NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
The Magic fired general manager Rob Hennigan last April, but a rough overview of their offseason would hardly show it. Orlando hit all the Hennigan classics:
- Draft a fine prospect in the lottery with limitations that might keep him from stardom? Check. No. 6 pick Jonathan Isaac follows Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja.
- Sign a veteran point guard for more money than expected? Check. Shelvin Mack follows Luke Ridnour, C.J. Watson and D.J. Augustin.
- Sign a veteran whose reputation hasn’t caught up to his decline? Arron Afflalo follows Jason Maxiell, Ben Gordon and Jeff Green.
- Add another center? Check. Marreese Speights joins a team still stocked with Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo.
But look closer, and new president Jeff Weltman fared better than his predecessor.
Isaac, a shaky ball-handler, is far from a sure thing. But he was my second-best available prospect (behind Dennis Smith, who went No. 9 to the Mavericks) and is certainly a reasonable pick.
Unlike Watson and Augustin, Mack received only one guaranteed season. He’ll even earn less this year than Augustin, who’s still guaranteed $21.75 million over the next three years (blegh).
I’m not convinced Afflalo deserves even a roster spot, but at least he’s on just a minimum contract. That’s far better than the amounts paid to Maxiell ($2.5 million), Gordon ($4.5 million) and Green ($15 million!) for their lone seasons in Orlando.
Speights is also on a minimum contract. More importantly, he can shoot 3-pointers, providing a vital element on this space-scarce team.
So, no, Weltman isn’t necessarily Hennigan. But Weltman hasn’t proven himself not be a continuation of the Magic’s front-office problems, either – mostly because he hasn’t had the opportunity.
Weltman inherited a team too good to tank all the way to the bottom of the standings. Though overpaid, Biyombo (three years, $51 million remaining on his contract), Vucevic (two years, $25 million) and Augustin (three years, $21.75 million) are still helpful contributors. Dumping them to tank would have required significant sweeteners, undermining the whole idea.
So, with little choice but to plod ahead with a similar roster… Weltman is plodding ahead with a similar roster.
At least he squeezed in Jonathon Simmons (three years, $18 million with just $1 million of $5.7 million final-year salary guaranteed) on a team-friendly contract.
If Aaron Gordon taps his otherworldly athleticism while finally returning full-time to his natural power forward position… if Elfrid Payton builds on his strong play late last season… if Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross provide enough shooting to make up for the rest of the starting lineup’s downtown deficiencies… Frank Vogel-coached Orlando could challenge for a playoff spot in the lowly Eastern Conference.
Sure, that’s probably a longshot. But what choice did the Magic have but to keep that dream alive and hope for the best?
With more than $78 million already committed for 2018-19 – not counting possible extensions for Gordon and Payton – it might be a couple years before Weltman can put his stamp on this team.
He’s not wasting his capital while the team is overrun with Hennigan players. Orlando traded the Nos. 25 and 35 picks this year for future picks. Reasonable enough, though it’s possible the Magic wind up with no first-rounders in return for No. 25 and a lower second-rounder for No. 35.
One small cause for concern: After wisely waiving Watson, paying his $1 million guarantee rather than his $5 million salary, Orlando stretched his payout. That opened $666,666 in cap room – superfluous as long as the $4,328,000 room exception remains unused. The Magic will pay the price with a $333,000 cap hit each of the following two seasons.
These are obviously small amounts and unlikely to affect future plans. And the Magic had to decide on this in mid-July. Maybe they had a logical plan for the extra cap space this summer that fell through.
But taking their medicine and eating the entire $1 million this season – a year unlikely to go anywhere regardless – was the most obviously sensible solution. Given the results, it would have also been the correct course.
At some point, Weltman must show whether he’s pulling Orlando out of its hole or digging it deeper. With minimal opportunities to display his acumen, he did a little of both.
I think the Magic are in slightly better shape than they entered the offseason, but not enough to move even a partial letter grade.
Offseason grade: C