Orlando Magic: Why their rebuild will be different this time around

Orlando Magic Wendell Carter Jr. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic Wendell Carter Jr. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

Exploring why the Orlando Magic’s rebuild will be different this time around. 

The Orlando Magic were the biggest sellers of the 2021 NBA Trade Deadline, completing an overhaul of their current core roster.

They sent their best player and two-time NBA All-Star center Nikola Vucevic alongside Al-Farouq Aminu to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round picks. One of those picks will be a top-four protected selection this year and the other in 2023, which overall is a solid return for the former franchise centerpiece.

The team continued their firesale sending Evan Fournier to the Boston Celtics for two second-round picks and former top 5 pick Aaron Gordon to the Denver Nuggets for Gary Harris, rookie R.J. Hampton, and a protected 2025 first-round pick.

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Orlando has seen much criticism for the moves and what they got in exchange for Fournier, Gordon, and Vucevic. However, I think Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond did a great job of positioning the franchise for a shot at its best chance for a successful rebuild in quite some time.

They now have two projected top 10 picks in the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft in a lottery loaded with potential All-Stars and going into the 2021-22 season could sport one of the best young cores in the entire league.

Where Orlando Magic stands after the trade deadline

The Magic are 3-12 in the 15 games since they made the moves to shift the trajectory of their franchise from a bottom-feeding playoff contender in the East to just completely hitting the reset button and at least having a shot to get the organization back to the glory days of the early to mid-90s Shaq and Penny era or the Dwight Howard led championship-contending run from 2007-11.

The new-look Magic’s nucleus that consists now of Chuma Okeke, Markelle Fultz, Wendell Carter Jr, Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Jonathan Issac, Mo Bamba, and Dwayne Bacon has a combined average age of 22 years and with two incoming first-round picks, that number probably will even decrease.

Orlando should get a bit of financial relief this summer thanks in part to the moves they made at the deadline. Otto Porter Jr and James Ennis III’s combined $31.7 million will come off of the books as both will be unrestricted free agents. Gary Harris is a veteran the organization could look to keep as a locker room presence and mentor of sorts to their young core, but they also have options to move on from him as well this offseason. Harris has averaged 11.4 points per game in his seven appearances so far with the team while shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc.

As he plays the next 14 games or so with Orlando, maybe Harris can rebuild his value somewhat and both sides can work out a sign-and-trade with a contending team or simply just pull off a buyout of the remaining one year left on Harris’ contract.

As the standings sit currently, Orlando would hold the projected fourth pick, their own selection, and the eighth pick which is one of Chicago’s picks they received in the Vucevic deal. They still remain in position for the best chance at the No. 1 overall pick though, sitting only three games behind the Houston Rockets with 13 games remaining on the Magic’s schedule.

There’s even a chance the Bulls pick could fall from eight to five still, allowing Orlando to keep the rights to the pick as Chicago is 1-6 in their last seven games and are only 4.5 games behind Oklahoma City the current owner of the projected fifth pick.

The franchise’s draft track record since 2013 has been somewhat abysmal, which saw Orlando select Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, and Mario Hezonja in three straight drats with top 5 selections. None of the three are obviously with the team anymore and adding insult to injury, they took those three over players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, CJ McCollum, Julius Randle, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Jokic. They would then send eventual two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis to Oklahoma City after selecting him with the 11th pick in 2016 in a trade for Serge Ibaka on draft night.

Completing the cycle of dread for Magic fans were the team’s selections of Isaac and Bamba in back-to-back years in 2017 and 2018 over the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, Michael Porter Jr, and Gary Trent Jr.

The 2021 draft is where the Magic’s chances to right the ship truly will rely upon, and for the fanbase given the franchise’s draft misses of the past decade, I’m sure that’s a nightmarish thought to have the hopes of yet another rebuild fall on potential enormous swings and eventual misses in the draft. But with the selections they will have in what is being deemed as a potential all-time draft class, maybe 2021 is a can’t miss year for the Orlando front office.

Could Jalen Green be a potential fit for the Orlando Magic?

In his latest mock draft, Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman has the Magic selecting G League Ignite guard Jalen Green at pick number four and Baylor guard Davion Mitchell. Adding Mitchell given the plethora of point guards the team already has doesn’t make too much sense to me, but getting Green could be the spark to a new contending run for Orlando.

Jalen Green was the No. 1 ranked high school recruit in the class of 2020 by ESPN and chose the G League over collegiate basketball. He averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game in 15 starts for the Ignite club while shooting 46 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from downtown.

The 19-year-old California native would be an idyllic pick for the franchise and be the most electric prospect the team has had since Penny Hardaway or Tracy McGrady. Green is arguably the best pure scorer and shot-maker in the 2021 class, even having his Ignite head coach Brian Shaw comparing him to his late former teammate Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant and Clippers All-Star Paul George.

"“He does have a way, or a knack for figuring it out,” Shaw said (h/t ABS-CBN News) “The guys that I’ve been around — the Paul Georges, the Kobe Bryants, guys like that who were also the targets of the other team’s best defensive players and their scouting report, they figured out a way to get it done. I’m seeing that same kind of thing out of him, figuring it out when you’re the target of the defense and their scouting report. Those names that I threw out there — I said Paul George, I said Kobe Bryant. Without making comparisons to them, he has the same kind of stuff that they have, that they had. He’s 19 years old, and he’s only gonna get better, and his attitude towards the game is what it needs to be.”"

Green could be the foundational piece for the Magic to build around, adding to an already stellar young core, and giving Orlando an identity and presence they’ve been desperately missing. He projects as a two-guard at the next level but at 6-foot-6 and sporting a wiry 180-pound frame currently, Green has the size to play the three for the Magic and will grow into his frame more as he gets older. With the ninth selection after they select Green in this scenario, I think Orlando would be wise to target Florida State forward Scottie Barnes, Michigan forward Franz Wagner, or even Duke forward Jalen Johnson.

All three would address various needs and issues the Magic have currently, plus they all have the ability to be swing forwards in my opinion, and could be great compliments at the four next to Carter Jr. in potential small-ball lineups for Orlando. Both selections would also give the franchise more incentive and flexibility in moving on from Porter Jr. and Ennis III this summer. A draft-day haul of Green and any of the aforementioned three wing players would right the demons of the Magic’s recent draft blunders.

There’s also the tantalizing possibility that the ping pong balls actually create some magic for Orlando during the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery and the franchise ends up with their first No. 1 overall selection since 2004. This would earn the Magic the opportunity to select Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham, a prospect many have hailed the definitive best player in this class and overall a franchise-changing talent.

Obtaining Cunningham would dramatically shift the trajectory of Orlando’s rebuild, putting them in a similar situation that Dallas found themselves in after getting Luka Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft, a player Cunningham mirrors in a lot of ways. Adding a 6-foot-8, 220-pound lead guard who has the skillset to be a transcendent playmaker and shot creator who can also defend four positions would be a dream scenario for the Magic.

As pivotal as hitting in the 2021 NBA Draft and getting a player of Green’s caliber to build around will be for the team, the young players Orlando currently has on their roster are equally as exciting mainly Wendell Carter Jr, Chuma Okeke, and R.J. Hampton. Carter Jr. has blossomed in front of Magic’s fans’ eyes already, averaging career bests in points per game (14.5), effective field goal percentage (60%), true shooting percentage (63%), and offensive rating (123).

He’s been a seamless replacement for Vucevic and has thrived for Orlando being an offense initiator with his playmaking from the high post. Carter Jr. has also given the team a little more mobility at the center position and it’s shown to be effective in helping improve the Magic’s pick and roll offense as well as their utilization of dribble hand-offs. He has seemed to develop an interesting two-man offensive game with second-year forward Chuma Okeke as well.

Okeke’s draft stock took a bit of a hit after he tore his ACL during the 2019 NCAA Tournament which led to his fall outside of the lottery and into the Magic’s lap with the 16th pick. The former Auburn star has been a standout for the team since the big trades they made this season and now healthy, has shown flashes of why he could be the steal of the 2019 NBA Draft when it’s all said and done.

Okeke has averaged 12 points, five rebounds, three assists, and nearly two steals per game on 44 percent shooting from the field and 28 percent shooting from beyond the arc over Orlando’s last 15 games. Now seeing 30 minutes regularly a night, Okeke has given the Magic yet another playmaker with size and length who can also be a secondary ball-handler who defends multiple positions on the other end of the floor.

Then there’s rookie guard R.J. Hampton to round out the trio, one of the best high upside acquisitions Orlando made. After being buried on a contending Denver Nuggets team’s bench, Hampton has now gotten a chance to see some actual playing time with the Magic and has shown promise even through the usual rookie growing pains.

He’s averaged nine points, four rebounds, and nearly two assists per game while shooting 43 percent from the field since being traded to Orlando. Hampton is a tremendous athlete with game-changing speed and is a terror on the open floor, giving the Magic’s transition offense somewhat of a facelift.

Hampton’s shooting still needs work as he’s only converting 26.5 percent from the 3-point line and 36 percent on shots he’s attempted from 10-16 feet. However, I think the trade to Orlando couldn’t have been better for Hampton’s development, and do believe he should have no problem playing off of Cole Anthony or Markelle Fultz when he returns from a torn ACL which he suffered back in January.

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I know for Magic fans this all probably just sounds like fools gold really or a story they’ve all heard time and time again. But this feels different to me given the draft capital they’ve acquired and the attractive group of young players that now make up the bulk of their roster. An opportunity to have possibly two top 5 selections, a shot to bring in a foundational talent like Cunningham or Green to build on, and surround them with the young nucleus Orlando has in place that has the versatility to place positionless basketball effortlessly, makes them as one of best upcoming franchises in the league to watch out for in the decade to come.