Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
The Magic have presumably wrapped up their offseason acquisitions. There may be further preseason tinkering, but for the most part, we know who to expect on the roster next season. What’s left, then? To judge. And judge we shall.
If we strictly look at the free agency portion of the team’s activity, we see three signed players, all remarkably around the same age: Channing Frye (31), Ben Gordon (31), and Luke Ridnour (33). That’s not including Willie Green (33), who was claimed off waivers.
Frye warrants his own category, because he doesn’t follow the same pattern as the other three players that declined sharply last season from previous seasons.
In an article I wrote in April, I offered a grading tool to assess the Magic’s free agency. I said that we could look for the team to make a value free agent signing of a “relatively young player who is used to winning games.” This would not include another Jason Maxiell- or Ronnie Price-type signing. Green, Gordon, and Ridnour might fall perfectly into the Maxiell tier, but of course, none of them were the Magic’s most important free agent signing. That title would belong to Frye.
At 31, I’m not going to say that his age fits into the relatively young category. But you don’t have to reach for ways he fulfills the rest of the test. He’s used to winning games, particularly on a young team such as Orlando’s. Phoenix was the most surprisingly successful team last season, and Frye was a key contributor to that.
And, goodness, does he shore up the most glaring weakness the roster faces this season: shooting. Losing Arron Afflalo weakens an already weak-shooting team, but Frye will step in and help to regain much ground there. In four seasons with the Suns, he was a 38.5 percent 3-point shooter, even while averaging 5.0 3-point field goal attempts per game. That’s a lot of 3-point shooting, and it’s very impressive to see how consistently he’s made them during his tenure in Phoenix.
Frye will slide in and become the Magic’s starting power forward. He’s a stretch four that can be used in pick-and-pops and as a screener — he can even be ran off screens himself. But perhaps Frye’s biggest value to the Magic will be his ability to help spread the floor, and create driving lanes for players like Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo like he did for the Suns with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
The lone criticism with the Frye signing is his contract (4 years, $32 million), which some felt was an overpay. However, GM Rob Hennigan did address that issue somewhat by structuring Frye’s contract to de-escalate every season. So there’s that. Frye’s skill-set should age well, but it remains to be seen if his contract will become burdensome in the future.
It’s also fair to wonder whether or not Orlando would have been better off hanging onto Ryan Anderson, who received a similar contract with the Pelicans (4 years, $34 million) in a sign-and-trade with the Magic, and is a better and younger version of Frye. But c’est la vie.
All in all, the Frye signing gets a “B” in my book. But what about the others?
As I stated earlier, the three other new acquisitions suffered from the same plague last year: they each experienced significant statistical declines in the 2013-14 season.
In Gordon’s case, a lot of it had to do with opportunity. He apparently fell out of favor with the then-Bobcats coaching staff and played in only 19 games last season after playing approximately 74 games a season in his career beforehand. He failed to average double-digit scoring for the first time in his career, his 6.4 PER — far below replacement-level — was a career-worst, and he was eventually cut. It’s been a long few years since fans in Chicago were hailing him as the best hope to carry Jordan’s mantle for the Bulls. Of course, that was all nonsense to begin with.
Magic fans can only hope that Gordon will put last season behind him and return to what he has always been good at: shooting the basketball. If he can, he will again fill a critical hole on the team. The Magic really don’t need much more from him than that.
Ridnour has always been a fairly average, consistent player in the league. He’ll fill the role of backup point guard, and he seems to be a great fit for it. Last season was a big question mark, though. He spent it between two teams and watched his minutes get cut almost in half from the season before. His combined 9.0 PER with the Bucks and Bobcats was below replacement-level.
Yet, the promise is that he’s another player whom spectacular play will not be expected of. There is legitimate promise that, with a new solid footing on a team who wants him, Ridnour can return to being a solid assist man with a decent shooting touch and an excellent free-throw stroke.
Green also experienced a decline last year. His 7.1 PER with the Clippers was, you guessed it, below replacement-level, but more importantly, his 3-point percentage declined from 42.8 percent in 2012-13 to 33.9 percent in 2013-14. That’s the bad. The good is that basically every other area of his game stayed consistent, from rebounding to assists to steals.
In him, the Magic have another player who shot above 40 percent from 3-point range just two seasons ago. I’ll hammer the point again: if he can knock down jump shots, namely 3s, he will fit in to the budding talent on the team. The problem is that he can’t do much of anything else besides be a spot-up shooter.
I’ll group these three into one grade and call it a “C-minus.” There isn’t a whole lot of risk in these signings of veterans later on in their careers, yet there’s potential for them to be key role players if they can regain some of their former luster. It’s hard to even question the contacts of Gordon, Ridnour, and Green since each of them expire after next season (Gordon and Ridnour’s contracts are fully unguaranteed in the second year).
The tinkering seems to be over for the summer. Now let’s see if it all translates to a few more wins.