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The Orlando Magic are being patient with their rebuild, which is a good sign for Magic fans (even if they are growing restless). It’s going to take time for the Magic to construct a roster that mirrors anything like the one that made them title contenders in the late-2000’s and they know that.
It’s why they traded Dwight Howard for a myriad of young players and draft picks, and it’s why they’re okay with losing a ton of games right now. After all, all those losses bring higher odds of getting better draft picks, as well as the opportunity for those young players to have free reign on the court. The hope is that the combination of all of those factors will pay off in the long run.
For that reason, though, the signing of Channing Frye this summer, an eight-year veteran, to a four-year, $32 million contract (with all four years guaranteed) seemed a little out of character for GM Rob Hennigan.
At 31 years of age, Frye is on the fringe of his prime. After sitting out a season as a result of an enlarged heart that put his career in jeopardy, Frye bounced back in a big way with the Phoenix Suns in 2013-14, averaging 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while sporting a 13.2 PER and .555 True Shooting percentage.
He was one of the better stretch fours in the NBA, thanks to him shooting 37.0 percent from 3-point range last season, and his perimeter-based game shouldn’t change drastically over the next few years — a promising sign given his age.
However, despite that, the main concern is that a four-year deal will take him into his mid-30s, making him stick out like a sore thumb on a roster whose average age is currently 25 years old. He’s the highest paid player on the roster (for now), and he is certainly not a No. 1 option on a playoff team.
Meanwhile, the Magic just drafted Aaron Gordon with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft, and they are hoping he develops into a franchise player in the future. However, Gordon joins a team that is stockpiling forwards, one that features up-and-comers like Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn, and Maurice Harkless (not to mention Andrew Nicholson). There won’t be an abundance of minutes going around. Likewise, Frye also eats into a good chunk of their salary cap over the next few seasons, too, which could hurt them if they choose to re-sign Nikola Vucevic and Harris.
Nevertheless, the signing of Frye is more than just basketball and the seven figures that show up in the books. Frye brings leadership to a locker room that is in need of some molding. Here’s what Hennigan said in an article on the Orlando Sentinel:
“First and foremost, his experience and what he’s able to add to the team from that perspective is very important to us. He’s played in the league a long time. As we did a lot of research on him and got to know him, Channing’s someone who takes a lot of pride in leading.”
To add to that, any concerns about his position can be put to bed knowing that, while Frye started at the power forward spot for the Suns, he spent 38 percent of his minutes last season as a center, per 82games.com. He will, therefore, be able to play both positions for the Magic, which will enable the likes of Harris and Gordon to alternate between playing the three and four. He’ll also be a good backup to Vucevic at the center spot, bringing a different dimension offensively while holding his own on the other end of the court.
Most importantly, though, Frye should be a perfect complement alongside Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, and Gordon, all of whom struggle greatly to space the floor.
Phoenix’s offensive rating when Frye was on the bench last season was 102.5, yet that elevated to 110.4 when he was on the court, per NBA.com. It’s the equivalent of a bottom-five offense turning into an elite one. While Frye isn’t an elite shooter from beyond the arc — he’s shooting 38.5 percent for his career, which is great but not quite elite — his threat alone drew bigs out of the paint for the Suns, which opened up the floor tremendously for their guards. The Suns ranked near the top of the NBA in points scored off of drives, and Frye’s presence played a big role in that success.
For the Magic, 57.0 percent of their offense last season was made up of pick-and-rolls, spot-ups, and transition opportunities combined, per Synergy Sports. All of which is Frye’s bread-and-butter, so he shouldn’t have an issue settling into the team’s system and he is expected to have a similar impact.
In an interview with Zach Lowe of Grantland, Goran Dragic had nothing but praise for Frye. When asked about the difference between the 2012-13 season — the one Frye sat out — and 2013-2014, Dragic said:
“It’s a huge difference from [...] when Channing was out. Everybody was so much inside the paint, that you could not create. You could not get to the inside. And right now, it’s so much easier. They’re so afraid he’s going to knock down shots.”
The Magic are certainly better with Frye on the team, but he’s not someone who will propel them into playoff contenders. The Magic ranked second-to-last in offensive efficiency last season, scoring 101.7 points per 100 possessions and finished 19th in 3-point percentage. Frye isn’t going to solve those offensive problems himself, but he’ll help. More importantly, his presence should also make a tremendous difference to the development of Payton, Oladipo, and Gordon, all of whom are considered to be the pillars of the franchise moving forward.
Is the price tag a little too much for Frye? Maybe, but the Magic had to overpay him, even slightly, to lure him away from Phoenix and their training staff mafia, and they had plenty of cap room to make it work. Not only that, but his contract expires before Oladipo, Payton, and Gordon are due for their extensions. In addition, Frye’s salary declines every year, starting at $8,579,088 in 2014-15 and ending at $7,420,912 in 2017-2018, per Sham Sports. That opens up cap space for other players.
The Magic only have $55.5 million committed to their roster this season, anyway, which is right below the $56.7 million salary floor, and they only have $33.9 million tied up in their roster in 2015-16. They have plenty of cap room to work with and signing Frye to this contract doesn’t hurt them in any way. If things do go sour, Frye’s contract is very moveable and he’s someone the Magic should get decent return on.
If all goes to plan, though, Frye should accelerate the development of the young players by providing them with some much needed outside shooting and steer the squad in the right direction by being a leader in the locker room. That way, the Magic can maximize their potential in years to come.