Rivals Report: Analyzing the Magic's Most Recent Acquisitions

Conversations with the Bulls' Chuck Swirky and Nuggets.com's Alex Labidou about Orlando's Newest Players
Harris, Hampton, Porter, Carter
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic were perhaps the most active team in the NBA at the trade deadline on Thursday as they positioned themselves for the future by getting younger, creating salary cap flexibility, and acquiring draft assets.

Two of their three deals netted players in return. First, the Magic acquired center Wendell Carter Jr., forward Otto Porter Jr. and two future first round draft picks from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu. Then, Orlando sent Aaron Gordon and Gary Clark to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for guards R.J. Hampton and Gary Harris, and a future first round draft pick.

To get the full scouting report on the Magic’s newest acquisitions, I turned to two of my favorite people from each organization. To break down the Bulls trade, I phoned Chuck Swirsky. Swirsky is in his 13th season as the Bulls radio play-by-play announcer and his 23rd season broadcasting games in the NBA. He also contributes an in-season column on Bulls.com and is inducted into three Halls of Fame: Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the WGN Walk of Fame. Then, for a breakdown on Orlando’s deal with Denver, I reached out to Nuggets.com writer Alex Labidou. We worked together at NBA.com in 2008 and he’s covered several teams along the way, including the Nets, and most recently the Nuggets. Here are their breakdowns of the players the Magic acquired on deadline day.

Conversation with Swirsky about the Magic’s trade with the Bulls:

Savage: “The Magic and Bulls made perhaps the most monumental trade at the deadline with Orlando acquiring Wendell Carter Jr. as part of that transaction. What did you see out of Wendell when he was with the Bulls and some of the aspects of his game that the Bulls liked when they decided to draft him?”

Swirsky: “First and foremost, he’s a wonderful person. I had a chance to get to know him on a personal and professional basis along with his parents. I saw his parents quite a bit at the United Center in the family room and they’re just really good human beings and good character people. That’s very important when you either secure a player in the draft or in this case, when you receive a player in a trade. What you’re getting in that locker room, he’s outstanding. Secondly, Wendell has incredible upside, he’s coachable, he wants to learn, he wants to get better, and I still maintain when I see Wendell – and I said this to his face many times – I’m looking at Al Horford times two. I think he’s got that in him, and I think confidence is a huge element to his game. Now, he’ll be able to relax in Orlando and play with a team in a rebuilding stage, and I think he’ll blossom. I do look at Wendell as a five. He can play some four, but basically a five. I think you will see his offensive skillset improve over the years.”

Savage: “One of the big questions about him in terms of his future offensive prowess is how far can he extend his range? From watching him and his shot closely, do you see that capability?”

Swirsky: “I do see it. I think he needs to spend a lot of time just on the floor. He’s been banged up the last three years and I think it’s important. From a health standpoint, some of these injuries, they’re not because he hasn’t been in shape or doesn’t work out. He gets it done. He’s in the gym. He just needs to play. So, I think with playing time and experience, you will see his game expand. I still think in the offseason, when he gets a chance to really work on his craft, you will see him expand his game to fifteen, eighteen, twenty-one footers. He’s tried to shoot the three, the corner three, I would like to see him do more of that as his career unfolds. But I do think there is an upside to his game? Absolutely. And, by the way, two parts of his game that are often overlooked, that he’s really, really good at, are he sets outstanding screens and he’s an underrated passer.”

Savage: “The other player, who obviously has a skillset that the Magic need, is Otto Porter Jr. What did you see from him over the course of his tenure with the Chicago Bulls?”

Swirsky: “Again, terrific guy in the locker room. Really well respected. The Bulls were blessed with Otto in the locker room along with Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, and Zach LaVine, who has emerged as a leader. Those players really took a lot of young players under their wing. If you ask any of the young players, whether it’s Patrick Williams or Coby White, they’ll tell you that group, including Otto, really helped them just learn the nuances of an NBA lifestyle, culture, play. We didn’t see a lot of him. He played fifteen games the first year we had him after the trade with Washington. He played twenty-five games this year. So, unfortunately, with the Bulls, we saw him for just fifty-four games. When he was on the floor, he was extremely effective knocking down shots. We’re looking a guy who was probably hitting over forty percent of his threes, around forty-five percent from the floor, so he’s a very gifted offensive player. That’s what Orlando is getting, a really good wing player. I think he’s healthy and he’s ready to go.”

Conversation with Labidou about the Magic’s trade with the Nuggets:

Savage: “The Magic and Nuggets made a big trade yesterday, and in the process, Orlando acquired R.J. Hampton and Gary Harris. Starting with R.J., what are some of the things the Nuggets liked about him especially in the pre-draft process?”

Labidou: “I remember this very distinctly. The Nuggets take Zeke Nnaji with the twenty-second pick overall and I’m like ‘aww, man, you passed up on R.J.?’ Then, all of a sudden, they announced the trade for the twenty-fourth pick and we get R.J. and I thought that was a big move. There was a lot of talk about how they were a contending team with all of these rookies and how does that work? But what I really like about R.J.’s time here was that he knew head coach (Michael) Malone was a defensive coach, so he recognized that the only way he was going to get on the floor was to play defense. And he used his great athleticism, speed, wingspan for his position to really play great defense. He’s still a work in progress on offense, but the fun thing about him being on a team like Orlando is he gets an opportunity to work through his mistakes. He wouldn't have had that here. So, I like that move a lot for Orlando in the sense of you’re getting a piece that you can really build around. He’s a personality and he’s a lot of fun. I think that you guys are really going to enjoy watching R.J. develop in Orlando.”

Savage: “A little more on R.J. We spoke about how you thought he could thrive in transition. How could you see him fitting in with other members of Orlando’s backcourt like Cole Anthony or in the future, Markelle Fultz, in a fast-paced system?”

Labidou: “That could be interesting. Again, what’s exciting about the Magic making these moves is this is a rebuilding team, so giving R.J. the ball and letting him run, is going to be really exciting for you guys to watch. What’s great is, he’s got good hands, so he can make steals and create transition points. With him lining up with a shooter like Cole Anthony, that’s got to be exciting. Once he develops that comfort level where he’s confident enough to be a facilitator, he’s really going to open up opportunities for other players like Cole Anthony. I’m not sure if he can be a great fit at the moment with Markelle because of the shooting aspect would concern me with both of them being in the backcourt, but with Markelle being the starter when he’s healthy, R.J. can provide that jolt off the bench in the short term.”

Savage: “The other piece of the puzzle is Gary Harris. We obviously saw him have some successful seasons and some tougher seasons due to injury in Denver. What are some of the elements he brings to the table?”

Labidou: “It’s all about if Gary buys in. He was a great culture guy here. I can tell you based off of what I’ve seen on social media, his tenure here, and the relationships I’ve seen him build with other guys, he’s a guy who’s going to be missed here. It’s because when he was healthy, he’s a guy who just lays it all on the floor, especially on defense. Listen, the offense isn’t what it was three seasons ago when he was averaging eighteen (points per game) and hitting forty percent on threes, but he’s become a better defender in the past three seasons. He’s a guy who you can feel comfortable putting on any perimeter threat in the NBA and you know he’s going to give you a good effort. Coach Malone used to say this all the time, he’s a big part of the reason why the Nuggets were able to rally back (in their playoff series) against the Clippers. He averaged eleven (points per game), shot forty percent (from three), and played great defense on Kawhi (Leonard) and Paul George depending on who he was matched up on. Having covered the Nets previously, this reminds me of the situation with DeMarre Carroll where the Nets initially acquired him as part of an opportunity to get an asset in a first round pick from Toronto. DeMarre used that as fuel to show that he’s still very capable of being a great player. He had two great seasons in Brooklyn in being a leader in that locker room, helping guys like D’Angelo Russell take the next step. So, that’s the thing that has to be exciting for Orlando about Gary Harris is he knows what it takes to win. Sometimes you need guys like that in your locker room. He’s been through a rebuild and he’s seen what it takes to take that next step. So, that’s something I think can be really exciting for the Magic.”

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