It was more than a little surprising, to many around the NBA, to see the Orlando Magic come up in what has become the league’s trade stalemate du jour, that involving star point guard Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. The Magic, after all, are in the midst of a rebuild, one that remained quiet this summer despite chatter that they might be in line for a bold move.
The bold move never came. Rather than take the path of the Rockets, another rebuilder who made mega-offers to free agents Fred VanVleet of the Raptors and Dillon Brooks of the Grizzlies, the Magic opted to continue biding time, letting their young pieces fall into place. They were connected by league chatter to restricted free agents Grant Williams and Austin Reaves, as well as Raptors guard Gary Trent.
But Trent opted back into the final year of his contract, and Orlando never made a serious pursuit of Williams or Reaves.
Could they be serious about acquiring Lillard? In a recent article by Michael Grange of Sportsnet, the Magic get a mention as a team that, “could also make themselves heard,” when it comes to Lillard. It’s not clear whether that means Orlando getting involved in a Lillard trade to acquire a talented player in a bigger deal—Tyler Herro, for example—or acquiring Lillard himself.
Around the NBA, the Magic are expected to make a move to consolidate assets and fast-track their future, if not before this year’s trade deadline then in next year’s free-agent period. But it would be a surprise if they did so for a 33-year-old point guard who is due $215 million over the next four years.
“They want to turn a corner and that was an option this summer but they want to be patient with it, they want to see what they have with the rookies, Anthony Black and Jett (Howard), they want to see if any of their guys make steps forward—Chuma Okeke, (Jalen) Suggs, guys who have been sort of disappointing,” one NBA source said. “And they gave out some good contracts, contract you can package together really well, $11 million for (Joe) Ingles, $8 million for Moe Wagner. They have plenty of building-block contracts to put together a deal. And they have the young guys and the draft picks.
“I can’t see using all that for Lillard, who does not want to be there. But I can see them using all that eventually.”
Bargain Young Talent On Hand In Orlando
The Magic have two players who are considered untouchables, within reason: Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero.
Beyond them, they are loaded with intriguing young trade options. Center Wendell Carter is 24 and on a team-friendly deal worth $13 million this year ($11.9 million next year and $10.9 million the year after that). Point guard Markelle Fultz is 25 and in the final year of his contract, at $17 million. Gary Harris returned from injury last year to settle into a nice 3-and-D role, making 43.1% from the arc. He is in the final year of his deal, at $13 million, and just turned 29.
Okeke, Suggs and Cole Anthony are all on their rookie contracts. The Magic are loaded with young players on easy-to-swallow contracts. One rival exec said Orlando has, “The cleanest cap sheet in the East.”
The Magic will be a factor in trade talks around the league in the coming year. The exec suggested that Orlando might have conversations about Lillard just to prime the pump for a future deal.
“Sometimes,” the exec said, “you talk about a trade because you want to send a message to everyone around the league—to the people running other teams, to agents, even to players. Like, ‘We’re here, we’re ready.’ You heard about Houston wanting to make a big deal in January, not because they were going to get one done at the deadline but because they were setting themselves up for the summer. Maybe they’re serious about Dame, but it’s probably just a, ‘We’re here,’ kind of thing.”
Indeed, they are. Assuming Lillard winds up elsewhere, the Magic can at least ensure that they factor into future conversations, if a superstar like Karl-Anthony Towns or Donovan Mitchell comes available, or even a lesser star like Brandon Ingram, who is slated to be a free agent in 2025, hits the market. The Magic have the pieces to ensure they are heard.