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Offseason inaction will cost Magic a play-in spot

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The Orlando Magic’s last two seasons have ended at the same stage to the same team. The Milwaukee Bucks have comfortably seen off Orlando in the first round of the last two postseasons – the Magic’s offseason moves suggest a step back is much more likely than a step forward in 2021.

Orlando has been in the bottom third of the league in offensive rating in each of the last eight seasons. They have been top 10 on the defensive end in the last two campaigns, however, which has been the bedrock of their improved records. Steve Clifford generated just enough offence to take advantage of high-level defensive talent.

Jonathan Isaac has been a big part of that. His injury is a major setback for Orlando, and it’s hard to see them being an elite defensive team without him.

The Magic didn’t do much this offseason. Drafting Cole Anthony was their main move – Anthony, who saw his draft stock fall in college, is a high-upside talent, and he replaces D.J. Augustin, who left to join the Milwaukee Bucks.

There were rumours of an Aaron Gordon trade. Nothing materialised. A blockbuster move for Russell Westbrook was floated. That, too, never went beyond the stage of NBA Twitter speculation.


While teams around them got better, the Magic stood still. Washington added Westbrook. Atlanta overhauled its roster. Charlotte signed Gordon Hayward and drafted LaMelo Ball. The Bulls appointed Billy Donovan. Orlando are relying on continuity being enough to keep them ahead of that chasing pack.

Magic’s upside

There’s a scenario where Anthony plays himself into Rookie of the Year contention, where Mo Bamba improves, where Markelle Fultz finds his shot, where Gordon becomes something close to the player so many hoped he could be. If those things happen and their veterans maintain their regular season standards of years past, the Magic can be really good.

All of those things happening is very unlikely. Orlando probably needs multiple of them to play out if they are to be anything better than a bottom of the play-in team.

The front office’s hands were tied to a degree. With Isaac sidelined, their ceiling in 2021 is limited. Nikola Vucevic, as good a player as he is, restricts their flexibility with the size of his contract. Evan Fournier accepting his player option is not a major problem, but it tied them in to another season of this group.

Being where the Magic are is okay. They are not going to be terrible. It would be a shock to see them any lower than 11th in the East, but their ceiling is low, too. It’s hard to envisage Orlando getting above seventh, and even that is a bit of a reach without Isaac and with the strength of the teams around them.


The middle of the Eastern Conference has improved significantly this offseason. Orlando’s moves, or a lack of them, could see them bypassed as best of the rest.

Getting back to the playoffs for a couple of years was nice. There’s a sense this group has been as far as it will go – Orlando is waiting on a breakout from a young player to take them to the next level, but it’s hard to see where that’s coming from.
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