So far during this offseason, the Orlando Magic made several changes to their roster. They drafted three players, while letting go of 10-year veteran Jameer Nelson, among others. The recent addition of Ben Gordon raised some eyebrows, as it doesn't seem to fit in the Magic's scheme—or does it?
It's time to evaluate Orlando's activities up to this point.
While many expected a rather quiet offseason for the Magic apart from signing a couple of promising rookies, fans witnessed some surprising moves by general manager Rob Hennigan.
Basketball enthusiasts following the Florida-based franchise were expecting the team to focus on its young talents. After all, it has a roster filled with players in their early 20s. So it made sense to trade Arron Afflalo in order to give the youngsters more playing time.
In return, the Magic received Evan Fournier and the No. 56 pick, Roy Devyn Marble.
While adding even more young players seems like overkill to some, it makes sense, considering Orlando entered a three-year single affiliation partnership with the Erie BayHawks on May 19. The NBA D-League team will allow the development of young prospects who aren't quite ready for the NBA yet.
On July 1, Hennigan surprised many fans by waiving the iconic Nelson to clear cap space. The real stunner, however, was the signing of 31-year-old Gordon just days later. How does this add up?
Here is a closer look and an evaluation of the moves so far.
No. 4: Aaron Gordon, No. 10: Elfrid Payton, No. 56: Roy Devyn Marble
When the Philadelphia 76ers decided to take a chance and pick the injured Joel Embiid, most Orlando fans' eyes lit up with glee. Dante Exum was going to join the Magic! There was just one tiny detail...
The Magic picked Gordon.
Many fans were disappointed at first. The Australian had been hyped so much that people were looking forward to seeing the second coming of Penny Hardaway. It didn't seem to matter that hardly anyone had seen him play.
Hennigan's decision, even if unpopular, made sense.
Gordon's one year in college sufficed to show what he can do for the team. And Orlando's need for interior defense wasn't that much of a secret.
In fact, it was painfully obvious.
Elfrid Payton's selection with the No. 10 pick was the logical choice, as the Magic have young talent lining up at all positions—except at the 1. His speed and ball-handling skills will help the team to avoid too many set plays, which tend to be the Achilles' heel of any young squad.
The more the Magic run, the better.
Finally, Roy Devyn Marble rounds off Orlando's draft. He will likely fight for minutes on a team with several potent shooting guards. He is a prime candidate to get his feet wet while playing in the D-League.
Orlando received: Evan Fournier, No. 56 pick
The veteran shooting guard was on his way out for three reasons: His value was highest after his career season in 2013-14, his personal peak didn't match the Magic's, and he took time away from young prospects.
Afflalo's trade made absolute sense.
To be precise, the fact that he was traded made sense. The question remains whether the team couldn't have received more in return.
The seven-year veteran had his best season last year and was widely considered an All-Star candidate. He is a very coachable player, as his former coach George Karl told the Orlando Sentinel back in 2012. Many playoff-bound teams would surely have loved to get their hands on someone like Afflalo.
It seems hard to believe that this was in fact the best deal the Magic could get. Then again, teams around the league knew Orlando was eager to trade him to allow its young players more court time. This certainly lowered the veteran's market value.
Maybe Hennigan saw something in Fournier that justified the deal. Hopefully, it is more than merely the difference in salaries, which added approximately $6 million of cap space.
Still, a point guard would have made more sense—especially with Nelson subsequently waived.
Qualifying offer pulled back on June 29
Now he is an unrestricted free agent.
Add Orlando's E'twan Moore to your list of unrestricted free agents. Orlando, I'm told, has agreed to pull back qualifying offer to Moore— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 29, 2014
The young combo guard had the potential to become an important player for the Orlando Magic.
With Nelson and Afflalo gone, Moore's playing time was sure to increase, mainly as Payton's backup. Seeing as this season will be another learning experience for the young Magic core, the team could have waited for him to develop.
The 25-year-old will become a versatile backup guard, at the very least.
The only way for this to make any sense is some devious master plan forming in the back of Hennigan's brain. Why else would the Magic need to keep their payroll so low?
Grade: D (pending a spectacular Hennigan move)
Waived on July 1
Two days after Moore became an unrestricted free agent, the Magic thanked Nelson for 10 loyal years of service and parted ways.
Truth be told, this allows the small playmaker to realistically compete for an NBA championship on another team. The veteran brings a lot of experience, and his shooting would help space the floor for the star players on a title contender.
His departure put another $6 million between Orlando's payroll and the salary cap, which allows Hennigan even more room to maneuver. Some may argue that the $8 million contract was too much for an aging, undersized guard.
Nonetheless, Nelson will be missed.
Orlando could have used a player like him to teach all the young athletes. He was a leader by example, never giving up on a play and always being positive. The 32-year-old had influence on players like Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo, according to NBA.com's John Denton.
With him leaves a great teacher of the game.
The one possible upside is increased playing time for Payton. A downside, however, is that Oladipo will once again be forced to play point guard and shooting guard instead of being able to focus on the 2—unless Hennigan gets another true point guard or puts someone else in the combo position.
Possibly Fournier? Expect mayhem at the 1.
And not the good sort.
Doron Lamb, Ronnie Price, Jason Maxiell
Waived on July 1, 2 and 4, respectively
These moves were less of a surprise than a necessity, given these athletes' production in the past.
The one player who may have deserved another chance is Doron Lamb. After all, he was acquired midseason and only played 24 games for the Magic. The 6'4" shooting guard is only 22 years old and could have been sent to the Erie BayHawks to develop.
Ronnie Price may have raised his hopes for a moment when Nelson was waived. The 31-year-old is decidedly cheaper and suddenly became the only other option at the 1. Still, his production in nine years in the league was marginal at best, and Orlando felt it had no need for the veteran.
Jason Maxiell, finally, rarely saw the floor toward the end of the 2013-14 campaign. He never was the fastest player to begin with, and age slowed him down even more. With all the talent on the Magic roster, he would have merely taken away minutes from the prospects. He waived on Friday, per Ken Hornack of Fox Sports Florida.
Two-year deal for $9 million
When rumors surfaced that the Magic may be interested in the 31-year-old, yours truly put as much faith in them as in Metta World Peace living up to his name.
Yet, here we are.
The Magic signed Gordon.
At first look, it makes no sense at all. The team cut ties with veterans left and right and built up a core of young, talented players. Why add a veteran who only played 19 games last season and now takes away court time from the youngsters? And why sign him for more than the minimum salary?
Couldn't—rather shouldn't—the Orlando Magic have held onto Nelson instead as their floor leader, teacher and icon?
Gordon was first said to have both years of his contract guaranteed, basically counting $4.5 million toward Orlando's payroll for filling in at the one position that is already crawling with too many players.
Ben Gordon has agreed to a two-year, $9m deal with Orlando, league source confirms. Both years guaranteed.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) July 2, 2014
Then, something transpired.
While it is true that the team agreed to a two-year deal, the second year is a team option. This still leaves Gordon possibly overpaid, and more importantly superfluous on the current Orlando roster, but it also makes him much more desirable for another team in a trade scenario.
Second year of Ben Gordon's two-year, $9m deal with Orlando is team option. Still, lucrative deal for a guy who played 19 games last year.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) July 2, 2014
He may not be an asset to initiate a deal, but his salary could prove to be necessary to fulfill league requirements in a trade scenario. He certainly gives the Magic more flexibility. And with a team payroll way beneath the salary cap, they can afford to spend $4.5 million on him.
Then again, they could have afforded $8 million.
So why waive Nelson, the proven mentor who filled a position of need and was arguably the most beloved player on this team?
Just to be perfectly clear: Gordon was a terrific shooting guard in his prime. His peak lies several years back, however, and last season he played just 19 games, scoring a total of 99 points. If he can stay healthy and get his rhythm back, he may be valuable off the bench.
He also has a lot of experience to impart—but so did a certain undersized point guard.
The disturbing part about the possibility of a trade is that it would have to involve one or more of Orlando's promising young players, whom fans thought would be the future of this franchise. There will be a lot of time to discuss this signing and Hennigan's reasons for it, as any trade involving Gordon cannot be concluded before December 15, according to the collective bargaining agreement.
General manager Hennigan possibly enjoys more trust from fans than any other GM in the league. He has proved his worth and foresight several times in the past. There is this certain feeling—or hope?—that he has some trump up his sleeve, some master plan to put Lex Luthor to shame.
As it stands now, the Orlando Magic aced the draft—which is hard not to do with two lottery picks—and cut ties with all their veterans. They sent some mixed signals by signing Ben Gordon, but at least his contract gives them some versatility for possible trade scenarios in the future.
Orlando hasn't yet added a player to back up Payton at the 1, which fuels the speculation that Oladipo might yet again have to mimic a playmaker more often than he should. The club also said farewell to Nelson, who was the glue that held this squad together over the past two seasons of transition.
It remains to be seen what is up next, but the team will have to address the point guard situation as well as the need for some depth at the 4 and 5—preferably an intimidating shot-blocker. A role player would do the trick. He could be used sparingly depending on the situation and help out in case of injuries. And, if nothing else, another modest salary would give even more flexibility.
What overall grade does the Magic offseason deserve so far?
It is up to Orlando's GM to show that these offseason moves so far were not Hennigan shenanigans. Judging from his history, the Orlando Magic will come up smelling of roses.
The next weeks will be interesting to watch.
One thing has to be made clear: Despite the possibly harsh grades for some aspects of this offseason, Orlando still has a promising young squad of hardworking athletes. The team is in a great situation overall.
It is easy to get excited about players like Oladipo, Harris, Aaron Gordon, Payton, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Kyle O'Quinn, Andrew Nicholson and Dewayne Dedmon. Just listing these names should make any Orlando fan tingle with anticipation.
You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.