51 Q: How do the Magic handle their loaded frontcourt rotation?
We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.
In a vacuum, each one of the moves the Orlando Magic made this summer to bolster their frontcourt made sense. Trade Victor Oladipo to make room for Mario Hezonja in the backcourt and land Serge Ibaka to help with rim protection? Sure. Sign Bismack Biyombo, coming off a tremendous playoff run with the Raptors, to a four-year, $70 million deal that looks pretty reasonable compared to what a lot of other big men got this summer? You could do worse. A one-year, $15 million contract for Jeff Green? A little weird, but it’s hard to knock a one-year deal since there’s no long-term risk. Individually, those moves are all fine.
They make a lot less sense when you put them together, while keeping in mind the Magic invested the 2014 No. 4 pick in Aaron Gordon, who’s better suited to play power forward than small forward, and that Nikola Vucevic is still in the mix. It’s a jumbled mess of players that don’t fit very well together, and there aren’t a lot of obvious answers for how new head coach Frank Vogel will juggle it.
The most obvious solution is to make a trade, and the only logical trade candidate in that group is Vucevic, who is owed a very reasonable $36.7 million over the next three years. But although Vucevic is a gifted low-post scorer, he’s a defensive liability without much shooting range, which makes him something of an anachronism in the modern game, and it’s hard to see a fit around the league that would make sense for a deal. Vucevic’s best use on this roster would be as a second-unit scoring big feasting on opposing reserves. But he’s been a consistent starter all four of his seasons in Orlando, and moving him to the bench risks making him unhappy.
The idea of an Ibaka-Biyombo unit is intriguing — they would block everything, and Ibaka’s shooting ability would complement Biyombo’s very limited offensive game. But that would involve moving Gordon to small forward, which is counterproductive to his long-term development, not to mention the Magic just re-signed Evan Fournier for $85 million over five years. Gordon’s skill set is best used as a four, and there won’t be many minutes for him to play there. His long-term development is the real loser here. And that’s before Vogel figures out what to do with Green — which position he’ll play, who he’ll play alongside with. It’s a lot to juggle.
The Magic have a lot of intriguing young pieces — Gordon, Hezonja and Elfrid Payton, namely — but they’ve been on a treadmill of mediocre-to-bad in the four years since trading Dwight Howard in 2012. This jumbled mess of a frontcourt rotation may be an upgrade in talent, but it doesn’t get them any closer to breaking out of that cycle.