to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, it could also significantly set them back in terms of developing their young stars.
The Offseason Rebuild
Alternatively, Orlando could shop their veterans for draft picks and expiring contracts, in order to fully commit to a rebuild. This may be the most likely route the Magic choose to go. Offloading players with big contracts such as Bismack Biyombo, DJ Augustin, and Jeff Green; all of whom have been a disappointment for Orlando this year. In exchange for these players, the Magic could reduce their payroll and chase high-profile free agents during the offseason. Although frustrating for Magic fans, the team does not seem to be delivering. Another offseason could be required before the Magic are able to establish themselves as serious playoff contenders.
Despite a heavily inconsistent year, the Magic are still in playoff contention. With teams such as the Knicks, Bulls, and Pistons all struggling of late, the Magic can still mount a playoff challenge with minimal changes to the roster. Last week, head coach Frank Vogel made the decision to change the starting lineup.
Playing much smaller and giving players such as Nikola Vucevic and Mario Hezonja a more prominent role in the rotation. Since the change, the Magic are 1-3 but have played much better, with all the games being played on the road against high-profile opponents. Although not an immediate solution, if this new rotation continues to improve, the Magic could gain confidence going forward.
The Last Word
With plenty of basketball still to play, the Magic do not need to rush into a hasty decision. If performances improve for Orlando, a trade may not be needed at all. However, the Magic have only won two of their last ten games and a change may be needed either way.
Ultimately, the Magic should carefully evaluate their options. While Orlando should be ambitious this season; they should not make any decision that could damage their future prospects.