- Entering his third season, Magic forward Jonathan Isaac is brimming with optimism over his team’s future after it reached the playoffs last season. Isaac likes the team’s continuity after it re-signed key free agents Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross, as he told John Denton of the team’s website. “We’re all hyped up for the season,’” he said. “And I’m sure as guys get together and start playing again, we’ll have more of those talks about, ‘Hey, we can go even farther than we did last (season).'”
When we recently asked you to make your picks on which teams would win the Pacific and Northwest divisions, there were a handful of strong, viable choices. It’s not outlandish to view the Clippers, Lakers, or Warriors as potential division winners in the Pacific, while the Nuggets, Jazz, and Trail Blazers all have a realistic chance to finish atop the Northwest.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the Southeast is another division that doesn’t have an overwhelming favorite, but it’s not because there are a handful of potential Southeast powerhouses — it’s because the division isn’t particularly strong.
Last season, only one of the East’s playoff teams came out of the Southeast, as the 42-40 Magic sneaked into the postseason and claimed the division crown. The other four Southeast teams finished between ninth and 12th in the conference.
The division doesn’t project to be a whole lot stronger in 2019/20, though the Magic retained all their key free agents and still have room for growth. Orlando had one of the league’s best defenses during the second half of the 2018/19 season, and ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus projections are bullish on the club going forward. As Kevin Pelton details in an Insider story, ESPN’s RPM projections place the Magic fourth in the Eastern Conference for ’19/20, behind only Milwaukee, Boston, and Philadelphia.
Still, the Magic won’t enter the season as the Vegas favorites to win the Southeast. Betting site BetOnline.ag lists the Heat as the current frontrunners. Although Miami missed the postseason last season with a 39-43 record, the team is hopeful that replacing Josh Richardson with Jimmy Butler and getting further development from young players like Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow will be worth several wins.
At this point, Orlando and Miami look like the only truly viable contenders for the division title, but it’s possible one of the other three clubs will significantly exceed expectations. The Hawks might be the best contender. John Collins, Trae Young, and Kevin Huerter should only get better, and if rookies De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish can provide positive contributions immediately, Atlanta could surprise some teams.
The outlook looks a little bleaker for the Wizards and Hornets. Washington, at least, has an All-Star player in Bradley Beal, but the team won only 32 games last season with Beal healthy, and he won’t have much more help this season. In Charlotte, the 39-43 Hornets are expected to take a step back after replacing All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker with Terry Rozier.
What do you think? Which team do you expect to win the Southeast in 2019/20? And are any of the teams in the division capable of winning a playoff series or two in the spring?
Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your two cents!
Trade Rumors app users, click here to vote.
After an improved sophomore season in which the upstart Magic made the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, Jonathan Isaac has spent this summer trying to improve his game to another level as he readies himself for his third season. The 21-year-old forward recently sat down with Josh Robbins of The Athletic to discuss a variety of topics, including his experience with the USA Select Team this summer.
“It was fantastic… USA Basketball, the NBA, they do a fantastic job with all their events,” Isaac said. “I thought the Select Team was just another thing that they do really well. Just to be able to hang out with guys that we played against all year, get to know them a little better, practice with them — it was just fun. It was fun to learn. It was fun to compete.”
Since the end of the 2018/19 season, Isaac has increased the weight on his long, lanky frame from a mere 209 pounds to 234 pounds. It remains unclear whether Isaac will be able to keep 25 pounds of extra weight on during a marathon NBA season, but he liked the way his new body felt while scrimmaging against Team USA.
“Just being able to have a little more size on me down in the paint is going to help a lot,” he said. “I’m going to continue to finish out the summer working hard. I feel good right now. I feel good about where I’m at game-wise, body-wise, everything.”
Isaac also spoke on the expectations he has for the 2019/20 season after a successful 2018/19 campaign in Orlando. The roster remains intact and head coach Steve Clifford is now in his second season at the helm.
“I think we’re going to have a fantastic year… I just want the fans to be excited about it because I know we are,” Isaac said. “Going into our second season with Coach Cliff and everything that happened in that first year, just riding that into the next season, I think, is going to be great. I’m just looking forward to it, looking forward to having fun.”
Gravett, who played his college ball at South Carolina, averaged 11.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 2.4 APG with a .399 3PT% in 32 games in 2018/19. He went undrafted in June and didn’t play any Summer League games in July, but it appears he’ll attend training camp with the Magic.
Robbins suggests that Gravett “appears certain” to play for the Lakeland Magic, Orlando’s G League affiliate, in his rookie season. If he spends at least 60 days with Lakeland, he’ll be eligible for an Exhibit 10 bonus worth up to $50K, in addition to his G League salary.
The Magic now have 18 players under contract, with first-rounder Chuma Okeke still unsigned. Isaac Humphries reportedly agreed to an Exhibit 10 deal with the team as well, so he and Okeke may take the two final spots on Orlando’s 20-man offseason squad, though there could be more roster shuffling to come.
- Ben Nadeau of Basketball Insiders grades the Magic‘s offseason, detailing the team’s draft night, free agency period and more. In addition to re-signing Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross, Michael Carter-Williams and Khem Birch, Orlando was able to sign defensive specialist Al-Farouq Aminu during the first week of free agency. The team also chose to draft Auburn product Chuma Okeke with the No. 16 overall pick in June.
We’re about a month and a half removed from the 2019 NBA draft, and the contract statuses of 56 of the 60 players selected on that night have been determined.
As our list of draft pick signings shows, 53 players – 29 first-round picks and 24 second-rounders – have signed contracts with their new NBA teams. Three more players – Didi Louzada (Pelicans), Deividas Sirvydis (Pistons), and Vanja Marinkovic (Kings) – will reportedly spend the 2019/20 season overseas in various international leagues.
That leaves just four players whose contract situation for ’19/20 remains up in the air. Those players are as follows:
- Orlando Magic: Chuma Okeke, F (Auburn)
- Denver Nuggets: Bol Bol, C (Oregon)
- Charlotte Hornets: Jalen McDaniels, F (San Diego State)
- Brooklyn Nets: Jaylen Hands, G (UCLA)
Okeke is the lone 2019 first-rounder who remains unsigned, and it’s probably not just a coincidence that he’s the last one to ink his rookie contract. He tore his ACL in March and is expected to miss a good chunk – if not all – of his rookie season. While virtually every first-round pick signs for 120% of his rookie scale amount, the Cavaliers were able to get Kevin Porter for lower than that earlier in the offseason — it’s possible the Magic are exploring a similar deal with Okeke.
Bol, meanwhile, figures to sign with the Nuggets eventually. The team still has a projected opening on its 15-man regular season roster, plus a pair of open two-way contract slots. I’d expect Bol to sign a standard deal, but the two sides will have to reach an agreement on the years, dollars, and guarantee amounts. Since Denver has its full mid-level exception available, a variety of options are on the table.
As for McDaniels and Hands, they look like strong candidates to sign two-way contracts. Both the Nets and Hornets have an open two-way slot, and players selected in the 50-60 range frequently end up on two-way deals. While Brooklyn already has 15 players on guaranteed contracts, Charlotte is only carrying 13, so it’s possible a regular season roster spot is still in play for McDaniels.
The NBA salary cap is somewhat malleable, with various exceptions allowing every team to surpass the $109,140,000 threshold once their room is used up. In some cases, teams blow past not only the cap limit, but the luxury-tax limit of $132,627,000 as well — the Trail Blazers have this season’s highest payroll at the moment, more than $11MM above the tax line.
The NBA doesn’t have a “hard cap” by default, which allows a club like Portland to build a significant payroll without violating CBA rules. However, there are certain scenarios in which teams can be hard-capped.
When a club uses the bi-annual exception, acquires a player via sign-and-trade, or uses more than the taxpayer portion ($5,718,000) of the mid-level exception, that club will face a hard cap for the remainder of the league year.
When a team becomes hard-capped, it cannot exceed the “tax apron” at any point during the rest of the league year. The tax apron was set $6MM above the luxury tax line in 2017/18 (the first year of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement) and creeps up a little higher each season. For the 2019/20 league year, the tax apron – and hard cap for certain clubs – is set at $138,928,000.
More teams than ever this offseason have been willing to hard-cap themselves, and in at least a couple cases, it will significantly impact a team’s ability to add further reinforcements later in the league year. The Warriors and Heat are nearly right up against the hard cap, and won’t be players in free agency during the season unless they can shed salary.
So far this year, half the teams in the NBA have imposed a hard cap on themselves by using the bi-annual exception, using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, or acquiring a player via sign-and-trade. Listed below are those 15 teams, along with how they created a hard cap.
- Acquired Kemba Walker from the Hornets via sign-and-trade.
- Acquired Kevin Durant from the Warriors via sign-and-trade.
- Acquired Terry Rozier from the Celtics via sign-and-trade.
- Acquired Tomas Satoransky from the Wizards via sign-and-trade.
- Acquired Delon Wright from the Grizzlies via sign-and-trade.
- Used approximately $7.46MM of their mid-level exception to sign Seth Curry.
- Used their bi-annual exception to sign Boban Marjanovic.
- Used approximately $7.32MM of their mid-level exception to sign Derrick Rose.
- Used their bi-annual exception to sign Markieff Morris.
Golden State Warriors
- Acquired D’Angelo Russell from the Nets via sign-and-trade.
- Acquired Malcolm Brogdon from the Bucks via sign-and-trade.
- Used their full mid-level exception ($9,258,000) to sign Tyus Jones.
- Used their bi-annual exception to sign Marko Guduric.
- Acquired Jimmy Butler from the Sixers via sign-and-trade.
- Acquired Jake Layman from the Trail Blazers via sign-and-trade.
- Used their full mid-level exception ($9,258,000) to sign Al-Farouq Aminu.
San Antonio Spurs
- Acquired DeMarre Carroll from the Nets via sign-and-trade.
- Used approximately $8.3MM of their mid-level exception to sign Patrick McCaw, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Matt Thomas, and Dewan Hernandez.
- Used their bi-annual exception to sign Stanley Johnson.
- Used approximately $7.9MM of their mid-level exception to sign Ish Smith, Admiral Schofield, and Justin Robinson.
Outside of the Warriors and Heat, no clubs on the list above are really being restricted by the hard cap at this time. A few teams – such as the Pistons and Magic – are near the luxury tax threshold, but that still gives them several million dollars in breathing room below the hard cap.
While it’s possible that trades could push some teams closer to the apron, Golden State and Miami appear to be the only clubs that will be noticeably affected by the hard cap in 2019/20.
Doc Rivers will be in the spotlight with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both joining the Clippers, but his training for dealing with superstars dates back to his early days as a coach in Orlando, writes Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times. Rivers had just completed his first year as a head coach in the summer of 2000 when the Magic signed both Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady, forming what was expected to be a super-team of that era.
“(Clippers president of basketball operations) Lawrence Frank did more research than any human being is possible to do,” Rivers said. “And I thought (former Magic general manager) John Gabriel did the same thing. That’s why we were successful in Orlando getting Tracy and Grant, and that’s why we’ve been successful today.”
In both cases, the free agent jackpot was preceded by a decision to trade a franchise player — Anfernee Hardaway in Orlando and Blake Griffin in L.A. Rivers insisted that both franchises remain competitive rather than tanking after the deals, believing that was the best way to lure free agents. George confirmed the value of that decision.
“You could just see their connection on the court,” he said of last year’s team. “Everybody pulling for one another, everybody elevated their games to be part of that camaraderie. That’s what made it such an attractive spot.”
There’s more Clippers news to pass along:
- In the same story, Rivers offers an inside look at the negotiations with Leonard, saying the focus never strayed from how the team could compete for a title. “All the other stuff that people think matters in the recruitment, I don’t think Kawhi wanted to talk about that, and so I didn’t,” Rivers said. “I talked about winning, and basketball. Kawhi is a serious man and I think you felt that with him. I think he felt the seriousness of me and how serious I am about winning and how serious he is about winning and he felt good about that match.”
- In his buyout with the Thunder, Patrick Patterson gave back $3.5MM of the $5.7MM he was owed, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN. He will earn another $2.3MM with the Clippers this season.
- Jerome Robinson didn’t see much playing time as a rookie, but he’s counting on a greater role in his second season, relays Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe.
- Mathias Lessort, whose rights were acquired from the Sixers in the Jimmy Butler trade, will play for German Bundesliga champion FC Bayern Munich this season, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. A 2017 draftee, Lessort spent last season in Spain.
“[Fultz] is a sleeper. If he wakes up and if he’s awake and woken up, he’s a monster,” Gordon said.
Fultz, whose return to the court has yet to be determined, will have a chance to win the team’s starting point guard spot. Incumbent starter D.J. Augustin, who has one season left on his deal, and Michael Carter-Williams, who re-signed with Orlando on a one-year deal, will be the former No. 1 overall pick’s top competition for the role.
Orlando didn’t make major additions in the backcourt this offseason. The team re-signed a few members of its core (Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross) and brought in Al-Farouq Aminu with its mid-level exception. Gordon is excited about the addition of Aminu, as well as the continuity the team will experience next season.
“We got Al-Farouq, which is dope,” Gordon said. “[He’s] another 3-and-D guy. Tenacious, hard noise, long-defender and that’s the most beautiful thing. Nothing has changed from this year to last year.”
Here’s more from the Southeast Division:
- Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington examines whether the Wizards can make a quick turnaround. Hughes argues that if Washington is going to contend sooner than later, the team needs its young talent to show improvement. That would increase each players’ trade value and give the Wizards an avenue to place an immediate difference maker next to Bradley Beal.
- The Hawks have promoted Tori Miller to assistant GM of the College Park Skyhawks, according to the G League affiliate’s website. Miller spent the last two seasons as the Skyhawks’ Manager of Basketball Operations. She broke into the NBA as an intern with the Suns from 2014-16.
- Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel envisions Pat Riley remaining with the Heat for the foreseeable future, as the scribe details in his latest mailbag. Winderman adds that Miami’s team president remains determined to get the team back to contention and the franchise’s young players are suited to help them achieve that goal.
The Magic have officially completed a series of signings, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic, who tweets that DaQuan Jeffries, Vic Law, and Amile Jefferson are now under contract with the team. Jeffries and Law signed Exhibit 10 deals, while Jefferson finalized a two-way pact.
Orlando’s agreements with undrafted rookies Jeffries and Law were reported shortly after the draft ended last month. Both players joined the Magic for Summer League action earlier this month.
Jeffries, a 6’5″ wing out of Tulsa, was ranked by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony as the fourth-best prospect who wasn’t drafted in 2019. He posted 13.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.2 BPG, and 1.0 SPG in his final college season, shooting .502/.366/.755.
Law, a 6’7″ forward, who played four full college seasons at Northwestern, averaged 15.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 3.0 APG as a senior. Like Jeffries, he also averaged at least one block and steal per game.
As for Jefferson, his new two-way deal with the Magic was reported on July 18. He spent the 2018/19 season on a two-way contract with Orlando and saw the majority of his playing time for the Lakeland Magic, the club’s G League affiliate. The former Duke Blue Devil averaged 18.1 PPG, 11.3 RPG, and 3.4 APG in 34 G League games (33.2 MPG), earning a spot on the All-NBAGL Third Team.
The Magic now have 13 players officially on guaranteed contracts, plus Jeffries and Law on Exhibit 10 deals and Jefferson and Josh Magette on two-way contracts. The team also still needs to officially sign first-round pick Chuma Okeke and reportedly reached an agreement on a camp deal with Dererk Pardon. If and when those signings are finalized, it would leave one opening on Orlando’s 20-man roster.