The Orlando Magic have been as irrelevant as they come over the past decade in the NBA.
Orlando has finished the regular season with a winning record only once in the last 11 seasons as they faded into obscurity following Dwight Howard’s departure via a trade in the summer of 2012.
Despite participating in the NBA Draft Lottery several times, the Magic managed to pick only two eventual NBA All-Stars over this stretch in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. They made their NBA All-Star appearances with other teams though as they were both traded by Orlando in a 2016 deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka.
Just a few months later, the Magic moved Ibaka to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for journeyman Terrence Ross and a future first rounder that they used to draft Anzejs Pasecniks who lasted only two seasons in the NBA.
Essentially, Orlando sent away two NBA All-Star caliber players for nothing which is a cruel yet realistic representation of how this post-Howard era has gone for them.
However, these past few years have been much kinder for the Magic as they have been given another chance to rebuild their roster.
It all started in March 2021 when they traded two-time NBA All-Star Nikola Vucevic to the Chicago Bulls who, coincidentally, was the centerpiece of the package that they received in the Howard trade. The most significant pieces that they acquired in return were Wendell Carter Jr. and the Bulls’ first rounders in 2021 and 2023.
A few months later, that 2021 Chicago pick turned out to be the eighth overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft which they used to select Franz Wagner who has blossomed into one of the most promising forwards in the NBA today. This turned out to be more crucial than it initially seemed as Wagner has essentially been a mulligan for Orlando with Jalen Suggs, the player that they picked three spots ahead of him at fifth overall, yet to find his niche in the NBA.
Meanwhile, the Bulls’ 2023 first round pick was conveyed last month as the 11th overall selection. This allowed the Magic to draft the 6’8 guard Jett Howard whose profile as a perimeter shooter makes him exactly what this team needs to round out their roster. Aside from Howard, Orlando also drafted 6’7 guard Anthony Black with the sixth overall pick this year.
Sandwiched in-between these 2021 and 2023 NBA Drafts though was arguably the defining moment of this Magic rebuild so far. In the 2022 NBA Draft, the lottery balls fell their way as they won the first overall pick which they used to select eventual 2023 NBA Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero.
Orlando is now armed with a promising frontcourt trio of Banchero, Wagner, and Carter whose continued development should be enough to push this team into contention for at least one of the play-in spots during this upcoming season.
Nonetheless, it will be their backcourt that will determine their ultimate ceiling as a team both in the near-term and for the rest of the decade. The career revival of the first overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft Markelle Fultz has gotten off to a strong start and his ability to rediscover the form that made him such a tantalizing prospect could fast forward the Magic’s timeline.
The acclimation process of this year’s rookies Black and Howard will be key as well as it is clear that they were selected with the intention of becoming the backcourt of the future for this team. If the vision of Orlando’s general manager Anthony Parker comes to fruition, he will have a highly versatile starting line-up of Black, Howard, Wagner, Banchero, and Carter where no player stands below 6’7.
For the first time in over 11 years, there is, at long last, some hope in the Magic Kingdom. This team has a solid foundation in place and a few pieces who could eventually become superstars in this league in their own right. The patience of the Magic’s front office will be crucial though as they look to avoid repeating the mistakes of their past.