The Orlando Magic haven’t had a lot of success as a franchise. They were one of the hottest teams in the league in the ’90s behind Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, but O’Neal leaving and Hardaway suffering multiple injuries helped extinguish that flame. They experienced a resurgence after drafting Dwight Howard number one overall in 2004 and reached the 2009 NBA Finals. That success was also fleeting as Howard left town.
In recent years, the Magic have invested a significant amount of money into player contracts. Unfortunately, the return on their investment has not been strong. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on with the Magic’s spending.
The Orlando Magic’s salary cap situation
According to Spotrac, the Orlando Magic are more than $27 million over the salary cap. The only team ahead of them is the Portland Trail Blazers, who are more than $28.5 million over the salary cap.
This is debilitating for a number of reasons. The Magic have 15 players on their roster with an average age of 25.5 years old. For one, it means they’ll likely be unable to enter the market for any big-name free agents any time soon.
In today’s NBA, you need to have stars on your roster to compete. The Magic currently have none. The only chance for teams outside the larger markets to get those big names is to shore up cap space to make a run at them in free agency.
That’s what teams like the Brooklyn Nets did to acquire Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The Magic can’t enter the sweepstakes for any top tier free agent with the amount of money they have committed to their current roster.
The other issue for the Magic? The luxury tax. Being over the cap comes with a penalty paid to the league. The more you’re over the limit, the higher the tax.
What players have the biggest contracts on the Orlando Magic?
So to summarize: the Magic, contractually speaking, are in trouble. So how’d they get here? Here are some of the players on the Magic with the largest contracts via Spotrac:
- Nikola Vucevic ($28 million)
- Aaron Gordon ($19.8 million)
- Evan Fournier ($17.5 million)
- Terrence Ross ($12.5 million)
- Markelle Fultz ($9.7 million)
Those players represent a significant portion of the team’s salary cap. Unfortunately, those investments have not translated to wins.
What do the Magic have to show for their big spending
Basketball-Reference tracks every team’s yearly win-loss record. Prior to the shutdown, this year’s version of the Orlando Magic was 30-35. Last year they went 42-40 — not bad, and good enough to qualify them for the playoffs, but they lost in the first round.
It’s fairly clear what the Magic have on their hands: a high-priced but mediocre roster that leaves them as long shots to contend for an NBA title. They might make the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference, but they likely won’t go anywhere once they get there.
How is it that a team has spent so much to see so little in the way of victories?
The answer lies in the money they used to sign their most expensive players. The team handed out four of their five largest contracts using those players’ “Larry Bird rights.” That essentially means that due to a league rule inspired by Larry Bird, players are able to get more money by remaining with the team they were already with.
This the case for many teams around the league, of course. The problem is that the players the Magic chose to use those Bird rights on haven’t gotten them very far.