Denton: Magic Faced With Free Agency Decisions

By John Denton
June 30, 2012

ORLANDO – Asked recently about the dizzying pace he’s been forced to maintain since he took the job as the Orlando Magic’s new General Manager, Rob Hennigan joked that he snuck away to the beach for an extended lunch break.

Those around Henningan laughed, but the youngest GM in the NBA did not. The reason was that it was just that – a joke.

It was a rare straying from the script from Hennigan, who has already shown flashes of humor and personality to those in the Magic front office behind closed doors, but has remained mostly measured and on point while addressing the media and Magic fans.

Hennigan has been bombarded with one major task after another since joining the Magic a little more than a week ago. From restructuring the front office staff around him, conducting his first NBA Draft, dealing with point guard Jameer Nelson’s contract status to continuing the search for the Magic’s next head coach, it’s been a seemingly never-ending process for the GM.

On Sunday – well actually, at 12 a.m. because who has time for sleep? – Hennigan will undertake yet another potentially franchise-altering phase of his new job with the Magic. The NBA’s free-agency courting period begins on July 1 and teams will have 10 days to woo free agents before they are allowed to officially sign them on July 11.

As if all of that weren’t enough, the fate of superstar center Dwight Howard’s future hangs in air like the stifling humidity of a July day in Central Florida.

But dead ahead is the next task at hand: Possibly improving the team through free agency.

``I think the next few days are going to be big for us in terms of mapping out our strategy in terms of what our goals are in free agency,’’ Hennigan said. ``I think there’s a chance that we could be active in free agency, but a lot is going to depend on the priorities that we come up with internally and the goals and needs that we identify.’’

One such need could be at point guard after Nelson, the Magic’s starting point guard much of the past eight seasons, exercised the opt-out clause in his contract so that he could become an unrestricted free agent. Nelson, 30, was due $7.3 million next season, but chose free agency so that he could attempt to secure a contract of at least three years.

Hennigan has said repeatedly that he wants Nelson, the Magic’s co-captain along with Howard each of the past three seasons, back in an Orlando uniform. Some of that undoubtedly has to do with the fact that the team has only reserve point guard Chris Duhon under contract for next season. But the Magic are also placing a high priority on Nelson because of his high character, locker room leadership skills and ability on the court.

``The Magic have said that they want me there, but at the end of the day it’s still a business and any player in the league can be traded,’’ Nelson said Friday night from his home in suburban Philadelphia. ``The City of Orlando has always embraced me and not too many players in NBA can say they spent their entire career in one uniform. I hope that’s the case with me.’’

The Magic technically have nine players under contract for next season. However, J.J. Redick ($6 million) has an unguaranteed contract for next season and could be waived before July 8. And power forward Ryan Anderson, the reigning Most Improved Player in the NBA, is a restricted free agent. The Magic extended a qualifying offer of $3.2 million to Anderson, giving them the right to match any contract offer that teams give to Anderson in the next week.

Just how big of a contract offer that Anderson will receive after leading the NBA in 3-pointers during a breakout season remains to be seen. But this much is clear – Hennigan values having Anderson on the Magic roster for a lot of reasons.

``Clearly, he had a great season and he is someone who has a skill set that is pretty rare,’’ Hennigan said of Anderson, who became just the second power forward in the history of the NBA to lead the league in 3-pointers made (Orlando’s Rashard Lewis was the other in 2009). ``Ryan has a skill set that in today’s NBA has some real sticking power. I think he’s a good player and a good person. I’ve had a chance to speak with him over the past few days and I think he has a bright future in this league.’’

This free agency class will be highlighted by New Jersey point guard Deron Williams, a close friend of Howard’s. Veteran guards such as Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Gerald Wallace are also available. And rising young players Ersan Ilysova, Goran Dragic, Lou Williams and Kris Humphries are free to sign with any team.

Because the Magic are close to the salary cap with $55.9 million committed -- $76.7 million when including Gilbert Arenas’ amnestied contract – it’s uncertain how active the team will be in pursuing other free agents.

Again, Hennigan is vowing to keep his eyes open for opportunities for the Magic to improve their roster next season. A face-to-face meeting with Howard next week in Los Angeles could influence Hennigan’s direction in free agency and rebuilding the team.

``Similar to the draft, free agency is about being able to adapt and react to different factors. We’re going to be prepared to make good decisions,’’ he said. ``The next few days will be important for us to prioritize with an action plan.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at and follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

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