By Devin Zanskas
Ever since Dwight Howard left the franchise after the 2011-2012 season, the Magic never completely dug themselves out of their rebuild. Of the many players that were involved in the Dwight Howard trade, Nikola Vucevic was the only one to truly leave a lasting impact on the Magic organization. Of course, they were also able to select within the top five in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 NBA drafts, but no one that they picked during that time became superstars. None of those selections even reached the height of Vucevic in their Magic tenure. Victor Oladipo exploded onto the scene after he was another team removed from the Magic. Aaron Gordon’s best chance to make an Allstar squad was probably this year, now that he can focus on being a swiss army knife next to Nikola Jokic. Meanwhile, Mario Hezonja only played in the league for five seasons, and he never quite cracked ten points per game. After hitting the reset button again by trading Vucevic and Gordon at the 2021 trade deadline, the Magic were able to add Banchero and Wagner to Carter Jr, whom they had acquired for Vucevic.
As advertised, Banchero had an immediate impact with his size, skill, and athleticism. Banchero’s averaging just shy of 20 points, and he’s also probably one of the Magic’s best isolation scorers of the past decade already. Every month since November, Wagner’s scoring has gone down, but he’s still averaging almost three points more than last year, which was a remarkable All-Rookie campaign. According to nba.com, Franz Wagner averages five of his 18.8 points as a pick and roll ball handler, which is more than Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler. A trendy take from the media was that Carter Jr. is already better than Vucevic, which is obviously damning for the Bulls who also traded the pick that became Wagner, and a 2023 pick. While Vucevic is a better scorer and connecter, Carter Jr. has the edge on Vucevic on defense, and Carter Jr’s also had more of a chance to display his offensive chops.
The flattened lottery odds will benefit teams like the Magic, who have continued to be a threat to other squads higher than them in the standings. For example, they defeated the Celtics in three out of their four matchups this season, and the Magic also won both of their contests against the reigning champions, the Warriors. No one can confidently predict whether or not their team will move up in the lottery, so it might be best to base one’s projections on the Magic’s current place in the standings. With the fifth-worst record in the association as of now, The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie has the University of Houston’s forward, Jarace Walker, slotted in at the number five spot. At 6’8”, Walker fits in best at a position that’s already nominally taken by Wagner and Banchero. Over the past decade, the Magic have always prioritized length and championed the idea of positionless basketball, but that didn’t quite manifest into the limitless ceiling that they imagined. The difference with the core that the Magic are developing compared to before is that they already have two focal points that could to create a better offense than what Orlando’s seen in ten years. Selecting Walker fifth overall is either a bet that Franz can play the nominal shooting guard position, or else it’s a low-upside swing on Jarace being one of the better defenders to come off the bench. After buying out Terrence Ross and Patrick Beverley, the Magic have left a void of veteran leadership, which can aid in the development of young stars and thus launch them up the standings.
The Athletic NBA Show suggested that the Magic would possibly be in the play-in tournament if they just improved their point guard position with someone who can be an effective closer for them. There was speculation that the Magic could’ve been a suitor for Donovan Mitchell before he was acquired by the Cavs. Perhaps it worked out best for Donovan Mitchell, because the combination of Evan Mobley and Darius Garland are further along in their trajectory than Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. However, another Allstar caliber guard that has playoff experience and scoring prowess is Fred VanVleet, and ESPN’s Tim McMahon stated that the Magic could offer a lot of money to VanVleet. VanVleet just signed with Klutch Sports ahead of his player option. He’s not quite going to demand a maximum contract though, and it would require quite a significant pay increase to get him to $30 million annually.
The Magic also won’t have to offer an extension around the maximum salary until the summer of 2024 when Franz is extension eligible. According to Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, rookie scale contracts can be extended from the end of the July Moratorium to the start of the regular season immediately preceding the player’s last option season. When organizations transition from rebuilding to competing for a championship, they may postpone paying the luxury tax until they’re confident that they’re a contending team. The DeVos family has a net worth of $5.4 billion, so the luxury tax shouldn’t be as cumbersome as it would be for other owners. However, Orlando isn’t the largest market, and they’ve only paid the luxury tax three times. Luckily, the Magic have $62 million in luxury tax space for 2024, and that includes them guaranteeing the non-guaranteed salaries for Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, and Bol Bol. It’s safe to say that the Magic have the capacity to invest in a high caliber guard, and especially after this draft, they’ll have plenty of young prospects to evaluate their progress.