The reboot has officially begun in Orlando. After trading away Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon at last season’s trade deadline, the Magic are finally embracing the long-term build compared to wallowing in no-man’s land.
Although the Magic put together an intriguing core led by Vucevic and Gordon, it just wasn’t good enough within an Eastern Conference that was ripe for the taking over the years. The best Orlando could muster was a bottom-tier playoff seed, which inevitably reached an easy answer. The definition of insanity is continuously running back the same team with no real room for improvement, and Orlando finally realized this midway through last season when Gordon and Vucevic were shipped off for multiple draft assets and young prospects.
Lottery luck once again wasn’t on the Magic’s side, but they still were one of the biggest winners from the 2021 NBA Draft in hindsight. Snagging Jalen Suggs at No. 5 overall was a home-run scenario, an immediate franchise-changing prospect with an immensely high ceiling. Then, thanks to the Vucevic trade, Orlando used the Chicago Bulls’ top-10 pick at No. 8 overall to acquire another high-floor prospect in versatile forward Franz Wagner from Michigan. Adding Suggs and Wagner into the mix of an already bountiful core of under-25 talent in Orlando is an exciting development.
All of the following players projected in Orlando’s rotation for the 2021-22 season are age-24 or under: Jonathan Isaac, Chuma Okeke, Markelle Fultz, Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Suggs and Wagner. That’s right — eight of the Magic’s rotational contributors are still at this stage of their careers.
Orlando is just now beginning what the team should have done a few years ago with its roster, but it's the right route when you realize how much young talent can be stockpiled when picks hit.
Isaac is coming off a torn ACL with an extensive recovery; however he’s already flashed real two-way potential featuring All-Defense upside in the near future. If the offense clicks for Isaac, he will quickly climb the ranks of under-25 talent in the Association.
Carter, whom Orlando landed in the Vucevic trade, has flashed on a few different occasion that he’s a legitimate rotational big with some untapped upside of his own. Anthony, Fultz and Hampton are darts throws at the guard position, a situation that will sort itself out this season in regards to who will be featured alongside Suggs throughout the upcoming years.
Okeke and Bamba bring more depth to the Magic’s frontcourt, although the former Auburn Tiger figures to be a mainstay in Orlando longer than the 2018 No. 5 overall pick.
When trying to picture all of this young core figuring it out, the primary building blocks still crystalize: Isaac, Suggs, Wagner. Although the latter two haven’t played in the NBA, the Magic using their most draft capital in recent memory on two of the "safest" prospects says a lot about where they view their long-term future. They want to improve, but it’s not going to be rushed. Suggs and Wagner should be connective-tissue pieces that help accentuate what is already in place for Orlando. If everything forms together as planned, Orlando is a team who could make some noise two or three years from now.
So, with that type of timeline, it’s fair to assume veteran wings Terrence Ross and Gary Harris are not long to stay on the roster. Rumors bubbled up around the draft mentioning Ross’ availability around the league. Harris helped match salaries for Denver in the Gordon trade, but he hasn’t shown much to the Magic or even Denver over the last few seasons, seemingly stagnating due to injury and inconsistent scoring capabilities.