Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
- Aaron Gordon (third year, $4,351,320) — Exercised.
- Shabazz Napier (third year, $1,350,120) — Exercised.
- Victor Oladipo (fourth year, $6,552,960) — Exercised.
- Elfrid Payton (third year, $2,613,600) — Exercised.
Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
The Magic’s most significant offseason acquisition has not appeared in a game with them since 1994. The reason they brought him back was that many of the players on the current roster weren’t even born when he was wearing the Magic uniform.
Orlando spent the last few years acquiring young talent. GM Rob Hennigan needed a defensive-minded taskmaster to mold that group into a cohesive unit. Hennigan and the rest of the Orlando front office sought a proven NBA head coach who fit that description and chose an old fan favorite in Scott Skiles. “Our young roster will benefit greatly from Scott’s extensive head coaching experience and commitment to teaching smart, physical, unselfish basketball,” Hennigan said when he announced the decision. “We believe in Scott’s ability to establish a culture of winning habits and accountability that will help guide our team in a positive direction.”
The Magic also interviewed Mike Woodson for the job and a number of high-profile coaches, including Tom Thibodeau, Alvin Gentry and Scott Brooks, were reportedly potential candidates. Skiles received a four-year deal in late May, with a team option on the last season. It’s fair to wonder whether Skiles will last that long, or whether he’ll live up to his reputation of improving his team in the short run and then quickly wearing out his welcome.
That’s essentially what happened with Skiles in his previous head coaching stints with the Suns, Bulls and Bucks. But as Steve Aschburner of NBA.com recently noted, none of his successors won championships. He also had the chance to step back after those experiences and learn from his mistakes, which will theoretically make him a better coach as he tries to get the most out of his youth-laden roster.
Orlando is so young that reserve center Dewayne Dedmon, who is in his third NBA season, is the fourth-oldest player on the team. That a 26-year-old with 90 games of experience entering the season would be considered a graybeard by Magic standards shows just how green a group Skiles has inherited. The Magic have 10 players 25 or younger, while just two players have reached their 30th birthday.
Instilling a defensive mentality was the most crying need for the kiddie corps. The Magic finished 28th in defensive field-goal percentage last season at 46.3% and second-to-last in defensive 3-point percentage (36.8%). Thus far, the results have been promising. Through their first 11 games, the Magic are holding opponents to 42.3% shooting overall and 31.9% from long range.
Orlando added another top-five draft pick to its collection in June, choosing swingman Mario Hezonja. The 6’8″ Hezonja provides depth at both wing positions and has jumped right into the rotation. Hezonja’s athleticism and outside shooting elevated him to the top of the draft among shooting guard/small forward prospects but there’s no obvious starting spot for him in the foreseeable future unless the Magic fail to re-sign impending restricted free agent Evan Fournier.
The Magic made a couple of under-the-radar signings to bring in some experienced players, inking point guard C.J. Watson to a three-year deal and big man Jason Smith to a one-year pact. Watson not only gives starter Elfrid Payton a voice of experience to consult as he learns the intricacies of the position, he’s also a valuable rotation piece. Watson is averaging 19.5 minutes per game.
Smith has also gotten some minutes in a backup role at power forward and center, mainly due to an early-season injury to center Nikola Vucevic. But Smith seems more like an insurance policy, especially since Skiles has often used a smaller lineup.
The biggest development in free agency was the Magic’s decision to retain forward Tobias Harris. Orlando opened its vault and locked him up with a four-year, $64MM deal three days into free agency, rather than waiting for a suitor to extend an offer sheet and being forced to match those figures. The Magic were reportedly unwilling to match a maximum salary offer sheet, but Harris didn’t receive such an offer when the free agent signing period officially commenced. Several teams, including Hawks, Knicks, Pistons, and Celtics, had interest in him.
The club could find itself in a similar spot next summer with Fournier becoming a restricted free agent. The two parties passed on a rookie scale extension, setting up the scenario of Orlando doling out a sizable deal to retain him. Fournier has gotten off to such a strong start that his foray into free agency could determine the direction of the franchise, according to Keith P. Smith of RealGM.com.
By adding Hezonja and re-signing Harris, the Magic didn’t have a role for another young swingman, Maurice Harkless. They found a new home for him, shipping him to the Trail Blazers for a future second-rounder. They also fortified their backcourt by acquiring Shabazz Napier from the Heat. Napier, who recently had a 22-point outing with Watson sidelined by a minor injury, made them deep at the point guard spot at the cost of a protected second-round pick for next season.
Personnel moves aside, the biggest change for the Magic this season is the man running the show. It’s almost certain that a team loaded with so many young players will improve. The extent of that improvement — and Skiles’ ability to learn from the past and stick around long enough to turn this core group into a perennial playoff contender — will decide how meaningful this offseason was for the Magic.
Eddie Scarito contributed to this post. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of it.