Orlando Magic should pursue trade for scoring point guard

Dec 23, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA;  Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) handles the ball during the first quarter of the game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the  Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 23, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) handles the ball during the first quarter of the game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic are at a crossroads in a crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture and it’s time to decide if they want to focus on competing now.

The Orlando Magic are currently 16-20, 1.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They have essentially been .500 for the last month — 9-9, actually — and the trade deadline is coming into some clearer focus as teams begin seriously assessing their needs.

This is the right time for Orlando to plan ahead and make some changes to climb in the standings. January is when the Magic must make their move internally and, perhaps externally ahead of the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Or at least identify their needs and targets.

Rumors indicate the Magic could be looking to deal Nikola Vucevic and Elfrid Payton. Names like Rudy Gay, Monta Ellis and Lou Williams have been linked to the team in recent weeks — both in reported rumors and idle speculation.

Orlando’s offense is struggling, averaging just 99.4 points per game (24th in the league) and part of the problem is at point guard, as the team averages just 22.3 assists per game (14th in the NBA).

Magic starting point guard D.J. Augustin dishes out just 3.2 assists per game and former starter Elfrid Payton averages a career-low 5.9 assists per game.

D.J. Augustin and Elfrid Payton combine to score 20.0 points per game. It is no surprise many believe the Magic are looking for an upgrade at the position. Nor would it be a surprise that it should be a priority.

If Orlando is going to make the Playoffs, the team will have to explore the market and improve this important position. The Magic could certainly use a better offensive punch and some more consistency at this position.

The trade deadline is definitely a time to shuffle the deck. And there are a few point guards who could be available at the deadline.

Goran Dragic, Miami Heat, Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

Mar 25, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) dribbles the ball as Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) defends in the second half at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 108-97. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Goran Dragic

Goran Dragic is averaging 18.8 points and 6.7 assists with a 17.34 PER and a career-high 26.9 usage rate. He is also shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range, solid numbers that would instantly improve Orlando’s offense.

Dragic provides instant scoring and point guard help for a Magic team that should prefer to make the playoffs instead of spending another summer in the draft lottery. His scoring, playmaking and shooting could turn the Magic into an up-tempo team and he can also help younger players like Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon with his veteran leadership.

The Miami Heat are not desperate to trade Dragic, but they are just 10-25 at the time of this writing (third-worst record in the Eastern Conference). They might consider dealing their star point guard for the right price as they look to make a quick rebuild.

One thing that could delay a trade for Dragic is the fact he signed a five-year, $90 million contract on last summer. It could be too much for the Magic to take in.

A trade could be made, but it would have to involve multiple players and picks or a third team to act as a conduit.

Nov 2, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Brandon Knight (11) high fives guard Eric Bledsoe (2) during the second half of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeated the Trail Blazers 118-115. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 2, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Brandon Knight (11) high fives guard Eric Bledsoe (2) during the second half of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeated the Trail Blazers 118-115. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Knight

The Suns are underusing Brandon Knight, a player once considered the point guard of the future for the Detroit Pistons. Knight’s career took off when the Pistons traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks for Brandon Jennings.

Knight averaged almost 18 points per game in 124 games with Milwaukee and he thrived under former Phoenix head coach Jeff Hornacek, averaging 19.6 points and 5.1 assists last season.

Earl Watson took over for Hornacek and things changed for Knight. Now, he is coming off the bench, receiving just 22.6 minutes per game. His scoring has thus decreased significantly, averaging just 12.5 points, the lowest since his rookie year.

Those 12.5 points per game are still more than what Augustin and Payton average for the Magic. Simply put, Knight needs a change of scenery and Orlando needs a scoring point guard.

Knight is a combo guard who can start or come off the bench, he can score and run an offense and he could be paired with Elfrid Payton or Evan Fournier and do some serious damage.

Like with Dragic, he also brings a hefty contract. Knight signed a five-year, $70 million contract last summer too. The Magic would have to bet on him playing like he did last season for years to come in order for the trade to be worth it.

Acquiring a player that has fallen off so much like Knight is certainly a big risk.

Dec 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo (9) dribbles the ball against the Brooklyn Nets during the second half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo is averaging 7.2 points, 7.1 assists, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 30.2 minutes of action for the Chicago Bulls and he lost his spot in the starting lineup to Michael Carter-Williams.

The struggling point guard is now behind Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant on the depth chart and he wants the Bulls to trade him should the benching continue. It is a messy situation in Chicago.

There is still no denying his talent when he is engaged and playing hard.

The Magic do not really need an assist-first point guard, but someone who can penetrate the defense and dish out could make the team better, as seen in Monday’s 115-103 win against the New York Knicks, when Payton’s 14 assists sparked the offense.

Rondo has the talent to be an efficient heavy-assist point guard and average more than 10 assists per game. But, ultimately, the Magic should stay away because of his attitude problem.

Goran Dragic, Miami Heat, Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic

Dec 20, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) drives to the basket as Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) defends during the second half at American Airlines Arena. The Magic defeated the Heat in a double overtime 136-130. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Conclusion

If the Orlando Magic want to contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, they need to have a win-now mentality and shake things up. That much is clear. There are a few options, but adding an impact player like Dragic could be enough to put them over the top.

There are a few options, but adding an impact player like Dragic could be enough to put them over the top. It would at least add some stability to a position rife with inconsistency so far.

Dragic can help lead this young team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. And with him they could remain competitive for years to come. The Magic would likely have to give up Elfrid Payton and Jeff Green or some picks.

Knight is five years younger than Dragic, but his struggles this season are concerning. It will take him a while to find his offensive rhythm because of his lack of playing time with the Suns.

Dragic is a veteran who is playing some of the best basketball of his career and he is more familiar with Orlando’s Southeast Division rivals than Knight and he is a better playmaker.

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