The NBA playoffs are underway, and the Orlando Magic are sitting home wondering what could have been. The Magic entered the season with high hopes, and they started off strongly but a poor stretch in January and February ultimately cost them a chance to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Orlando, under the direction of new coach Scott Skiles, was 19-13 through the first two months of the season and was playing tremendous defense. However, the Magic struggled terribly once the calendar turned to 2016. The Magic lost their first four January games and 15-of-17 (Jan. 1-Feb 5).
“It’s really frustrating,” shooting guard Victor Oladipo told the Orlando Sentinel. “But if we could go back and change the past, we would. But, unfortunately, we can’t. We’ve got to get better this summer. It’s going to be a big summer for everybody individually. It’s going to be a big summer for us collectively.”
Orlando finished 11th in the Eastern Conference –nine games out of the playoffs — with a 35-47 record. The Magic was just 4-12 against Southeastern division foes and 21-31 against Eastern Conference teams. Orlando finished with the fourth best margin of victory (-1.4) among the 14 teams that missed the playoffs and played in the third most close games (within three points) in all the NBA – the Magic went 6-10 in those games. The 35 wins are the Magic’s most since 2011-12.
Orlando has a roster full of young and talented players that includes nine first round draft picks, with five of them being lottery selections. The Magic do have several important decisions to make as they have five potential free agents, three of those being restricted free agents. Veterans Brandon Jennings and Jason Smith are unrestricted free agents, while Andrew Nicholson, Evan Fournier, and Dewayne Dedmon will be restricted free agents — if they are offered a qualifying offer.
Orlando currently has nine players under contract and is projected to have between $16.4-to-$50.1 million in salary cap space, per Basketball Insiders. Ersan Ilyasova and Devyn Marble’s contracts are non-guaranteed for this upcoming season.
Orlando is poised to be aggressive this summer during free agency, according to Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, though he added that they will be “very disciplined,” as well. Hennigan said that re-signing Fournier is a top priority this offseason.
“One of our biggest, if not our biggest, priorit[ies] is to make sure Evan stays with us. And we’re confident we’ll be able to do that.”
Fournier played in 79 games this year – tied with rookie Mario Hezonja for the most on the team – and finished third on the team in scoring (14.7 ppg). The 23-year-old shot a career-high 46.2 percent from field and led the team with 2.0 three-pointers per game — he shot 40.0 percent from long range on the year. Fournier picked up his offensive production in the second half of the season, averaging 17.9 points on 49 percent shooting from the field and 40.3 percent from beyond the arc following the All-Star break.
Dedman, who is a quality fourth or fifth big man, may also return as Orlando may extend the required $1.21 million qualifying offer. The 26-year-old appeared in 56 games this past season, starting 20 of those games. He averaged 4.4 points and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 55.9 percent from the floor in 12.2 minutes of action.
There are questions whether Nicholson will return. The 2012 first round selection has not had a breakout season in any of his four years with the team. He averaged 6.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in 14.7 minutes of action this season. Nicholson’s qualifying offer is valued at $3.394 million, which is likely too much for Orlando to offer.
According to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, Jennings would like to return, but that probably won’t happen unless he comes back at a discount. Jennings, who made over $8.3 million this season, struggled this season and did not play in the Magic’s last four games (coach’s decision). The 26-year-old averaged 7.0 points and 4.0 assists in 25 games for Orlando.
Brandon Jennings would like to stay - have not talked to Ersan about it - always comes down to money. https://t.co/P87W1pIsTF— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) April 3, 2016
Orlando also has to make a decision about what to do with Victor Oladipo. Oladipo will be eligible to be a restricted free agent next year, so the decision will likely be whether to sign the 23-year-old to a long term contract or attempt to trade him. The 6-foot-4 combo guard is coming off a rough season and has had two head injuries in the last five months. His biggest issues are decision-making and long-range shooting – Oladipo shot 34.8 percent from the three-point line this year.
Despite having a lot of cap space available this summer, Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel believes that the Magic’s chances of landing a star this offseason are very bleak. Orlando, which would like to add some veterans this offseason, has already been linked to free-agents-to-be Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons, and Al Horford. Howard, of course, was drafted by the Magic out of high school, and Horford (as well as Parsons) played at the University of Florida.
[Photo by John Raoux/ Associated Press]