There’s been a clear message from the Orlando Magic after their early moves in free agency.
They plan on running it back.
By signing veteran guard Gary Harris to a contract extension and agreeing to terms with big men Mo Bamba and Bol Bol, the Magic backed up what they said throughout this past season.
Not only do they believe in their young players and want to continue to invest in their growth, but Orlando also believes it had and will have the right veterans in the locker room.
“Our guys understand there’s a bigger picture than just this moment here,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after the season ended. “Our guys have embraced every single moment; every single day of getting better every game. That’s how you keep that energy. We have a special group of young men.”
They’re keeping that group together.
Of the 15 players who ended 2021-22 on standard contracts with the Magic, 14 are expected to return for next season. That includes Moe Wagner, whose $1.88 million salary for the 2022-23 season became fully guaranteed Friday.
The lone player not coming back is expected to be veteran big man Robin Lopez, who agreed to terms on a 1-year with the Cleveland Cavaliers, according to ESPN.
Most deals that are agreed to during the free agency moratorium can’t become official until 12:01 p.m. on July 6.
The free agency moratorium is a negotiation period from Friday through Wednesday in which teams can come to terms on contracts and other deals while the new salary-cap numbers are adjusted after an audit of league finances.
In Bamba, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft, the Magic will bring back a player who made significant strides in his development last season before becoming a free agent.
Harris, who turns 28 in September and is entering his ninth NBA season, is a player coaches and teammates said was instrumental in the younger players’ development last season as a veteran voice and on-floor contributor. He got his groove back as a player in Orlando.
Bol, 22, didn’t play for the Magic last season because of right foot surgery he had a month before being traded to Orlando ahead of the Feb. 10 trade deadline. But he’s a young player the Magic’s basketball operations leadership, led by president Jeff Weltman, believes can make an impact with better opportunities.
Although the full details of the aforementioned deals weren’t known as of Friday evening, they should allow the Magic to maintain their financial flexibility for the 2023 offseason.
Bol and Bamba agreed to terms on 2-year deals. There’s an expectation both of their contracts will have team options for the second year.
Harris’ extension is for two years. He’s expected to be eligible for trades immediately because he signed an extension instead of a new deal before the free agency moratorium and 2022-23 league year officially began Friday.
Don’t mistake the Magic returning most of the roster from last season as being complacent.
Although next season’s squad will feature a lot of the same faces as the 2021-22 team that finished with the league’s second-worst record (22-60), Orlando wants and expects to improve immediately.
But the Magic aren’t going to do it at the expense of rushing their process. They want to keep the pathway clear for the young players to develop.
The external additions they made before free agency, such as Paolo Banchero, the No. 1 pick in last week’s draft, should help.
Banchero signed his rookie contract with the Magic, the team announced Friday afternoon. Former Michigan guard Caleb Houstan, Orlando’s second-round selection (pick No. 32), is expected to sign his contract like most second-rounders after the moratorium ends.
Orlando also has to factor in having playing time available for Bol and Jonathan Isaac, who’s missed the last two seasons after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in August 2020. Markelle Fultz, who returned from a torn left ACL in February and spent most of the season on a minutes restriction, should also be expected to play more.
“You guys know we didn’t do all the roster deconstruction we did so we can rush back to the middle,” Weltman said last week. “That’s not what we’re trying to do. There are a lot of different permutations to that. Right now, we want to play better basketball, make fewer mistakes, increase our IQ, build chemistry and continue to understand which of our players are going to impact winning. We do want to get better, but not at the expense of rushing back to mediocrity.
“We don’t want to compromise our timeline or compromise something that can be sustainable, but we also have to elevate standards and expectations.”
Orlando will lean on the veterans to help steer the team in the right direction and on its younger players’ development to get better.
“I know the record doesn’t always show what’s grown and progressed, but this group of young men stayed together,” Mosley said. “There’s been a spirit on the court every single night and that’s just going to turn up another level as we walk into next year.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.