The Orlando Magic overpaid for potentially one year of Serge Ibaka. Let’s get that part out of the way. Without a commitment on a contract extension, giving up a lottery pick, a useful rotation player and a high-end starter for a non-All Star is usually never a good decision.
But for the first time since Dwight Howard was traded, the Orlando roster actually makes sense now. That has value for a team four years into a rebuild that has borne no fruit.
Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton could not play together. Neither shot well enough to make sense with a non-shooting partner, and it hurt both of their development. Oladipo had to drive in brick walls when attack the basket. Payton had no good passing lanes because of how far defenses sagged off of him and his backcourt mate.
Now Payon can take advantage of his natural gifts as a pure point guard by playing with more shooting. Mario Hezonja moves into the starting lineup, and Ibaka at least has to be guarded from long range. They’ll use their remaining cap space to chase multi-positional wings who can shoot, likely one in the higher-end Chandler Parsons/Nic Batum class and then another like Marvin Williams. That will give them at least some switching potential defensively but more importantly provide enough spacing to allow Payton to be the Rajon Rondo-sort of point guard they expected when they drafted him.
Ibaka functions similarly next to Nic Vucevic as he did with Enes Kanter. It’s very hard to fully take advantage of a center who scores close to basket nowadays if he doesn’t play defense or shoot three’s. But now Ibaka can cover for Vucevic on defense without drawing defenders close to the rim. In fact, offensively he’ll probably end up standing in the corner quite a bit. It’ll make things that much easier for everyone else even if Ibaka sulks over it. Eventually he’s going to realize that he’s limited offensively.
From there, the other young players fit in organically. Aaron Gordon can be the only true backup big, playing close to 30 minutes per game without starting and fitting in with Ibaka in lineups with Payton and Vucevic when the backup point guard, likely someone who can shoot a bit, steps in.
That’s not a contending roster, but it’s one that can sneak into the playoffs in the East. If they can keep Ibaka, all the better. He is, after all, only 25-years-old. A five-year max contract for him would not be the risky investment it would be for, say, Al Horford. Even if he’s older than he’s listed, always a possibility with international players, they aren’t going to pay him deep into his 30’s. It’s not much, but Orlando is a small market that wants to sell tickets and make the playoffs. This deal helps them do those things.