After feeling really disappointed watching Wednesday nights game, I want to ask the question… Is it time to stick or twist for the Orlando Magic?
The Orlando Magic are coming off one of their worst defeats of the season, a 107-121 loss at home to the Sacramento Kings.
BEFORE THE SEASON
Orlando are coming off back to back Playoff appearances, two first round exits in both 2018/19 to the Toronto Raptors and 2019/20 to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Jonathan Isaac made his long awaited return to the court in the NBA Bubble in Orlando, during the leagues restart in July.
In just his third game back from a knee injury he suffered in January 2020, Isaac devastatingly tore his left ACL and meniscus against the Sacramento Kings on the 2nd August.
Despite Nikola Vucevic‘s outstanding performance against the Bucks in the first round of the Playoffs, I thought I was ready to move on from the bigman this offseason.
I believe Jonathan Isaac is part of bright future for the Magic, his defensive versatility, athleticism and instincts can become a strong anchor for our defence.
But with the loss of Isaac, like many I felt like we’ve been robbed of a chance to see Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac begin to take larger roles and become the faces of this franchise.
Two straight Playoff appearances have been a welcome return to a team that’s struggled since Dwight Howard left in 2012 but the Magic have not been at full strength due to injuries the past few seasons.
Unfortunately Magic fans have not had the chance to see what a healthy team of Fultz, Fournier, Gordon, Isaac, Vucevic and Ross off the bench can really do.
WHAT DIDN’T HAPPEN
I believed that this offseason was the perfect opportunity for Jeff Weltman, John Hammond and the front office to shake the roster up.
Vucevic was coming off a terrific Playoff series against the Bucks averaging 28 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists in five games.
The Magic were down Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier had a poor series, it seemed like Vucevic’s value would never be higher.
Aaron Gordon has seen his name in trade rumours for the last several years and to some, it felt like he needed a change of scenery for him to take his game to the next level.
And with Evan Fournier entering his final year on his contract, it appeared at least one of the three core guys was due a move this offseason.
But the front office decided that in the middle of a pandemic, with a lot of uncertainty and a season to prepare for that nobody has seen before, they decided continuity was the best bet to start the new season.
Orlando drafted point guard Cole Anthony 15th overall, resigned Michael Carter-Williams and added guard Dwayne Bacon, the teams only real notable moves.
THE TURNING POINT
The Magic got themselves off to a hot start to the season by winning the first four games, a franchise record.
Despite losing a couple of games, Orlando started 6-2 and disappointedly didn’t start 7-1 after dropping a game in Oklahoma City on the road.
Injuries plagued the team from the start of the season and we’ve yet to see Al-Farouq Aminu feature who played only 11 games all of last season.
But the turning point came when Markelle Fultz’s knee buckled less than 5 minutes into the Magic’s second game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on the 6th January.
Our worst fears were confirmed hours later when the Magic confirmed Fultz sustained a season ending ACL tear, joining Jonathan Isaac on the treatment table.
Markelle was having a really nice start to the season and even though is individual stats didn’t show a huge jump, he had the Magic offence playing with a nice rhythm and tempo.
With Michael-Carter Williams also out, rookie point guard Cole Anthony was forced to start in place of Fultz, something we’ll likely see for the remainder of the 2020/21 season.
Orlando have since had Evan Fournier back who missed nine games, has helped take some of the ball handling responsibilities away from Anthony.
Aaron Gordon has also been playing point forward for stretches allowing Cole Anthony to play more off the ball becoming an effective catch and shoot threat.
THE LOSING STREAK
Cole Anthony bailed the Magic out in Minnesota, with a desperation three pointer at the buzzer to break a six game losing streak.
With Fultz out, the Magic had to rediscover themselves offensively and have had their struggles since.
Before the Kings game, Orlando were posting some league leading numbers offensively including three pointers made and points per game.
Despite scoring more the Magic’s win-loss record is looking more bleak, who have now lost 9 of the last 11 games since Markelle Fultz’s injury.
Some of the struggles have been because of injuries, missing Fultz and Isaac has been huge but the team hasn’t had much luck with the rest of the roster either.
Injuries have played a big part and it’s easy to think that with some more luck the teams fortunes could change with more healthy bodies.
According to ESPN through 19 games Orlando have had the second easiest schedule so far which doesn’t feel me with hope when you look at the rest of the schedule until the All-Star break in March.
We expect the NBA will announce the second half of the schedule sometime in February, that’s expected to be tougher than we’ve seen so far.
Their will be of course be some winnable games still to come with the likes of Detroit and Washington (no offence) but things won’t be getting easier.
At 8-11, missing two key pieces and in the middle of a tough stretch with a tougher schedule to come, is it time to stick or twist?
The NBA Trade Deadline is still 8 weeks away (25th March) and there’s a lot of basketball still to be played. 17 games remain on the first half of the schedule.
It feels like for the past 3 or 4 years we discuss the same things, is it time to move on from Fournier, Gordon and Vucevic?
The reality is they are the longest tenured players on the roster, who’ve been apart of the worst stretch in Orlando Magic history.
The front office believe in high character, high IQ players and don’t believe in wholesale changes, instead making moves more thoughtfully.
Rebuilding takes time, it takes trust and it also takes some luck too. Making moves just to make moves is not the approach the front office should take.
This team is desperate for a franchise player to truly build around and right now it doesn’t feel like we have that potential superstar player on the roster right now.
There are one of two clear paths Orlando must go down to try and land a star calibre player, by trade or in the draft.
Right now, outside of a very unhappy Bradley Beal in Washington there doesn’t appear to be any other ‘available’ star player the team could acquire.
The other problem is Orlando would likely gut the roster to acquire such a player leaving the the team short of being competitive and assets to acquire a second star.
The draft is the other option which has its risks too. We know too the draft is a gamble and hasn’t worked out for us in recent history.
But if the Magic are planning on life with Fultz and Isaac as its franchise cornerstones, now is the time to tear down an already struggling roster.
Positioning ourselves for a high lottery pick and a chance at a top prospect in this years deep draft has to be in the front offices thinking.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
One trait I really like about this front office is their belief that young players need to play in meaningful games to really develop, I think thats very important.
Young players also need to be competing for minutes, earning the playing time that they’re given and developing alongside a veteran like Nikola Vucevic.
This Magic team are not playing to the Playoff level we’ve seen the past 2 years and if they’re going to be bad then they will be.
I believe that the Magic must move on from Evan Fournier before the trade deadline and get something of value for a player on an expiring contract.
Nobody is untouchable on this roster outside of Anthony, Fultz and Isaac, every move the front office make has to be with the three of them in mind.
I’m ready to see Fournier, Ross and Gordon moved for something of value to help position ourselves for a high lottery pick this summer.
They’re likely netting the biggest return so the Magic can bottom out for the rest of this season, take a gamble with the draft and hope they land a future star to help turn this franchise around.
Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, Jonathan Isaac and whoever they draft this summer should be the focus moving forwards.
I want to see Nikola Vucevic help lead that group next season, he’s been terrific this season.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, we want to win but if the Magic are to someday become a contender again, tougher decisions and bolder moves need to be made starting with the upcoming deadline.
Is it time to stick or twist?