Last summer, nobody wanted Bismack Biyombo. A then-22-year-old free agent coming off four modestly productive years with the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets, Biyombo ended up signing a two-year, $6 million contract with the Toronto Raptors that contained a player option for the second season.
What a difference a year makes.
Biyombo declined to pick up that player option and thus hit the open market; then he agreed to a four-year, $72 million contract with the Orlando Magic on July 2, according to a report from The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. (The four-year agreement was first reported by Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press. Wojnarowski later confirmed the official value of the deal.)
The immediate reaction to Biyombo's contract was somewhat mixed:
Biyombo has long been a good rebounder and shot-blocker in the limited minutes he's been given in his NBA career, but prior to a surprising playoff run, it was not clear that he could bring anything else to the table. He owes a debt of gratitude to former teammate Jonas Valanciunas and Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside for their respective injuries during Toronto's second-round playoff series against Miami, which allowed Biyombo a chance to prove his worth going into free agency.
It's unclear how much of a market there would have been for Biyombo prior to his playoff push. He likely still would have opted out of his deal, given his age, the monstrous amount of money available due to the (now official) salary-cap spike to $94.1 million and the league-wide need for rim protection. That said, he surely would not have commanded as large of a deal as he ended up getting.
Once he broke out during the playoffs, though, a robust market for his services began to emerge. An Eastern Conference general manager told Sean Deveney of the Sporting News in mid-May that he believed Biyombo could get around $16-17 million per year on the open market, and that estimate wound up being very close to the $18 million per year he actually got.
Deveney reported at the time that the Raptors were interested in bringing Biyombo back into the fold, and that he would be courted by the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and potentially the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.
Because he was a sought-after player, it's not surprising he commanded such a large salary. The surprise is that he landed in Orlando, with a team that had not been identified as a potential suitor, and one that looked to have settled on Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic as its frontcourt of the future.
On July 1, Orlando agreed to deals with Evan Fournier and Jeff Green. According to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, Fournier netted a five-year, $85 million contract extension, while Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today reported the Magic offered Jeff Green a one-year, $15 million contract.
Consequently, acquiring Biyombo also used up nearly all of Orlando's remaining cap space, eliminating the option of getting Ibaka to renegotiate and extend his existing contract. That means it must attempt to retain him in unrestricted free agency next offseason, which is no sure thing.
X's and O's
Given the significant commitment the Magic made to him, Biyombo seems incredibly likely to start in the frontcourt next to Ibaka. That pushes Vucevic, one of the team's top scoring option the last few seasons, to the bench, unless Orlando GM Rob Hennigan plans on exploring a trade with him. That sounds logical on the surface, but Joshua Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reported that Hennigan envisions the trio working together in a three-big rotation.
It's a trio that should be able to play together in multiple combinations. Biyombo provides rim-protection and pick-and-roll lob ability. Vucevic provides a post presence and a strong mid-range jumper. Ibaka blends the skill sets of the two, with range beyond the three-point arc, a solid pick-and-pop game and elite interior defense.
There are only 96 minutes available at the three frontcourt positions, though, and splitting them between those three players means there won't be much time at power forward for Aaron Gordon, who is Orlando's most intriguing prospect. Gordon doesn't have much of a jumper, but he is an elite athlete with the potential to work extremely well in pick-and-rolls and defend all five positions.
Unless Vucevic is moving on, Gordon will now likely be limited to playing the wing, which is a shame. He is a prototypical power forward in today's NBA. However, playing him next to Ibaka and Biyombo in the frontcourt, with point guard Elfrid Payton in front of them, will help the Magic defense, which is new head coach Frank Vogel's calling card.
It's tough to think of a team that will definitively have better rim protection than the Magic, with Ibaka and Biyombo next to each other on the inside and Gordon patrolling the weak side of the paint. Shutting down the area in front of the rim is the first step to building a good defense, and the Magic are well on their way to doing that.
The big questions will come on the other end of the court. Vogel never ran the most imaginative offense in Indiana, and the Pacers were often unable to overcome their lack of dynamism (beyond Paul George) to score efficiently. Payton and Biyombo are not threats to score outside the immediate area of the rim. Even with Ibaka's three-point range and the presence of Fournier, that will cramp their spacing regardless of whether those guys play next to Gordon or Green, who also can't space the floor effectively.
The only member of that group who is a threat to create off the bounce is Fournier, unless you count Payton's endless dribble-probes that everyone knows will likely end in a pass. It will be interesting to see how the Magic attempt to manufacture points with so many non-shooters on the floor together.
Fit and Finish
Biyombo's short time with the Raptors set him up well to receive this payday, but once Toronto re-signed DeMar DeRozan, per The Vertical's Shams Charania, it was extremely unlikely they'd be able to figure out a way to bring Biyombo back. He's only 23, so he has plenty of time left to make money in what should be a long and productive career, but it's tough to imagine the Raptors could have possibly offered him as big of a role as the Magic apparently will.
In that sense, Biyombo was justified in walking out the door. He was marginally used through his first five seasons, and he no doubt wanted to show off what he can do while shouldering a larger minute load.
How he fits with the Magic is less clear.
He's a good match for Vogel's defense-first mindset and should mesh incredibly well with any combination of Ibaka and/or Gordon on that end of the floor. Payton is a savant-level passer who can see angles other point guards can't because of his height, and he is always looking for the roll man when he turns the corner coming around a screen.
But the Magic already figured to have spacing problems before signing Biyombo, and this deal compounds them. Opposing teams know Payton doesn't want to shoot, and they play him to account for that fact. The same is true of Gordon. Teams know Green wants to shoot, and they often let him because that's preferable to him getting to the rim.
Ibaka agitated for a larger role in the offense in Oklahoma City, so it's possible he alleviates some of the issues, but he also did not show much ability to create with the ball in his hands while he was with the Thunder. It's unknown how much more he can do.
What this match comes down to in the end is what kind of team Orlando wants to be. The Magic have been searching for an identity for a while—essentially since trading Dwight Howard. With the hiring of Vogel, the trade for Ibaka and the signing of Biyombo, it appears they've finally found one: defense.