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Three questions the Orlando Magic must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 29-53, missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season

I know what you did last summer: Orlando fired general manager Rob Hennigan, hired Jeff Weltman and… did little else. The Magic are still jammed with Hennigan’s mistakes. At least they drafted Jonathan Isaac No. 5 and signed Jonathon Simmons, Shelvin Mack, Marreese Speights and Arron Afflalo.

THREE QUESTIONS THE MAGIC MUST ANSWER:

1) Are Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac complementary long-term pieces? Gordon and Isaac are Orlando’s most valuable player. But they also might overlap too much on the court.

Gordon is best at power forward, as last year’s experiment at small forward painfully showed. His ball skills are an asset at power forward, a liability at small forward. He also had a surprisingly tough time defensively at small forward, where he looked uncomfortable chasing smaller players around the perimeter. Get him closer to the paint more often, and Gordon should excel.

Isaac is more of a combo forward, mostly because we haven’t seen him in the NBA yet. He’ll likely play small forward for now, not just because of Gordon, but because Isaac isn’t yet strong enough to handle the physicality of NBA bigs. But long-term, his lack of an advanced handle could push him to power forward.

Maybe Gordon and/or Isaac develop enough perimeter skills to complement each other. Or perhaps Orlando finds guards who can handle the ball enough to relieve the forwards.

Obviously, positional designations can be draconian. But, in broad strokes, the differences between small forward and power forward in the modern NBA speak to a potentially incohesive pairing between Gordon and Isaac.

Though Isaac is just a rookie, Gordon is extension-eligible or headed toward restricted free agency. It’d be nice if the Magic knew whether their two most valuable players can optimize their value together.

2) Is Elfrid Payton worth keeping as starting point guard? Payton is also already extension-eligible, which could delay Weltman from ever putting his imprint on this team. On the other hand, Weltman doesn’t want to lose a good point guard before he breaks out.

A lightning rod for the previous regime, Payton played well enough late last season to instill confidence he might be a long-term starter. He must extend that all-around play over a larger sample to prove it.

If he does, the Magic will have a big decision about how much to pay him (unless they’ve already extended him). If he doesn’t, they’ll have to find a new starting point guard, maybe drafting someone and starting this process over (unless they’ve already extended Payton, which would be a major problem).

3) Will Frank Vogel oversee a top-end defense? The Magic are too far along a win-now plan to punt the season before it even begins. Their path to the playoffs starts with tapping a defensive potential not realized last season.

Vogel’s Pacers defenses ranked ninth, first, first, seventh and third in his five full seasons in Indiana. Despite Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Gordon being expected to comprise an elite defensive front line, Orlando’s defense ranked just 22nd last season.

Ibaka is gone, and this team shouldn’t have as many problems with being oversized. The athletic Simmons is built to defend the wing. Starting center Nikola Vucevic has improved defensively under Vogel. The 6-foot-4 Elfrid Payton is big enough to disrupt opposing point guards. The lengthy Isaac should terrorize passing lanes in due time.

It all looks solid on paper, but the same was said at this time last year. The burden ultimately falls on Vogel, who was touted as a defensive mastermind when hired – and, not for nothing, is working for an executive who didn’t hire him.

It may be moot, but Kawhi Leonard now eligible for super-max contract with Spurs

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Early on in the Kawhi Leonard saga with the Spurs, there was a sense in some (even many) quarters of the NBA world that the two sides would work things out. Why? Because the Spurs can offer Leonard way more money than anybody else — $221 million. That’s thanks to the “Kevin Durant rule” added to the most recent CBA that allows the team that drafted a player who meets the criteria (twice All-NBA, MVP, etc.) to get 35 percent of the salary cap at a younger age.

Money did not solve this problem — Leonard and the Spurs are farther apart than ever.

That said, Leonard did just become eligible on Sunday for that massive payday. From Bobby Marks of ESPN.

Kawhi Leonard is now super max eligible (third year anniversary of the contract signed on July 16, 2015) to receive a five-year $221 million extension from the Spurs. If Leonard is traded, the most he could receive in an extension (six months after the trade) would be $108 million over four-years (starting in 2019-20). Leonard would be eligible to sign a five-year $190 million contract as a free agent with the team acquiring him or four-years $141 million with a team that has cap space. Leonard would not be super max eligible as a free agent with the new team acquiring him even if he earned All-NBA honors in 2018-19.

Leonard is still trying to force a trade, and that remains at a standstill.

Where do things stand? Everyone involved is waiting for someone else to blink

San Antonio is waiting for the L.A. Lakers or Philadelphia (or anyone else, such as Toronto) to make what they see as an acceptable offer. Those other teams are holding out their best trade pieces — the Lakers with both Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, the Sixers with Markelle Fultz, etc. — waiting for the Spurs to accept less, closer to what recent big name player trades (DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George) went for. Complicating it all is Leonard’s inexperienced management team, which does not have long-standing relationships with teams, has communicated different things at times, and teams just do not know if they can trust them.

There are conflicting reports and I’ve heard conflicting things from sources, down to the most fundamental issues: Does Leonard want to be a Laker, or does he not want to play with LeBron? Whatever the answer, every day this drags out the Spurs lose leverage.

Even so, this could drag out into training camp. Or longer.

Grizzlies sign second-round pick Jevon Carter to multiyear contract

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies have signed second-round pick Jevon Carter to a multiyear deal.

Terms of the contract announced Sunday were not disclosed, but Carter himself confirmed the deal.

Carter has impressed at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and in Utah. His dogged, aggressive defense has slowed players — Trae Young had some of his worst games against Carter — and on offense his game has improved, including him dropping 26 points on the Jazz recently.

Carter was taken with the No. 32 pick after winning the Naismith defensive player of the year last season at West Virginia. The point guard was second in the nation with 3.03 steals per game and is the Mountaineers’ career leader in that category.

“Ray Allen from long distance” with chip shot to save par at American Century Classic

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“Ray Allen from long distance, how many times have we said that?”

Ray Allen had a good weekend at the American Century Championships, the former NBA sharpshooter and future Hall of Famer finished third in the celebrity golf event. One of the reasons he was there, this chip shot on 13 Sunday.

Former Cowboy’s quarterback Tony Romo won the event, with former MLB pitcher Mark Mulder was second.

LeBron James sits courtside for Lakers’ Summer League win

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There are two, maybe three guys playing for the Lakers in Summer League likely to be sharing a locker room with LeBron James next season — Isaac Bonga and Josh Hart, with maybe Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and/or Alex Caruso. Only Hart could see the court much.

LeBron was still courtside on Sunday for a quarterfinal game at Summer League, showing his support and being a good teammate. He gave Hart a hug on the court. Brandon Ingram stopped by and talked with LeBron for a bit.

LeBron watched the Lakers continue their strong run through the Summer League, racking up a 101-78 win. LeBron was into it, when Mykhailiuk took a shot midway through the first quarter LeBron yelled, ‘cash only!”  The shot was nothing but net.

The Lakers are on to the Summer League semifinals. Los Angeles won the Vegas Summer League last year.