With a unicorn-laden roster and the ability to add to it, the Magic have all the pieces to be major players in the league for years to come.
Just before Halloween, the Orlando Magic hosted the Charlotte Hornets after losing their first five games of the season. Such a start wasn’t necessarily surprising, as expectations in Orlando weren’t high heading into 2022-23 after finishing with the NBA’s second-worst record a year ago.
But on this particular night, the Magic trotted out a starting lineup that may have provided a glimpse of what the future could look like in Orlando. You’ve heard of small ball, yeah? Well, this was the opposite of that.
When the Hornets walked onto the court, staring back at them was a lineup that boasted three 6-foot-10 players (Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr.) and another that measures in at 7-foot-2 (Bol Bol). The smallest player in Magic blue, Terrence Ross, stands 6-foot-6.
The result? A dominant 113-93 victory over the Hornets in which all five starters finished with a plus-minus of at least +18. Banchero showed everyone in attendance why he was the No. 1 pick from the 2022 NBA Draft, filling the stat sheet with 21 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists, continuing a start to his career that has been historic in nature.
Now, this was a one-night experiment, as Orlando is dealing with a handful of injuries to its guards that typically see playing time. We also have no idea the staying power of such a lineup or if it would be successful moving forward. However, it was a fascinating exercise regardless.
This Orlando Magic team is pretty bad currently with a 1-7 record in the young season. But it might not be long before it’s a power in the NBA. Let’s explore.
The Orlando Magic Right Now
Again, let’s be clear about where the Magic are currently — they stink.
But it’s clear to anyone who has watched them the last couple of seasons that there’s a lot of potential in Orlando. In addition to Banchero, who can operate as a 6-foot-10 floor general and is in the midst of a historic rookie campaign (21.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.6 APG), the roster boasts a number of unique players that could, in theory, force mismatches all over the floor.
Wagner, the No. 8 pick in the 2021 draft out of Michigan, also measures in at 6-foot-10 and has the IQ to fit on just about any team in the league. He was thought to be “the other draft pick” in 2021 after the team selected Jalen Suggs at No. 5, but it didn’t take long for Wagner to make his presence known. The German, who can play at either forward spot, averaged 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. But more than that, it was the way he developed as an offensive playmaker throughout the season that raised his long-term ceiling even higher than it already was.
Back to Suggs — let’s not dismiss the second-year guard out of Gonzaga. Sure, he struggled out of the gate last season, but many young guards do early in their careers. And then he missed out on a good bit of development by missing a chunk of the season with a thumb fracture. So while his numbers don’t jump off the page, there’s a reason the Magic took him at No. 5, and it’s because he possesses many of the qualities one looks for in a lead guard, especially in today’s NBA. Unfortunately for him, he’s again dealing with injury — this time to his knee — but just 21 years old, Suggs is certainly in Orlando’s future plans.
Between those three players, the Magic have a very solid core to build around, with Banchero having superstar potential. But make no mistake, there’s more talent kicking around O-Town:
- Cole Anthony, 22, is coming off a season in which he averaged 16.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game.
- Bol Bol, 23, is somehow in his fourth NBA season and has been a revelation for the Magic this season. He currently ranks third in the NBA with 2.6 blocks per game despite averaging just 21.6 minutes.
- Wendell Carter Jr. is giving everyone in Orlando Horace Grant vibes, and while it’s probably not fair to compare him to the four-time NBA champ, he’s only 23 and coming off his best statistical season to date in which he averaged a double-double.
- RJ Hampton is just 21 years old and could be a nice rotational piece down the line.
Oh, and I didn’t even mention Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, and Mo Bamba, who are 25, 24, and 24, respectively, and a few healed-up injuries away from being meaningful contributors.
Now, it will be IMPOSSIBLE for the Magic to be able to maintain all this talent. Eventually, all these guys are going to get paid, which leads us to the next section.
Orlando Magic: The Future
Before getting into any hypothetical scenarios, here’s where the Magic stand salary cap-wise for the next couple of seasons:
|PLAYER||2022-23 Salary||2023-24 Salary||2024-25 Salary||2025-26 salary|
|Wendell Carter Jr.||$14,150,000||$13,050,000||$11,950,000||$10,850,000|
|Mo Wagner||$1,878,720||Free agent|
Yes, that’s a lot. As things stand currently, the Magic are just north of $121 million of the NBA’s set salary cap of $123,655,000 for this season. But as we all know, this is a soft cap with plenty of exceptions that permit spending above it (though there may be accompanying penalties, i.e. the luxury tax).
Next season, the league’s soft salary cap threshold is expected to jump up to $134 million, with the luxury tax level being set at $162 million. Both could increase even more in the ensuing seasons.
This is all to say that Orlando has room to work with, especially with some contracts coming off the books in the coming years, such as Harris’s $13 million and Ross’s $11.5 million, both sure locks not to be re-upped once those expire. Bamba and Fultz could also be lumped into this conversation, freeing up $27.3 million between them by 2024.
This brings us to the main point: 2024-25 could be the year for the Magic.
By this point, the above contracts could all be gone with no major money committed otherwise. Additionally, Isaac’s $17 million that season is non-guaranteed, providing the team with some flexibility if needed.
Come the 2024 offseason, the still-quite-young Orlando Magic will have every chance to look the part of an up-and-coming, talented NBA roster. Banchero will be in Year 3. Wagner and Suggs will be entering their fourth seasons. Carter Jr.’s deal declines in salary every year until he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2026-27. It sets up very well for Orlando to be an intriguing destination for free agents that summer looking to join a team on the rise.
Just for reference — we’re not making predictions here, folks — here are a few names set to potentially be free agents that summer:
Again, this is just for reference; one could wax all day about the respective ages and organizational fits of all these players in Orlando, but that’s a conversation for another time. Additionally, some of these players have player options in their current deals that may remove them from this conversation should they exercise such.
The point is simply that exciting options will be there, and it’s not hard to imagine a veteran star at a career crossroads wanting to team up with a legit phenom like Banchero.
That said, it won’t be a blank checkbook and the team certainly will have decisions to make before it gets there. That same summer ahead of the 2024-25 campaign, the Magic will have to decide whether or not to extend the contracts of Wagner and Suggs. By then, the team should have a clearer picture of what their value is, but even with those two back in the fold, Orlando still may have enough flexibility to swing big at an impact free agent.
Neither Wagner nor Suggs, barring a huge breakout, is likely to warrant the same type of big-money extension that Banchero — who will be up for an extension the following offseason — will surely get. And planning for the eventual Banchero deal, either at 25% or 30% of the cap, is absolutely something Orlando will have to keep in mind when negotiating. But locking both up on team-friendly deals ahead of time could help them build a bridge to the future.
If and when the Magic do this, their 2024-25 salary cap sheet will still feature sub-$10 million salaries for both Wagner and Suggs, with the Banchero extension scheduled to kick in the following year. Would there be a player out there willing to swing big on a one-year deal and see what they’ve got in the meantime? Perhaps not the most optimal option, sure — but an option nonetheless.
Meanwhile, there’s an argument to be made that waiting until the 2025-26 season to spend big is in the franchise’s best interest. I won’t argue against that; after all, the current NBA media rights deal will have just expired and there’s a chance the salary cap — with an expected massive new TV and streaming rights deal in place — could jump massively that offseason. Additionally, there are some bigger names to chase in free agency, namely Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more.
But with those expected extensions for Wagner and Suggs set to begin in 2025-26, there just may be a little less wiggle room than the previous offseason. This certainly could be looked at as a two-year window, however.
Of course, there’s also always one other route the Magic could take in acquiring a star: the trade market. Every year, there seems to be a new disgruntled star somewhere who needs a fresh start. There aren’t many better or more attractive teams out there than Orlando in this regard, as they boast young, talented players and draft picks to entice rival teams.
(The lack of state income tax in Florida doesn’t hurt when courting out-of-town hoopers, either.)
Alternatively, they could use that ammo to potentially move up in a subsequent draft. Hell, if the Magic keep up their current pace, they’ll be one of the three teams with the best odds at drafting another all-world unicorn in Victor Wembanyama. Add him to this roster and you might not even need anyone else.
In the end, this is all hypothetical. Teams and fans alike go through these sorts of mental exercises each and every offseason in an effort to build optimism for the future. In reality, however, it’s never black and white. Things don’t usually go precisely as planned.
But the name of the game is flexibility and optionality, and the Orlando Magic have both going forward.
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