The last few summers, the Orlando Magic approached free agency aggressively. If former general manager Otis Smith believed the roster lacked something, he moved to fill that need, and team ownership willingly opened its wallet.
But the Magic figured to take a more measured approach when this year’s free-agency period begins at midnight.
New general manager Rob Hennigan has pledged to be “strategic” in every move he makes. If Hennigan determines that Dwight Howard must be traded before the season begins, the Magic could rein in their free-spending ways to preserve salary-cap space for the future.
“I think there’s a chance we could be active in free agency, but a lot’s going to depend on the priorities we come up with internally and the goals and the needs we identify,” Hennigan said. “Similar to the draft, free agency is a lot about being able to adapt and react to different factors, too.”
The Magic have two pressing needs: deciding what to do with power forward Ryan Anderson and securing a point guard who can be a full-time starter.
The Magic already have committed to paying almost $56 million in salaries this upcoming season (although they can cut $6 million if they waiveJ.J. Redickbefore July 9).
Because the cap will be no less than $58.04 million, the Magic have little flexibility to add players who played for other teams last season. The best way to add a quality free agent would be through the non-taxpayer midlevel exception of $5 million or through a sign-and-trade deal.
Because Anderson is a restricted free agent, the Magic will have the option to match any offer sheet Anderson signs with another team.
Many NBA analysts regard Anderson as the top power forward in this year’s free-agent class. The 24-year-old won the league’s Most Improved Player Award after he averaged 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
He is a prototypical “stretch 4,” a power forward who forces opposing defenses to defend the perimeter. He also is a strong rebounder.
But there is a school of thought that he was successful this past season primarily because he played alongside Howard. Indeed, Anderson’s offensive game mostly is limited to 3-point shooting and putbacks on offensive rebounds, and he often struggles defending more physical power forwards one-on-one.
Still, aside from Howard, Anderson is the best asset the Magic have, and it seems unlikely that team officials will be willing to lose him via free agency.
“Clearly he had a great season, and I feel like he’s someone who has a skill set that’s pretty rare and a skill set that in today’s NBA has some real sticking power,” Hennigan said. “So I think he’s a good player and I think he’s a good person.”
The Magic also face a dilemma at point guard.
On Friday, Jameer Nelson, the team’s longtime starter and co-captain, decided to decline his player option for the upcoming season. The move ensured that he would become an unrestricted free agent.
Nelson has said he prefers to sign a multiyear deal with the Magic, but the 30-year-old will listen to offers from other teams.
Orlando currently has just one point guard under contract, Chris Duhon, and some NBA observers believe Duhon no longer should be a rotation player, let alone a fulltime starter.
The Magic can exceed the salary cap to re-sign Nelson, just like they can exceed the cap to re-sign Anderson.
But if Hennigan decides not to bring back Nelson, he could attempt to sign 36-year-old Andre Miller or 28-year-old Raymond Felton using its midlevel exception of $5 million.
Teams cannot begin to sign free agents until July 11.
By that time, Hennigan’s plan could come into focus.
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