ORLANDO - It was Feb. 14, 2017, nine days before that NBA season’s trade deadline. The Orlando Magic had lost six of their last eight games and were sitting at 21-36 on the season.
Serge Ibaka, whom Orlando had acquired from Oklahoma City that prior summer, was about to become an unrestricted free agent. Avoiding the risk of him leaving in free agency and realizing that perhaps he wasn’t the right frontcourt fit next to Nikola Vucevic, the Magic decided to trade him to the Toronto Raptors.
In return, Orlando acquired Terrence Ross, who had just turned 26 years old a week earlier, and a 2017 first round draft pick. Ross was solid the rest of that season with the Magic, scoring 20-plus points four times, including a 29-point performance in the third to last game of the year against the Indiana Pacers.
The following season was an abbreviated one for the 6-foot-6 sharpshooter, as a leg injury limited him to 24 total games in 2017-18.
Motivated to overcome that setback, Ross entered the 2018-19 season with a purpose. While always a good 3-point shooter, now he was proving he was among the best in the association from long distance. Just in November of that season alone, he had made at least four 3-pointers six times, 24 for the entire season. He made several clutch shots throughout that year as well.
Ross’ shooting was a big reason for the Magic’s success that year and why they won 22 of their final 31 games to secure their first playoff appearance in six seasons. The former Washington Husky, who came in fifth in Sixth Man of the Year voting, became the first player in NBA history to make at least 200 3-pointers without starting in a single game.
“For me, it was just more impressive how much work I put in in the summer and see the results pay off the way they did. Kind of inspires me to just go harder this summer,” he said in late April 2019 right after the Magic’s playoff loss to the Raptors, who ultimately won the NBA championship.
A free agent that subsequent summer, Ross wasted little time deciding on his future, re-signing with the Magic on a multi-year deal. While he did get off to a slow start in 2019-20, he eventually got into rhythm, and again was a huge part in Orlando reaching the postseason for a second consecutive year. Not many players, in fact, were playing better than Ross between the All-Star break and play stoppage in March. During that span, he averaged 22.2 points and shot 50.6 percent from 3-point range.
Now in his ninth NBA season, fifth with the Magic, Ross appears to be taking his game to another level. He is becoming a more complete offensive player, now able to shoot off the bounce just as well as he does catching and shooting. Through three games, all wins, the 29-year-old is averaging a team-best 23.3 points on 51.2 percent shooting overall and 52.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Going back to that 2017 trade with the Raptors, the Magic, as mentioned earlier, also received a draft pick in the deal. It turned out to be the 25th pick in that year’s draft. Instead of choosing a player, though, Orlando opted to trade it to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for a 2020 protected first round pick (via Oklahoma City).
Future draft picks are very coveted in the NBA. There are multiple reasons for that. One simply being it allows teams to restock on talent should they use those picks for themselves. But also, they give teams more assets to play with in potential down-the-road trades.
That’s precisely how this particular pick was utilized by the Magic. On Feb. 7, 2019, just shy of exactly two years after the Ross deal, Orlando acquired Markelle Fultz from Philadelphia in exchange for Jonathon Simmons, that 2020 top-20 protected draft pick and a 2019 second rounder.
Without that pick, it would have been more difficult for the Magic to pull off a trade for Fultz. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been possible at all.
Now in his second season with the Magic, the 6-foot-4, 209-pounder appears poised to have a breakout year. He’s been terrific through three games, averaging 20.7 points on 49 percent shooting from the floor. The former No. 1 overall draft pick, who like Ross also attended the University of Washington, has been clutch, sinking a few baskets down the stretch during Orlando’s incredible comeback against Washington on Sunday night in the nation’s capital.
“Every night I want to set a tone,” he said. “It’s something I want to do every time I step on the floor. I want to try to give my team the best chance to win. No matter if that’s defensively, offensively, being a leader, talking. I just want to do whatever I got to do to get the win.”
These two trades, which obviously are connected to one another in a sense, could go down as two of the best in Magic history. Others, not involving players that were free agents such as Tracy McGrady, whom Orlando landed in 2000 as part of a sign-and-trade arrangement with Toronto, are the 1993 draft night deal that brought Penny Hardaway to the Magic and the 2012 four-team blockbuster trade that netted Orlando Vucevic. Acquiring Rafer Alston in 2009 after Jameer Nelson got hurt was a significant one, as Alston helped the Magic reach the Finals that year.
As far as where the current Magic team sits at the moment, they have a lot to be enthralled about. Starting 3-0, which hadn’t previously been done by a Magic squad since the 2009-10 season, is encouraging, but even more significant is their long-term outlook. With several young players actively developing, such as Fultz, Cole Anthony, Chuma Okeke, Jonathan Isaac (currently rehabbing injury) and Mo Bamba, along with several still improving veterans, including Ross, Orlando has a chance to be a formidable team, this season and beyond.