There’s this thing that’s not a tradition because nobody cares about it, and not a phenomenon because it doesn’t deserve to be in the same noun-phylum as the Northern Lights, but every two or three years, an NBA franchise assembles an absolutely killer collection of bench players while seemingly forgetting the whole halfway decent starting lineup thing. The 2014-15 Boston Celtics were all-timers in this respect, employing Jeff Green, a washed-up Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, a pre-stardom Isaiah Thomas, Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller, Jameer Nelson, Jonas Jerebko, and Brandan Wright in the space of a single season. The 2014-15 Celtics were the 1985-86 Celtics of sixth and seventh men. If games had only been the first few minutes of the second and fourth quarters, they would have won a title. As it stood, they finished 40-and-42 and got swept in the first round of the playoffs by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
This season’s Orlando Magic probably can’t touch those Celtics for the sheer number of perfectly okay players on their roster, but if they want to go for it, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried are eminently available. Austin Rivers could be had for a top ten-protected first-rounder. The sky is the limit. Metaphorically speaking. The actual limit is bland respectability. Anyway, there’s no way the bulk of this space is going to be dedicated to Magic talk. Let’s imagine their quite good rotation players on other teams.
Evan Fournier, G/F, Utah Jazz: The Jazz deserve better than a 33-year-old Thabo Sefolosha for doing everything right and still losing Gordon Hayward. Fournier doesn’t defend nearly as well as Quin Snyder likes, but he can shoot threes and score for himself in spurts, which is something hardly anyone currently on the Jazz can do. He could split minutes with Joe Ingles and step into the starting lineup if Rodney Hood’s knee starts acting up. There’s a chance Fournier is simply a good stats/bad team guy who doesn’t help his teams win, but we’ll never find out until he escapes Orlando.
Bismack Biyombo, C/F, Washington Wizards: The Knicks giving a barely ambulatory Joakim Noah $73 million over four years is the worst deal from last summer’s post-cap explosion adventures in profligacy, but Ian Mahinmi at $64 million over four years is a close second. At least Noah was once a great player. Mahinmi is a passably mobile seven-footer who can’t shoot and isn’t a particularly gifted shot-blocker. His value is effectively zilch in the modern NBA. What if the Wizards, who have no depth at the four or five due to Mahinmi’s expensive stiff-dom and Jason Smith being Jason Smith, had Biyombo filling those minutes? His athleticism and defensive abilities contrast nicely with Marcin Gortat’s plodding finesse game, John Wall would get him a couple easy dunks every game, and he’s an ideal sixth man in the sense that you want him playing like a maniac for eighteen minutes rather than exposing his flaws over thirty. The Magic experimented with Longform Biyombo last season and it turned out he’s more of a capsule writer.
Jonathon Simmons, G, San Antonio Spurs: Just give him back to the Spurs. He’ll fail everywhere else. I’d call him the Boris Diaw of guards, but Kyle Anderson exists. Marginal Spurs are a mirage. Boban Marjanović played thirty-five games for the Pistons last year. Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal are out of the league. And—okay, fine, Cory Joseph is a solid backup point guard. But I remain convinced the Jonathon Simmons the Magic think they signed died on the plane trip from San Antonio to Orlando.
Shelvin Mack, G, Memphis Grizzlies: Mack just feels like a Grizz. He scores on drives to the basket where he puts his body into bigger defenders and finishes below the rim. He’s a so-so defender, but a handsy and hard-working one. His jumper is junky and only goes out to fifteen feet. When Mike Conley is off the floor this season, Memphis is going to try to make do with Wade Baldwin and Mario Chalmers. Those minutes are going to be rough. They could do with a steady hand like Mack.
Terrence Ross, G/F, Cleveland Cavaliers: Five years into his NBA career, Ross remains an enigma but for the Cavs to have any prayer of challenging the Warriors in the Finals, they need all the lanky shooters they can get. Ross gives off strong Harrison Barnes vibes—the I’m-never-going-to-fulfill-my-potential ones, not the dead-eyed Forbes subscriber ones—but if he’s going to flourish anywhere, it would be with narrowly defined responsibilities and LeBron James feeding him several wide open threes per game. And maybe, just maybe, he could give Klay Thompson some trouble as the Warriors dispatch the Cavs in one of the closer gentleman’s sweeps you’ll ever see.
Aaron Gordon, C, Philadelphia 76ers: Look, I have no idea if Aaron Gordon is any good or not and neither do you. We also have little clue whether Joel Embiid can stay healthy, which position Ben Simmons plays, or what in the hell a Furkan Korkmaz is. Plus Jahlil Okafor is a bummer. Trade him away for a second-rounder, play Gordon at center, and let these Sixers reach the All-Theoretical Team apotheosis they’ve been gunning for since the day Sam Hinkie rolled into town and installed a trophy case full of invisible Larry O’Briens you can only see if you believe in yourself. Disruption!
Nik Vucević, C, Orlando Magic: On second thought, the Magic can keep Nikki Vooch.
These aren’t suggested trades, by the way. It would just be nice if these players were on different teams as opposed to all clustered mediocrely on a single roster. It’s fitting, if kind of exasperating, that they’re going to be coached by Frank Vogel, an aggressively serviceable tactician who will not Brad Stevens this bunch into a reasonably entertaining eight-seed. There are broader, depressing questions to be asked about what the plan is in Orlando, but there is only so many hours in the day, and none of them should be spent pondering the long-term future of the Magic.
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