Following the devastating injury to Markelle Fultz, the Orlando Magic – 6-2 on the season and sitting second in the East – will be without their starting point guard for the rest of the campaign, with just a rookie in Cole Anthony to replace him, as well as their two two-way players, Jordan Bone and Karim Bane, at the point-guard rotation.
This tough situation could lead to the Magic perusing the free-agent market in search of more depth at the point guard position.
Of course, it won’t be that simple, as Orlando has a full roster with all guaranteed contracts right now, meaning they can’t just sign a player without waiving someone who has guaranteed money on their deal.
Maybe the team decides to stand pat and use Michael Carter-Williams as lead ball-handler, a position he used to play more often before joining the Magic.
On the other hand, there’s a good chance Orlando, down two starters and a third rotational piece (Al-Farouq Aminu) to major injuries, applies for and is granted a hardship exception, which would allow them to sign a point guard right away.
If that does turn out to be the case, there are a few very interesting free agents available at the moment who the Magic could look at to give them another experienced lead guard. We break down six such names below.
The top name on any team’s free-agent board as far as available point guards go is more than likely Isaiah Thomas, a two-time All-Star and former 2nd Team All-NBAer.
Injuries have taken their toll on Thomas since his ridiculous peak in 2016-17 when he averaged nearly 29 points per game with the Boston Celtics, and he is about to turn 32 years old, which only adds to the uncertainty surrounding his game right now, but according to reports, following surgery eight months ago, Thomas looked more like his prime self during offseason workouts this year.
Here’s what the diminutive floor general had to tell the Boston Globe a month ago:
On the court, the 31-year-old Thomas said, he was carving and cutting and swirling just as he once did. He said it felt wonderful. He said it felt like he had finally found his swagger again. “Those guys were like, ‘Damn, welcome back. You really look like yourself,’ ” Thomas recalled. “That only gave me more confidence to be able to play the game again. I mean, I was blowing by people. I haven’t blown by anybody since I had a Celtics uniform on. When I was able to blow by MVP-caliber players, that told me my burst and power and speed are there. I really feel like I’m back.”
Over 40 games with the Washington Wizards last season, Thomas averaged 12.2 points and 3.7 assists while shooting 41.3 percent from three, so his latest numbers in the NBA were beyond solid.
Couple that with the surgery he underwent that has him feeling more athletic than he has in years, and Thomas could be a savvy, potentially exciting pickup for a Magic team that could use another experienced playmaker following Fultz’s injury.
It’s surprising six-year NBA veteran Shabazz Napier is even available right now, considering the level of experience he has in the Association and the fact that in his last stint in the league, he averaged 11.6 points, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals over 20 games with the Wizards.
Napier has already spent a season in Orlando, too, back in 2015-16, making the familiarity between the two parties another positive as far as how a potential marriage might go.
Napier is a streaky outside shooter but a solid playmaker, who can run an offense effectively against second units and even play off the ball some when asked to.
As far as reporting goes, things have been quiet on the Napier front publicly for the last nine months, but a source close to the UConn legend told our own Bryan Kalbrosky that Napier nearly signed with the Milwaukee Bucks before their deal for Bogdan Bogdanovic fell apart and that the Golden State Warriors were also strongly considering picking him up before they opted to go with Brad Wanamaker instead.
Napier will more than likely find an NBA home at some point in the coming weeks or months, and a team like the Magic would make a lot of sense with their new opening at the position.
Jeremy Lin last saw action in the NBA back in the 2018-19 season, splitting time between the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors that year, ultimately being a part of the latter’s title win that campaign.
Over 74 games that season, Lin averaged 9.6 points and 3.1 assists while struggling with his three-point shot, hitting just under 30 percent of those.
Regardless, Lin is now set to be a member of the Warriors’ G League team, making him available for any team to sign outright to their main roster should they want him.
The Magic could do worse for a backup option to Anthony, as Lin is a player with a ton of experience who could help the rookie pick up the nuances of life in the NBA for point guards while still providing some scoring and playmaking off the bench.
A younger option for the Magic should they prefer a player with more potential upside is free agent Emmanuel Mudiay, who last played for the Utah Jazz in 2019-20, averaging 7.3 points and 2.1 assists while shooting 34.5 percent from three over 54 appearances with the team.
The last we’ve heard on the Mudiay free-agency front is that teams were interested in his services, but that was two months ago now and since then, everything has been quiet.
Mudiay would give Orlando a solid athlete with good size and length and decent defensive chops on the less glamorous end of the floor, a plus for a Magic team that presently sits fourth in defensive rating at 104.4 points given up per 100 possessions this season.
Another decent option for the Magic could be Yogi Ferrell, a point guard with four years’ worth of experience in the NBA who most recently spent two seasons with the Sacramento Kings from 2018-2020.
More recently, Ferrell was picked up and ultimately waived by the Utah Jazz, a series of moves that happened three weeks ago.
Ferrell started off his career impressively, averaging 10.2 points and 2.9 assists while shooting 37.8 percent from three over his first two campaigns as a member of the Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks.
However, since then, his numbers have fallen off a cliff, particularly due to his three-point percentage dropping to 34.2 percent over his two most recent seasons.
If Orlando thinks Ferrell can get his three-point shooting back to his early-career numbers, he could be a solid bench addition for the team in light of Fultz’s injury.
At 34.5 percent, the Magic currently have the 10th-worst three-point accuracy in the NBA, so a point guard who can hit outside shots should be the type of player they look to target.
Arguably the second most accomplished player on the list (behind just Thomas) is also the one with the most uncertainty surrounding him due to the various major injuries he’s gone through in his career.
Brandon Knight, still surprisingly just 29, has nine years of NBA experience under his belt, including a three-season stretch from 2013 through 2016 where he averaged 18.1 points and 5.1 assists with the Bucks and Phoenix Suns over 187 games.
More recently, Knight spent 25 games in the league last season, splitting time with Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, averaging 7.3 points and 2.8 assists while shooting 34.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Knight’s best performance of the campaign came against the Suns when he dropped 19 points and four assists on five-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc in a two-point win for the Pistons:
Knight would be a somewhat risky signing for Orlando, but if he can regain some of his pre-injury form, he could have the most upside of any player on this list.
HoopsHype’s Bryan Kalbrosky contributed to this article.