Few teams surprised people more last season than the Magic. After years of falling apart mid-season, Orlando finally broke through its self-created ceiling with a surprising playoff appearance. Steve Clifford had his team playing to their fullest potential with the Magic defense coming into its own and great individual performances across the board.
That team also was absolutely at the peak of what it could be. The 2018-19 Orlando Magic managed to snag a game off the eventual champion Raptors and it was awesome for them; one of those moments that made the entire season worth it. The issue is that, even at the time, everyone knew how flawed that group was. The Magic were not a great team or one that seemed especially well constructed. They struggled to play consistent basketball throughout the season, relied on an inconsistent offense, and needed players to play beyond what was expected the on a nightly basis.
No better example of this was than with Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross who were the main source of Orlando’s scoring on most nights. Vucevic anchored their attack in the post, while occasionally floating out to the perimeter, and Ross coming in off the bench as a scorching shooter. Vucevic made the All-Star Game while Ross had the best shooting year of his career. While everyone knew they were going to get paid, the question was should the Magic be the ones to pay them.
On June 30, the Magic answered that question for everyone. Vucevic re-signed with a $100 million deal over four years in a move that, while expensive, felt a little predictable. The Magic didn’t have many other places to spend that money and Vucevic was expected to get a big pay day on the free agency market. Orlando has use for Vucevic as a competent big man while Mohamed Bamba continues to develop his very raw game behind him.
However, once 6 p.m. rolled around and free agency officially opened it became quite clear what the Magic were doing. They were going all-in on their surprise playoff team. They gave $54 million to Terrence Ross over four years and then went out and signed defensive-minded wing Al-Farouq Aminu for $29 million over three years.
The Magic aren’t just doubling down on this roster. They’re tripling. That is a lot of money invested in returning players that could easily see regression next season while also putting even more into a veteran that doesn’t really address any of their biggest needs.
The Magic are obviously concerned about where they’re going to find offensive production if they let both Vucevic and Ross walk, because that’s where it all came from in the previous season, but by adding Aminu they’re ignoring what happens on nights where those two aren’t shooting well. By going all in on the current roster as is, Orlando is putting a ton of pressure on its young players to get better quickly, while also not addressing their biggest position of need at point guard.
D.J. Augustin was a perfectly adequate point guard last year, but he didn’t raise anyone else’s game up with him. Beyond Augustin, their weakness at point guard became very apparent when the Magic had to rely on Michael Carter-Williams to help them finish out the season. Carter-Williams went from out of the NBA to playing crucial backup point guard minutes. That’s how desperate the Magic were at the backup guard position. They somewhat addressed this by trading for former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, but he, of course, has injury issues with his shoulder and as of this month, there was no update on his potential return to the basketball court.