Updated: Oct 9, 2021
It was only a matter of time before the Magic tore it down completely.
Leading up to last Thursday’s trade deadline, this season was a disappointing one in the city of Orlando. They had a talented (but not elite) core, but torn ACLs already stole the seasons of Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac, two young pieces that the Magic hope to build around in the future. They were scraping the bottom of the Eastern Conference barrel at 15-29 as of Thursday, so a fire sale proved to be the only feasible option.
The Magic started with a blockbuster trade at about 11 a.m., dealing center Nikola Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu to the Bulls for Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., and two first-round picks. At age 30, Vucevic was a late bloomer in terms of his production in the NBA. He’s made two All-Star teams (2019 and 2021), and he’s averaging 24.4 points per game and 40.2% shooting from deep—both career-highs.
“Vooch” and new teammate Zach LaVine should benefit each other as the season progresses. Before the trade deadline, both players carried almost the entire offensive load for their teams. Vucevic’s usage rate of 29.7 and LaVine’s 30.8 rank 18th and 13th in the NBA, respectively. LaVine reaggravated a sprained ankle on Monday and could miss some time. But unlike previous weeks, months, or even seasons, he’ll have a teammate that can provide quality offense in his absence.
The Magic got a decent return for their best player. Porter Jr. provides a scoring punch off the bench, while Carter Jr. is a defensive stalwart that will continue to develop his game in Orlando. Additionally, the legend of Mo Bamba could finally be unleashed. Bamba added 12 points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes during the Magic’s shocking 103-96 win against the Clippers on Tuesday. The two first-round picks in 2021 and 2023 will aid in Orlando’s prolonged rebuild.
Not even half an hour after news dropped on Vucevic, the Magic dealt Evan Fournier to the Boston Celtics in exchange for two second-round picks. Fournier is on the last year of the five-year, $85 million contract extension he signed in 2016. Orlando had no use for a 28-year-old with an expiring contract that had no intention of re-signing this offseason.
Though Fournier had one of the worst debuts for a franchise in NBA history (no points on 0-for-10 from the field and 0-for-5 from deep), he’ll immediately serve as Boston’s sixth man. The Celtics’ bench has been dangerously thin this season—a major reason for their disappointing 23-24 record. Boston used part of the trade exception from the move that Gordon Hayward to Charlotte last offseason to take on Fournier’s salary. He’ll likely receive another long-term deal this summer, but if they can’t work something out, it’s still a luxury that the Celtics didn’t have to relinquish any first-round picks to acquire him.
Finally, about an hour after the Fournier deal, the Magic traded Aaron Gordon and Gary Clark to the Denver Nuggets for Gary Harris, R.J. Hampton, and a protected 2025 first-round pick. Gordon had asked Orlando for a trade before the deadline after expressing frustration with their inability to win. Since being drafted fourth overall in 2014, the Magic went 203-322 during Gordon’s tenure in Orlando.
The high-flying Gordon, sporting a new no. 50 on his jersey in honor of his two Slam Dunk Contest snubs, is already enjoying the change of scenery. He isn’t the type of player to carry an offense; that just isn’t his forte. The Nuggets brought him in as an off-ball threat, a wing that can shred defenses just by cutting to the rim. Though he may not put up gaudy offensive numbers, Gordon will serve as a valuable piece to a Nuggets roster looking to make a championship push.
In Orlando, rookie guard R.J. Hampton still has loads of untapped potential. Paired with Cole Anthony (another rookie guard), the two should make an interesting—and sometimes frustrating—tandem. Neither of them are especially efficient, and they have very similar score-first mindsets that will likely result in one relinquishing a spot in the starting lineup. Gary Harris has rapidly regressed since averaging 17.5 points during the 2017-18 season. He is yet another veteran shooting guard that will join Terrence Ross on the bench.
The Magic will likely finish this season as one of the worst teams in the NBA, but that’s the plan. They desperately unloaded their top stars, but it allowed them to pick up a few young players and a bevy of draft picks scattered throughout the next four years. If they play their cards right in the coming drafts, the future is bright for the new-look Orlando roster.