At some point on Tuesday, perhaps as early as 12:01 a.m., the Orlando Magic will call LeBron James' agent to see if James has any interest in joining the Magic in free agency.
Once the Magic are rebuffed — and even the Magic expect to be rebuffed quickly — reality will set in.
The reality is the Magic are unlikely to make a major splash in the upcoming free-agency period, according to a league source with knowledge of the team's strategy. If the worst available free agent rates as a "1" on a 1-to-10 talent scale and James rates as a "10," the Magic likely will target a player or players who rate as a 5½ or a 6.
To put it in plain English: The Magic will not make a free-agent signing this summer that will immediately transform the franchise from a bottom-feeder into a high-level playoff team.
This summer's free agency period will begin at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. At that time, teams and free agents can reach verbal agreements on deals. But no new free-agent contracts may be signed — and no trades can be completed — until July 10.
"I think we have to explore all our options, and we have to explore what makes sense for us in free agency," Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. "So we're not opposed to [making a signing] if an opportunity is available or if a player that makes sense for us [is available]."
Assuming the league's salary-cap figure rises to $63.2 million, as expected, Orlando could have as little as $16.9 million in cap space if it keeps all of its players who have conditionally guaranteed contracts and eliminates the existing cap holds on free agent E'Twaun Moore and never-signed 2005 draft pick Fran Vazquez.
The team could generate as much as $28.5 million in cap space if it releases Jameer Nelson, Doron Lamb, Jason Maxiell and Ronnie Price and purges the existing cap holds.
Either the $16.9 million scenario or the $28.5 million scenario would give the Magic chances to make free-agency additions, so why don't the Magic expect to make a major move in free agency over the next few weeks?
Part of the answer is that the Magic would rather hoard as much cap room as possible for the 2015 free-agency period when Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge or Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol can become unrestricted free agents.
Another part of the answer seems to be that — at this stage of the Magic's rebuilding process, when the team still doesn't have a superstar player on its roster — Magic executives recognize that the team is still years away from contention. Based on that assumption, what is the benefit of clogging the team's cap situation to add, at the very best, eight to 10 more wins in 2014-15 and still have the team finish out of the playoff hunt?
Indiana Pacers wing Lance Stephenson is only 23 years old and is one of the most talented players in this free-agency class, but the Magic will not pursue him, according to the source with knowledge of the Magic's plans. Stephenson had off-the-court problems early in his career.
The superstar players in this summer's free-agency class — James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony — have no reason to consider the Magic at this time. Each of them has said he wants to play on a contender, and they appear more likely to try to team up with other superstars.
There are some highly capable younger players available, including Central Florida native Chandler Parsons, who will become a restricted free agent. The Houston Rockets will be able to match any offer that Parsons receives, and for the Rockets not to re-sign him, the Magic probably would have to overpay for Parsons. Magic officials likely would not want to make that financial commitment to a player who, at best, would be the third-best player on a championship-level team.
Magic officials like Cleveland Cavaliers free-agent-to-be Luol Deng, a defensive-minded 29-year-old small forward. For Deng to consider Orlando, he probably would want a massive payday, and it seems unlikely that the Magic would meet his asking price.
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