A 6-2 record. The league’s top-ranked offense. Things were looking bright in Orlando. Prognosticators predicted a playoff appearance. Aaron Gordon looked well on his way to winning the Most Improved Player award. Fast forward to two separate nine-game losing streaks before the year’s end, and this Orlando Magic Cadillac wound up in the junkyard. Finishing at 25-57 with the 25th ranked offense, the Magic traded their much-maligned point guard Elfrid Payton and fired head coach Frank Vogel. Vogel, known as a defensive-minded coach, was not able to instill his mentality in the team as they finished 21st overall in points allowed per game. Looking back, the 2017-18 season will be nothing more than a wasted year.
The Orlando Magic are now in a familiar situation. With the fifth-best odds at the No. 1 overall pick, it is time to take a serious look at this roster and pick a direction for the future of this franchise. In the days building up to the draft, the Magic need to take inventory of their roster and decide whether to scavenge (keep for development), sell (trade for assets), or scrap (get rid of at all costs) their players moving forward.
Scavenge, Sell, or Scrap: 2017-18 Orlando Magic Roster
Nikola Vucevic – Sell
The longest-tenured member of the Magic added a three-point shot to his game this season. He improved his scoring and is still a solid rebounder, but he’s a matador on defense. Vucevic lacks the lateral quickness to keep up with modern bigs and has never been much of a rim protector. Vucevic’s time with Orlando has had two consistencies: double-doubles and missing the playoffs. As an expiring contract in the 2018-19 season, Vucevic could entice a contender as a stretch five. The Magic should look to trade their only remaining player from the Dwight Howard trade for much-needed picks.
Arron Afflalo – Scrap
Ever go to a restaurant and order an amazing meal, but when you go back four years later it does not taste anywhere near as good? That pretty much sums up Afflalo’s return to Orlando. Over the last three seasons, Afflalo’s shot attempts per game have dropped from 11.3 to 6.9 to 3.1. This 32-year-old seems like he is on the brink of being out of the league, and definitely does not need to be in the future or present plans of the Orlando Magic. The only thing certain is that Kendrick Lamar is no longer jealous of him.
D.J. Augustin – Scavenge
Augustin is the sharpshooting point guard the Magic have lacked since Jameer Nelson departed. His ability to stretch the floor and get to the rim provided Orlando with an offensive spark during a time in which the Magic were devoid of other options. His per-36 stats were encouraging: 15.7 points and just under six assists. He also seemed to have great control of the team following the trade of Payton. With a manageable contract, Augustin can lead the offense in the short term and hopefully bridge the gap to the point guard of the future.
Wesley Iwundu – Scavenge
The rookie got a lot more run than expected during the 2017-18 season. Though he currently lacks the range of a three-and-D wing, Iwundu’s length and cheap rookie contract should be enough to give him a shot to prove himself next season.
Evan Fournier – Sell
The Frenchman has led the Magic in scoring over the last two years and has established himself as a consistent playmaker on the wing. Despite being beleaguered with injuries, Fournier logged career-highs in both three-point percentage and points per game in 2017-18. That’s why the Magic should capitalize on Fournier’s market value. Fournier can help a contender as a complementary option but has proven that he cannot carry a team. If the rebuilding Magic can acquire a first-round pick for him, it will go a long way.
Mario Hezonja – Scavenge
After flirting with bust territory, Hezonja seemed to put things together to end the season. With shooting, athleticism, length, and instincts, he seemed truly superb at times. The Magic may have already messed this one up by not picking up his option this off-season. Hezonja now enters this off-season as an unrestricted free agent who could win the 2018-19 Most Improved Player award.
Khem Birch – Scavenge
Four words: energy off the bench. As a rookie, Birch was able to do what other backup centers have been unable to do in Orlando: rebound, block shots, and finish at the rim. Birch is one worth keeping around.
Bismack Biyombo – Scrap
Speaking of backup centers, Bismack Biyombo is the highest paid player on the Magic. At times, Biyombo seems to have hands made of bricks. Acquired as part of former Orlando GM Rob Hennigan’s last stand, Biyombo has not become the mobile big that was envisioned. Contending teams in the current NBA need mobile bigs who can defend multiple positions and provide some kind of outside shooting. Biyombo does not check any of these boxes. His contract is atrocious. The Magic can only hope to move him without giving up too many of their own assets to sweeten the deal.
Shelvin Mack – Scavenge
Mack is on a cheap contract. He is a solid backup who can play on or off the ball, and he led the team in assists this season. Mack earned a spot on the roster, and fans should look forward to hearing “Return of the Mack” as long as he embraces his role coming off the bench and limits plays like this:
Terrence Ross – Sell
Ross has the frame and shooting stroke that contending teams covet in a three-and-D player. The problem is that the Magic are not anywhere near contending. Ross was acquired for Serge Ibaka, who became a starter for the top-seeded Toronto Raptors. The Magic acquired Ibaka by trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Both played huge roles for the Indiana Pacers this season. If Orlando can get a pick back to recoup their losses, it would be a good start. Fortunately, Ross is on an expiring contract.
Jonathan Isaac – Scavenge
Isaac gave Magic fans flashes of Kevin Garnett and seems to be the team’s best wing defender. The issue is that Isaac played in just 27 games. The best ability is availability, and Isaac has not yet shown that he can stay healthy. To make matters worse, many players drafted after Isaac – Donovan Mitchell, Dennis Smith, Lauri Markkanen, Zach Collins, Frank Ntilikina, OG Anunoby, and others – had good or great rookie seasons. Unless an offer is floating out there for a star, the Magic will not move on from Isaac before his sophomore season.
Jonathon Simmons – Sell
Simmons made an impact upon his arrival this summer. His defense, playmaking, and attitude gave the Magic something they have lacked for years. His contract is more than team-friendly. Simmons can make an impact as a starter or off the bench. He would be an asset on any team, but Simmons may have peaked this season. He doesn’t seem to be able to carry a team in scoring, despite his alpha mentality. Simmons is closer to Lance Stephenson than he is to Paul George, and neither are the type of player to build a franchise around.
Aaron Gordon – Scavenge
Gordon posted career-highs across the board this season. He was dominant to begin the season and showed his seemingly limitless ceiling. He improved his shooting ability, is a solid defender, and is good for a highlight dunk at least once a week. Gordon is the closest thing to a star on this roster. He may need max money to stay, but he’s worth the bet. Gordon could blossom into a better shooting version of Blake Griffin. He can be a superstar if he continues to develop, or at least a high-end second option. At worst, he may be a tradeable asset in the future. Regardless, Gordon’s development is the Magic’s best chance to make it back to the playoffs in the near future.
A vast overhaul to this roster is necessary to return to the playoffs. Whether they must scavenge, sell, or scrap their assets to make it happen, change is the only thing that can save the Orlando Magic. The upcoming NBA draft is extremely deep. With some lottery luck and a trade for some more picks, the Magic can find a bright future after this dark season.
CHICAGO, USA – DECEMBER 20: Nikola Vucevic (9) of Orlando Magic in action during an NBA basketball match between Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic at United Center in Chicago, Illinois, United States on December 20, 2017.
(Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)