2021 Midseason Report

2021 Midseason report: Orlando Magic

NBA.com takes stock of the Orlando Magic after the first half of the 2020-21 season.

From NBA.com Staff

All-Star center Nikola Vucevic has been a reliable player once again for the Magic.

First half summary:  Orlando started 2020-21 off winning six of its first eight before serious injuries started to mount. It began with Markelle Fultz suffering a season-ending torn ACL on Jan. 6 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. From there, the Magic lost six in a row on the way of going 7-19 from Fultz’s injury to Feb. 27, as Aaron Gordon (ankle), Cole Anthony (ribs) and James Ennis III (calf) all suffered injuries that are expected to keep them out until after the All-Star break. Injuries from those three players alone accounted for a total of 36 missed games. But the truth is Orlando’s injury woes go all the way back to last summer’s NBA bubble, where Jonathan Isaac — one of the team’s young building blocks — suffered a torn ACL and meniscus that forced him to miss all of the 2020-21 season.

Despite the injuries, the Magic found a way to win four of their last eight games heading into March with multiple lineups featuring All-Star center Nikola Vucevic surrounded by players such as Ennis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Dwayne Bacon, Gary Clark, Michael Carter-Williams and Evan Fournier. Still, it’s unlikely they can salvage the season, even with the pending returns of Anthony and Gordon. The losses of Fultz and Isaac are just too much to bear, despite coach Steve Clifford’s ability to consistently field competitive lineups.

Biggest question going into the second half: Is it time to blow it up in Orlando? That’s the question the Magic need to seriously ponder as they endure the inevitable challenges to come in the second half of the season. Reports indicate Orlando isn’t inclined to move on from its assets, despite the Magic falling in the first round of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. That’s understandable given that nobody really knows what Orlando’s true ceiling is. Perhaps the Magic try to employ the simple wait-and-see approach next season with a fully healthy squad.

Either way, we should see an indication of how Orlando plans to proceed based on how it handles the March 25 trade deadline. Clifford is already working to figure out exactly how Mo Bamba fits, after a series of bad luck has plagued the third-year pro’s career. The sixth pick of the 2018 draft, Mamba left the NBA bubble early last season after catching COVID-19 back in June, and the effects from that illness affected his availability earlier this season.

Playoffs or lottery?: Expect plenty of fight in the second half from the undermanned Magic, which should get Gordon and Anthony back sometime in March. But that likely won’t prevent the team from heading back to the lottery for the first time since selecting Bamba. If Orlando misses the playoffs, don’t take it as a true indication of the team’s talent. Injuries clearly derailed a season in which the Magic were expected to make it back to the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

The Magic have plenty of tradable assets in Vucevic, Gordon, Fournier (who is in the final year of his contract) and Terrance Ross as they look to build around Isaac and Fultz. Vucevic has thrived in the void left by all the injuries. So, the Magic standing pat at the deadline shouldn’t alarm anyone. The 6-2 start wasn’t a fluke, despite the wins coming mostly against struggling teams. They owe it to themselves to take their time determining the future.

— Michael C. Wright