Plans changed significantly for the Orlando Magic last season. Coming off of a playoff appearance the previous season, the Magic were hoping a core of All-Star Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, and Markelle Fultz could continue to grow and become a contending team in the Eastern Conference.
Instead, Isaac didn’t see the court due to injury, Fultz also went down early with a season-ending injury, the team struggled, and Gordon, Vucevic, and Fournier were all traded for prospects and draft picks at the trade deadline.
In the offseason, Orlando fired coach Steve Clifford and replaced him with Jamahl Mosley, who was most recently an assistant to Rick Carlisle in Dallas. Mosley hopes to bring pieces of the Dallas offense, which prioritized spacing and passing, to Orlando.
“My offensive philosophy is simple; I want to keep it as simple as possible,” Mosley told NBA.com. “I want to play with pace, I want to play with space, and I want to play with the pass. I think the pass brings energy to the game and it allows people to be at their best. I want to put these guys in the best positions to succeed.”
He might not have talented mainstays Vucevic, Fournier, and Gordon anymore, but the cupboard is certainly not bare.
Isaac and Fultz should both be back healthy. Last year’s first round draft pick, Cole Anthony, was pressed into a bigger-than-expected role after Fultz went down and played well in the second half of the season. Another recent first round pick, Mo Bamba, was a double-double machine down the stretch. Orlando also added young prospects R.J. Hampton and Wendell Carter Jr in their trade deadline deals and they have two lottery picks.
That collection of talent likely won’t lead to an immediate playoff appearance, but it is an impressive collection of assets. Here are three key issues for Orlando entering next season.
Figure out the point guard spot
Picking fifth in the draft, the Magic will probably be just out of range of getting a top prospect like Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, or Jalen Suggs. If Suggs does fall to fifth, he’ll clearly be the best player available though. And that will put them in a tough spot because Fultz, Anthony, and Hampton are all capable of playing point guard.
Fultz is be enough to play shooting guard, so look for Anthony and Hampton to compete for the starting spot at point guard this offseason and in training camp. Anthony is probably the purest point guard out of the trio, so look for him and Fultz to get the starting spots at guard with Hampton settling into a combo guard role off the bench.
Look for Anthony’s work ethic to help him make a big leap forward in his second year. At a youth camp in Vermont this summer, he stressed working hard and being consistent to campers.
“Work hard every single day,” Anthony told them. “The results are going to show at some point.”
Are they done making trades?
Orlando has another veteran on the roster who could be of interest to contending teams.
Terrence Ross has been one of the best bench scorers in the league for several seasons. He’s athletic and can finish inside, he’s a good three-point shooter, and he has the ability to heat up and carry a team’s offense off the bench. Those things collectively make him a huge value.
His salary is also reasonable, so look for contending teams that strike out on free agency targets to potentially be willing to unload future assets to pick up Ross.
But Orlando could also be a factor to trade during the draft. With two lottery picks and several prospects, they could put together a package to try and move into the top three to get one of the draft’s top prospects.
Trade one of their centers
Former lottery pick Mo Bamba hasn’t lived up to expectations in three seasons in the league. That hasn’t entirely been his fault. He was stuck behind Vucevic, who blossomed into an All-Star, so minutes were hard to come by. He also struggled while recovering from COVID-19 last season.
But after Vucevic was traded, he showed flashes of potential. He averaged 11 points, 7 rebounds, and a block per game in April and had five double-doubles in April and May, including a 22 point and 15 rebound performance against Detroit in a win in May.
Wendell Carter Jr has similarly not quite found a niche as a pro, but after coming over from Chicago last season, he also had five double-doubles in March and April and showed flashes of the potential that made him a lottery pick. He’s struggled with injuries in his young career, but looked healthy in Orlando.
The problem for the Magic is that both players are pretty similar. Carter has played one more season but he’s a year younger than Bamba. Both have range to the three-point line, but have not shot consistently well as pros, limiting their value as floor spacers. Bamba is a better defender and shot-blocker, but Carter probably has more offensive upside.
Both players showed enough down the stretch to merit longer looks with the team, but long-term they are too similar to be able to share the court together. Orlando might be well-served by trying to trade one for a modest asset in order to free up more playing time for the other.