All the way back in 2016, Rob Hennigan and the rest of the Orlando Magic front office thought that the boys in pinstripes were ready to start contending for the postseason. Henningan was betting on the Magic’s young guns in Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton to continue the promising development they had already showed in 2015. He planned on them becoming prominent starters along with Nik Vucevic and help the Magic make the postseason. The Magic front office wanted to ensure a postseason run, so for the first time in a long time, they made a splash in the offseason. Orlando traded promising former 2nd-overall pick Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova for Serge Ibaka, one of the top defensive players in the league. They also signed center Bismark Biyombo to a 4 year, 72 million dollar deal, to help with rim protection. If things went according to plan, Biyombo and Ibaka would provide steady defense in the paint, going along with Vucevic’s offensive prowess, and with the young stars getting better, the Magic should have been able to maybe make the playoffs as a lower seed.
Spoiler Alert: Things did not go according to plan.
For some reason, Serge Ibaka was not happy with being traded from the team he’d played with since 2008 (who would’ve thought?), and did not want to play for a borderline lottery team with no superstars. Ibaka put up solid numbers, including tying a career high in PPG, but because he would most likely leave the team at the end of the season anyway, the Magic traded him to Toronto for former slam dunk contest contestant Terrance Ross, which is about the only notable thing he’s done in his career.
With Ibaka, at least the Magic got a solid season out of the deal, even if he was not worth giving up two promising players. Bismack Biyombo was a completely different story.
Biyombo only started 27 games in 2016, and when he was on the floor he was not quite the rebounder and defender the Magic thought they were paying for. He was above average and grabbed 7 boards a game, but when you’re being paid 18 million a year, people expect more.
So this offseason Orlando was in a completely different spot. Without the cap space they had last year, the Magic couldn’t go after any big name free agents (not that any would want to come here, but maybe Gordon Hayward really liked Disney). So they waited for a few days and then started making moves. Shelvin Mack signed with the Magic on a 2-year deal who has shown to be a solid role player with the Jazz, although he has been hampered by injuries.
The Magic also signed Jonathan Simmons and Maurice Speights, two solid veterans with playoff experience who are sure to become key role players. Simmons, in particular, is interesting, as he was one of the best players on the Spurs last season during the playoffs, and could be in contention for 6th Man of the Year, assuming he plays behind Evan Fournier. Orlando also signed veteran Arron Afflalo, who is a bit of an NBA journeyman but led the Magic in points way back in 2013 (when we all thought the rebuild would last only a season or two more) before being traded.
So what does this all mean for the Magic? Well, it means that this disastrous rebuild that was starting to go the road of the Sacramento Kings may be on track. New GM John Hammond saw the Magic had little cap space, so instead of signing mainly D-Leaguers and trading assets, he signed affordable, above average vets. Mack and Simmons could each contend for starting spots at SG with Evan Fournier, and Afflalo not only provides depth but a veteran presence that has been missing. Speights is another good signing, as he can spread the floor with his shooting ability, and is known as a solid rebounder. He can provide quality minutes off the bench, plus can be a big mentor to the many young guys on the team. Not as big as the mole on the back of his head, but big none the less.
Orlando finally nailed free agency, and as a whole, Magic fans should be happy. We knew the boys in blue wouldn’t be playoff contenders for a few years, but now at least the team has a good balance of talented young guys and solid veterans. Aaron Gordon still has a lot of potential and so does lottery pick, Jonathan Isaac. Mario Herzonja might be a lost cause, but maybe a team will be dumb enough to trade for him anyway (Krie for Mario. Completely fair). Plus with the Eastern Conference in as rough shape as it is, Orlando might be able to sneak into the playoffs and be swept by the Celtics. Regardless, some of the mistakes of the the Hennigan era have been rectified, and at very least Magic fans have some hope for the future.
Or at least I hope so.