Orlando Magic Have Great Opportunity to Add Several Quality Players Through Draft Next Few Years

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - Blockbuster trades aren’t made in most cases unless a draft pick, or in some instances multiple draft picks, are included. That’s what trade “sellers” covet, and often demand, in return for their top player(s) in any potential deal(s).

In 2019, the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder each received a plethora of future draft picks in their respective Anthony Davis and Paul George trades. Earlier this season, the Houston Rockets stocked up on future draft capital when they dealt James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets. The Orlando Magic did the same through their Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier trades. The Pelicans, last offseason, obtained picks from the Milwaukee Bucks in the Jrue Holiday deal.

This is nothing new, of course. This has been the norm over the last dozen years or so. When the Denver Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks in 2011, for example, future picks were involved. One of them was a 2016 pick swap that put Denver in position to draft Jamal Murray with the No. 7 overall pick that year.

In 2012, the Portland Trail Blazers made a trade deadline deal in which they sent Gerald Wallace to the Nets. One of the assets they received in the package was a 2012 draft pick, used to select now six-time NBA All-Star Damian Lillard.

A year later as part of the deal that delivered Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, the Boston Celtics received three future first round picks and the right to swap another pick. That is how the Celtics got in position to select both Jaylen Brown (2016) and Jayson Tatum (2017). One of the other picks was later used by the Celtics to bring Kyrie Irving to Boston.

Speaking of that deal, with that 2018 pick the Cleveland Cavaliers chose Collin Sexton, now one of the league’s rising young stars.

It’s stating the obvious, but the more draft picks a team possesses, the greater the chance they have of landing a transformational talent, or at least a player that could be a cornerstone franchise piece.

The Magic, as mentioned earlier, are now loaded up with draft picks the next several years. Depending on what happens in this year’s draft lottery, which will take place on June 22, they could have two top 10 selections in 2021. If the Chicago Bulls’ pick doesn’t shoot up into the top four, that will almost certainly be the case. The Bulls have a 20.3 percent of landing a top four pick. There is a 0.5 percent chance the pick falls into the 11th spot, although even in that case the Magic will receive it. Essentially, though, there is about an 80 percent chance the Magic will have two picks in the top 10 this year.

If the Bulls move up into the top four in the lottery, the pick will then likely be conveyed in 2022 when it is only top three protected.

As far as their own this year, Orlando’s pick can’t fall lower than seventh and they have a 52.1 percent chance of picking in the top four. They have a 14 percent chance, tied with the Rockets and Detroit Pistons for the best odds, at winning the lottery and choosing first overall.

Going forward, the Magic will have many opportunities to add quality talent through the draft. Not only do they not owe any picks to any team, they will have the Indiana Pacers’ second round pick via Milwaukee in 2022, the Bulls’ first round pick once again in 2023 (also top four protected), the Nuggets’ first round pick in 2025 (top five protected), a 2025 second rounder from either the Celtics or Memphis Grizzlies (whichever is worse), a 2026 second rounder from the Bucks and a 2027 second rounder from the Celtics.

In 2021, 2022 and 2023 combined, the only two teams that will have more first round picks in their possession are the Rockets and Thunder. The Magic and Knicks have the next most, although the 2023 pick Orlando could get from Chicago has less protection on it than the one New York could get from the Dallas Mavericks (top 10 protected).

Encouraging for the Magic as well is that most draft experts believe this year’s class is very strong at the top. No matter which slot(s) they select from, they will have a tremendous opportunity to bring in a prospect or two with high upside(s).

On top of that, several of the Magic’s young players already on the roster showed flashes of excellence late in the year. Cole Anthony, Orlando’s first round pick in 2020, averaged 15.0 points in the 22 games he played in after returning from his rib injury. He also wrapped up his season with a 37-point performance, the fifth highest scoring total by a Magic rookie in franchise history.

R.J. Hampton, acquired by Orlando in the Gordon deal, was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in May after averaging 16.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists in those eight games. Chuma Okeke was terrific down the stretch before having to sit out the Magic’s final 10 games with an ankle injury. The 6-foot-6, nearly 230-pound versatile forward, who didn’t play at all last season while recovering from a knee injury, scored in double figures in 11 of the final 18 games he appeared in.

Centers Wendell Carter Jr., acquired along with those draft picks from the Bulls in the Vucevic trade, and Mo Bamba both were solid to close out the year as well. Bamba recorded 15-plus rebounds in three straight games in early May, for example.

Enthused about what he saw from those young players late in the season, the eventual return of both Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz, who are each said to be progressing well from their knee injuries, and the opportunity to add upper-tier talent through the draft, Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman is confident about the team’s direction and long-term outlook.

“I could say that in my time here I’ve never been more excited about the prospects for our team,” he said. “I think we’ve raised the ceiling considerably…We have a chance to add more quality players this year through the draft and (we) believe whole-heartedly in all of our young players. I’m really bullish on our future. I really believe that it’s a great time to be a Magic fan. I always believe that there is never a more fun time to be a fan than to get on the bandwagon when it’s just starting to take off.”

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