Khem Birch

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Do you believe in Magic? They sure do

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NBC Sports’ 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 just had their best season in seven years. Orlando was buzzing. Management poured more than $160 million into keeping the roster intact.

All for a 42-40 team that lost 4-1 in the first round.

The Magic should feel good about their breakthrough season. They ended the longest playoff drought in franchise history.

But this summer showed major long-term commitment to a group that has proven capable of just moderate winning and lacks obvious upside.

The major investments: Re-signing Nikola Vucevic (four years, $100 million) and Terrence Ross (four years, $54 million). Vucevic was an All-Star last season, and Vucevic finished fifth in Sixth Man of the Year voting. They’re good players.

But Vucevic didn’t become an All-Star until his eighth season. Most players who make their first All-Star game so late in their career don’t return. He also plays center, where there’s a surplus of capable players. That’s an expensive price for his age-29-through-31 seasons.

Likewise, Ross will turn 29 next season. He’s a streaky scorer who flourished in a bigger role last season. I’m just not convinced he’ll keep it up to justify his price tag.

At least Orlando structured the contracts well. Like Aaron Gordon‘s terms signed the year before, Vucevic’s salaries declines throughout his deal. Ross’ increases in the second year then declines. That should help the players hold more value later.

In the meantime, the Magic want to keep winning now. They’re the only Eastern Conference playoff team to return every starter.

They also re-signed key backups Khem Birch (two years, $6 million) and Michael Carter-Williams (minimum) for reasonable value. That continuity could make the difference next season. Orlando really took after Birch and Carter-Williams joined the rotation last season.

The Magic signed Al-Farouq Aminu (three years, $29,162,700) to add depth. In a vacuum, I like that move. In Orlando, Aminu is another power forward on a team overloaded with bigs.

It’s already difficult enough to find proper opportunities for Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac. Aminu only complicates matters. All three can play both forward spots. Maybe the Magic envision always having two interchangeable forwards on the floor, allowing them to maintain a style. But all three are better at power forward. There were probably better ways to allocate resources.

Signing Aminu with the mid-level exception necessitated stretching Timofey Mozgov to stay out of the luxury tax. That’s a not-small $5,573,334 cap hit each of the next three seasons.

Orlando drafted yet another power in the first round, Chuma Okeke at No. 16. But considering Okeke tore his ACL in March, the Magic could look quite different by the time he’s ready to contribute. They might get a long runway with him, as he has yet to sign his rookie-scale contract and could spend next season on a minor-league deal. Six years of team control, up from the usual five for a first-round pick, could matter significantly.

There are paths for Orlando to reach the next level – Gordon becoming a star, Isaac breaking out, Mohamed Bamba getting on track after a disappointing rookie year, Okeke getting healthy and proving correct the advanced models that rated him as a top prospect, Markelle Fultz rediscovering his form. None seem like great bets, especially because it might take a couple hits to propel this forward.

There’s a decent chance this summer’s spending works out. Winning increases the value of everyone involved. It creates flexibility not afforded to losing teams. And it’s just fun while it’s happening.

But I think it’s slightly more likely Orlando regrets locking into these players at those prices – that the Magic don’t win enough then head right back to the wrong side of mediocre while facing new long-term costs.

Offseason grade: C-

Canada eliminated from contention in FIBA World Cup with 23-point loss to Lithuania

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Canada started with so much promise, a whopping 17 NBA players on its FIBA World Cup training-camp roster.

In the end, only two Canadian NBA players – Cory Joseph (Kings) and Khem Birch (Magic) – made the trip to China.

The talent drop shoed. The Canadians were eliminated from World Cup contention with a 92-69 loss to Lithuania on Tuesday.

Unlike Team USA, which faced similar issues but has a nearly limitless supply of NBA players to pick from, Canada didn’t withstand the losses.

Canada also had little margin for error in a tough Group H. The Canadians lost to Australia in the opener. They still play Senegal on Thursday, but at 0-2, they can’t catch Lithuania (2-0) or Australia (2-0) for the top two spots in the group.

Former Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas led Lithuania with 13 points and eight rebounds.

Basketball was gaining popularity in Canada with Toronto’s NBA title. Though this is a setback, the Canadians can still reach the 2020 Olympics through the qualifying tournaments.

Team USA bounces back, beats Canada in exhibition

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SYDNEY — Order restored. After losing for the first time in nearly 13 years two days earlier, the United States rebounded to outclass Canada 84-68 in a pre-World Cup exhibition basketball game Monday.

At the same arena where the Americans won Olympic gold at the Sydney 2000 Games the U.S. never trailed, leading 20-9 after the first quarter and 46-31 at halftime.

On Saturday, Australia stunned the U.S. 98-94 before a crowd of more than 52,000 in Melbourne, a result that ended the Americans’ 78-game winning streak.

The U.S. is missing top NBA players such as LeBron James, James Harden, Paul George and Stephen Curry. It was a dour scoring game after the exciting Saturday result in Melbourne, with both teams committing numerous turnovers Monday.

Jaylen Brown had 19 points to lead the Americans, who out-rebounded Canada 55-37. Donovan Mitchell added 12 points and four assists; Kemba Walker scored 12 points and Myles Turner finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds.

“We have to speed up that learning curve,” Brown said of the Americans with less than a week to go before the World Cup starts. “We have a lot of room for growth. It’s going to be good when it comes together, the sky is the limit for this group.”

Kyle Wiltjer had 21 points for Canada, while Orlando Magic forward Khem Birch – Canada’s lone NBA player in the game – had 13 points and six rebounds.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’ve enjoyed our time here,” Wiltjer said. “Let’s not forget these are practice games.”

Overall, the Canadians shot just 35% from the field and 6-for-23 (26%) from three-point range.

Andrew Nembhard, who injured his knee last week, and Kaza Kajami-Keane (ankle) both returned for Canada, while Brady Heslip, a late arrival for the Canadians, played his first game in Australia.

The last time the Americans – counting major international tournaments and exhibitions with NBA players on the floor – lost a game was the semifinals of the 2006 world championships. The American program has won gold in every competition since, including three straight in the Olympics and two consecutive World Cup titles.

Canada has also been hit hard by missing NBA players, with Miami Heat’s Kelly Olynyk the latest big-name player to pull out after sustaining a knee injury.

TIP-INS

Canada: It was the third head-to-head meeting between Canada coach Nick Nurse and U.S. coach Gregg Popovich. They went 1-1 against each other in NBA play last season, Nurse’s Toronto Raptors losing in San Antonio on Jan. 3 but beating Popovich’s Spurs in Canada on Feb. 22. Canada finished 4-3 in its pre-World Cup exhibitions, starting with a split of a two-game series with Nigeria before five games in Australia.

USA: The Americans finished their four-game World Cup warm-up tour 3-1 after beating Spain and splitting two games with Australia. The U.S. is planning to stay in Sydney until mid-week, then arrive in Shanghai early Thursday.

NURSE TOUR

Nurse is getting the full tour of the other side of the world this year. The Canadians have been in Australia for a week or so, and now head to China for the World Cup. Then, Nurse will be in Japan when the world champion Raptors (albeit now without NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard) play preseason games against Houston on Oct. 8 and Oct. 10.

KUZMA DEPARTURE

Popovich was disappointed that Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma‘s left ankle injury meant he wouldn’t be able to compete in the World Cup. The Americans sent Kuzma home Saturday with the injury, a move that finalized the 12-man U.S. roster. They were in Australia with 13 finalists for 12 World Cup spots. “It’s a huge disappointment, because he was a young, energetic guy who was really learning and could play a lot of positions for us,” Popovich said. “Hopefully he’ll heal quickly.”

UP NEXT

Canada: Opens World Cup play Sept. 1 vs. Australia in Dongguan, China.

USA: Opens World Cup play Sept. 1 vs. Czech Republic in Shanghai.

Jamal Murray, R.J. Barrett not playing for Team Canada in World Cup

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USA Basketball is struggling to gets its top players to compete in the upcoming World Cup.

The United States isn’t the only country with that issue.

After initially announcing a training-camp roster featuring 17 NBA players, Canada is down to five NBA players in contention for the World Cup roster.

Team Canada’s best player (Nuggets guard Jamal Murray) and most highly touted young player (Knicks guard R.J. Barrett) will both attend training camp. But dealing with injuries, neither will go to China.

Other Canadian NBA players no longer in the roster pool:

Nik Stauskas is both longer in the roster pool and no longer in the NBA.

That leaves the only NBA candidates for Team Canada as:

Other Canadians heading to training camp: Aaron Best,  Melvin Ejim, Brady Heslip, Kaza Kajami-Keane, Andrew Nembhard, Duane Notice, Eugene Omoruyi, Kevin Pangos, Addison Patterson, Phil Scrubb, Thomas Scrubb and Kyle Wiltjer.

That could still be a decent team, but Canada has definitely lost a lot of bite.

Canada’s FIBA World Cup training camp features 17 NBA players

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No Andrew Wiggins, no problem.

The disconnect between Wiggins and Canada Basketball seemed like a big deal when Wiggins looked like a budding star from a country without much basketball pedigree. But Wiggins has stagnated. Canada, on the other hand, looks like a rising international power.

Canada Basketball announced its training-camp invitations for the FIBA World Cup. The list includes a whop 17 NBA players:

Though the Nuggets clearly expect Murray to reach the next level, this group is short on star power right now. Don’t expect Canada rival Team USA. But this is a deep pool of solid players. They should be competitive in the tournament this fall in China.

This group is also pretty young. Players like Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander, Barrett, Alexander-Walker and Clarke could take Canada to an even higher level in years to come.

And then the generation that’s growing up idolizing the championship Raptors will come through. Expect Canada’s climb to continue.

The other 12 players invited to Canada Basketball’s training camp: Aaron Best, Aaron Doornekamp, Andrew Nembhard, Andy Rautins, Brady Heslip, Kevin Pangos, Kyle Wiltjer, Melvin Ejim, Naz Mitrou-Long, Oshae Brissett, Phil Scrubb, Thomas Scrubb.