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Orlando GM Rob Hennigan has executed a series of puzzling moves this offseason, and consensus opinion is that the Magic are having a poor offseason. I decided to walk through move by move to share my perception of Orlando’s plan.

Arron Afflalo Traded To Denver For Evan Fournier and pick #56 (Roy Devyn Marble) in the 2014 Draft

Afflalo is owed $7.6M in 14-15 and has a $7.8M player option in 15-16 that will likely get declined. So he’s basically a $7.6M expiring with a small anti-freeroll for the Nuggets in case his value plummets in 14-15. Afflalo is underpaid at $7.6M, but for one season at that price he’s not underpaid enough to fetch a big haul.

Fournier isn’t great but he is a former 1st rounder entering the 3rd year of his rookie deal and he clearly has some value. The 2nd rounder isn’t much but I liked the Devyn Marble selection. Collectively these assets are likely worth somewhere in the $3-4M range, and I doubt that 1 season of Afflalo could have fetched more.

It’s clear that Orlando intended to draft a PG and SF and wanted to get a cheaper, younger wing to come off the bench rather than demote Afflalo and watch him walk after a season. I would say the move is neutral value-wise for Orlando and it makes sense for their intents, so I am fine with it overall.

Aaron Gordon drafted #4 overall, Eflrid Payton drafted #10 at the price of #12, 2015 Orlando 2nd, 2017 Philly 1st

Everybody expected Hennigan to take Dante Exum or Marcus Smart 4th overall, but he surprised by taking Aaron Gordon. This makes sense with the 12th pick in hand, as Elfrid Payton and/or Tyler Ennis projected to be the BPA (forgetting my Capela/Nurkic love which seems unshared by NBA GM’s). Essentially Hennigan is making a statement that the difference between Exum and Payton is smaller than the gap between say Aaron Gordon and TJ Warren. I am not sure I agree because Exum really glows with a unique upside to me, but he’s such a fuzzy prospect to peg that I can’t say for certain that Hennigan is wrong. Aaron Gordon was on my short list of 3 prospects who was in the conversation for BPA, and it’s far more important that they didn’t spew on say Julius Randle rather than taking my first choice who I’m not certain is even better than Gordon. Exum’s FIBA sample looks good, but it is completely waffle crushed by Gordon’s FIBA sample which portrays him as roughly the best prospect ever.

What I hated about Orlando’s draft was the willingness to give up all of those picks to lock in Payton. I had Ennis as slightly above him, but am not dripping with confidence in my assertion. I like both and believe it’s perfectly reasonable to prefer Payton. But at the price of a 2015 2nd rounder that will likely fall in the 30’s and a 2017 1st that is only top 11 protected (top 8 in 2018), I’d say Hennigan got tunnel vision on his guy and spewed too much value. He should have offered Hinkie much less and taken Ennis 12th if Hinkie said no.

Hennigan clearly believes that shooting is overrated in the draft (I strongly agree) and the way to go is to take toolsy defensive prospects with a good baseline of non-shooting skill (these are my type of guys too). I like his strategy and feel it’s safe to say that he’s taking a much sharper approach to prospect selection than most other GM’s. He gave some of it back by taking an unsharp approach to the Payton trade, but it’s far more damaging to draft a complete dud so I overall like Orlando’s draft.

Ben Gordon signs for 2/9, Willie Green claimed off waivers

Along with the rest of the world, I do not understand these moves. The Magic are burning roster spots and cap space on washed up veterans who are at best replacement level at this stage of their careers. I really hope that Hennigan does not expect either of these guys will contribute, because that would make me deeply fear for his ability to evaluate NBA talent. It’s possible that he’s just pals with their agents and wants some vets to balance out the youth of the roster while doing his buddies a favor. I don’t know. Making sense of these moves is a futile exercise. The bottom line is that they are completely pointless and the Magic burned 2 roster spots and $6M of cap space on deadweight. They could have just taken on Lou Williams and Bebe instead by one upping John Salmons’ $1M buyout with pure cap space.

These are painfully obvious mistakes, but the good news is that they are inexpensive ones.

Channing Frye signs for 4/32
I don’t like this move. Currently Oladipo is 22, Gordon is 18, Payton is 20, Vucevic is 23, and they have another handful of bench players in their early 20’s. So they target a 31 year old free agent and give him 4 years? That doesn’t align with their window at all. Why not offer that same money to 27 year old Josh McRoberts? I’d wager the extra $9M is more attractive to him than maybe getting to play with LeBron. Not to mention that giving 4/32 deals to 31 year olds is a bad practice in general. Hennigan definitely suffered from Wizards-esque myopia with this one.

That said I do find some aspects of the deal positively redeeming. First, it reinforces the fact that Hennigan perceives Aaron Gordon as a SF which is 100% correct. Also paying up for a FA shooter is far better than drafting shooting. Shooting is overpriced in the draft and somehow undervalued in FA, and Henny seems to have at least solved this. And Orlando does badly need a stretch 4 after drafting so many guards and wings who cannot shoot. I would have loved this move if it was for the younger McRoberts. Nevertheless the Magic’s presumed starting 5 of Payton/Oladipo/Gordon/Frye/Vucevic is interesting.

The first thing people may note are that they have poor rim protection, as neither Frye nor Vucevic is a defensive stud. But their perimeter defense is potentially awesome with Payton, Oladipo, and Gordon collectively providing a ton of upside on that end. This is a great way to build around Vucevic (which is no easy task. Vucci is a weird player to build around). Having elite perimeter defense to contain penetration and force jump shots is ideal since it mitigates his rim protection limitations and maximizes his strong defensive rebounding. Frye ties everything together by spacing the floor. It’s a funky lineup to be sure, but I am a sucker for weirdness and I like the way the pieces fit.

Given that Frye has the two best traits for aging well (height and shooting), it’s possible that Orlando ends up in the playoffs by year 2 of his deal and this doesn’t prove to be the worst signing in the world.

Conclusions

Overall it’s fair to question the upside of the roster since nobody is truly a world beater. Gordon is the only player with star upside and he’s at least a few years away from getting there. And if he becomes the SF version of Josh Smith or the next MKG, the Magic don’t have the brightest future. But I still like the way the pieces fit, and Orlando’s roster situation is clearly superior to a plethora of teams.

It seems that everybody is in a rush to hate on Orlando’s offseason, but the worst thing they have done is committed obvious but inexpensive errors (Green + Gordon). It’s painful how pointless these moves are, but other teams have done such worse damage with their bad moves. Are those signings nearly as harmful as the Cavs’ recent draft decisions? Or how about the Lakers paying washed up, injured Kobe 2/48 and then trying to pair him with Melo, while also taking Julius Randle 7th and likely making a horrible coaching hire? How does it compare to the Nets’ strategy of throwing ever last dollar and draft pick at whatever old players come available?

To me, Hennigan is a middle of the road GM having a middle of the road offseason. He’s made some clear mistakes, he has shown a classic case of desperation to win too soon, but at least he is doing some things right. He is taking a clever approach to the draft and he is assembling pieces that fit together in a sensible manner. I simply can’t think of as many nice things to say about half the GM’s in the league.

This could be perceived as commentary than half of the GM’s in the league are completely under-qualified and terrible moreso than Hennigan isn’t that bad. Henny does get blown out of the water by the Buford, Hinkie, and Morey types of the world by a wider margin than be beats out the bottom feeding GM’s. Whenever he makes a good move to set the franchise forward, there will likely be a bad move around the corner to impede progress. But in a world where Phil Jackson is paid $12M/year to make directionless moves while presumably listening to Glory Days on repeat, having an inkling of sense and direction on a macro level stands out to me.

So I’m ever so gently defending Orlando’s offseason. I do so with limited enthusiasm because who knows what other -EV moves they have in store. But I believe they are getting more disdain than they deserve. At least they didn’t enlist a random collection of nerds to ignore so the owner could play GM and make the draft pick himself.

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