Denton: Magic Will Likely Be Quiet in Free Agency
By John Denton
July 1, 2013
ORLANDO – Big winners in the NBA’s free-agency period several times before, the Orlando Magic will be mostly onlookers now as the league’s courting process kicks fully into gear.
Because the Magic are still a team in transition, choosing to build through their promising young talent instead of going for a quick-fix via free agency, the Magic aren’t likely to be majorly involved in a free agency process that opened up at 12:01 AM Monday morning.
Rather than adding long-term contracts, the Magic could be looking to cull themselves of commitments beyond this season to ready themselves for a foray back into the free agency wooing process next summer. So while top names Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, David West and Josh Smith go through the recruiting process, the Magic will happily look on from the outside as they prepare for next summer.
``I would say I wouldn’t envision us making a huge splash this summer,’’ Magic GM Rob Henningan said. ``We’ll probably swim in the kiddie pool.’’
Hennigan’s reference was to a Magic roster that is loaded with NBA ``kids,’’ even more so after Orlando used the second pick in the NBA Draft to select 21-year-old guard Victor Oladipo. They later added Oklahoma University senior Romero Osby in the second round and the power forward hopes to use the Orlando Pro Summer League as a means of earning a training camp invite.
Those two rookies will join a young core of players that includes center Nikola Vucevic, forwards Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson and guard Doron Lamb. All of those players, sans Vucevic, are expected to play for the Magic in the summer league. There they will be given the chance to show off the improvement they have made during an offseason that figures to be a big one for the Magic because of the overwhelming youth on the roster.
Hennigan said he saw major growth from those players last season, and he expects Orlando’s young core to make more strides this season following an offseason of specialized work. Vucevic and Harkless attended Oladipo’s introductory news conference and have been regulars around the Magic practice facility this offseason, while Nicholson has already added some much-needed bulk through hours in the weight room.
``You can structure as many external things around a player, but the thing that is going to determine whether they do get better, it’s internal,’’ Hennigan said. ``The thing that we’ve learned about the guys that we do have is they have some internal pride and internal ambition to want to become great players in this league. There is a certain mental makeup characteristics that lend themselves to becoming better players.’’
The Magic were downright giddy after landing Oladipo, a 6-foot-3 guard who specializes in defense and an indefatigable work ethic. He improved greatly in each of his three seasons at Indiana University and he is expected to play a major role in the building process for the Magic next season.
Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn, who was actively involved in the team’s draft process, said staffers slapped high fives and congratulatory hugs when the organization nabbed Oladipo on Thursday night. Vaughn said that in some ways Oladipo will resemble the Magic’s free-agent acquisition and he should fit in nicely with the core already in place.
``He’s very mature, sincere and driven – a lot of the same qualities that we’re about,’’ Vaughn said. ``I think you immediately sense it from Victor that there’s a want to get better. When you talk to him you feel it and sense it and you know it is sincere.’’
Hennigan said last week that the franchise has begun a process where it hopes to work out buyout agreements with forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington, veterans who don’t fit into the team’s youth movement. Turkolgu, who has spent eight seasons with the Magic in two stints, missed most of last season with a broken left hand and a NBA suspension. Harrington almost missed most of last year following four procedures to clean out a staph infection from his surgically repaired knee.
With Turkoglu and Harrington still part of the Magic franchise, Orlando has 12 players under contract. Oladipo’s guaranteed salary makes 13 players on the roster, and Osby will be given every chance to make the team the same way that second-round pick Kyle O’Quinn did last season with a strong summer league showing.
The Magic chose not to waive guard E’Twaun Moore before Sunday, guaranteeing his contract for next season. Orlando did not extend a qualifying offer to guard DeQuan Jones, who is now a free agent but will still play on the Magic’s summer squad next week. Jones, who made the roster last season after a strong summer league and preseason showing, will likely have to earn his way onto the roster once again.
The Magic have been big winners in free agency several times in the past, signing top targets Horace Grant (1994), Isaac Austin (1998), Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady (2000), Hedo Turkoglu (2004), Rashard Lewis (2007), Brandon Bass (2009) and Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis (2011).
But Hennigan’s patient and practical approach will persist throughout this summer as the Magic wait for 2014 to add more major pieces. By next summer, the Magic could have as much as $26 million to spend on one or two free agents – and that number could rise if Orlando trades Arron Afflalo as rumored and does not retain veteran point guard Jameer Nelson.
Veteran superstars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Chris Bosh can be free agents next summer, but most are expected to re-up with their current teams. Rising stars such as Paul George, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and Larry Sanders will also be free agents if they don’t ink extensions this summer.
Other all-stars such as Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge could be available next summer if they aren’t able to work out long-term contract extensions with their existing teams.
By next summer, the Magic hope to have their foundation firmly set with its young core of players and cap room with which to add veterans. Hennigan, who was previously a part of building elite teams in San Antonio and Oklahoma City, knows that it takes a unique balance on a roster to win in the NBA.
``It takes a balance of young guys and veteran guys,’’ Hennigan said. ``You don’t want too much youth or too many veterans on your roster at once. So it’s a mix of the two that you are looking for.’’
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