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There’s been a clear message from the Orlando Magic after their early moves in free agency.

They plan on running it back.

By signing veteran guard Gary Harris to a contract extension and agreeing to terms with big men Mo Bamba and Bol Bol, the Magic backed up what they said throughout this past season.

Not only do they believe in their young players and want to continue to invest in their growth, but Orlando also believes it had and will have the right veterans in the locker room.

“Our guys understand there’s a bigger picture than just this moment here,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after the season ended. “Our guys have embraced every single moment; every single day of getting better every game. That’s how you keep that energy. We have a special group of young men.”

They’re keeping that group together.

Of the 15 players who ended 2021-22 on standard contracts with the Magic, 14 are expected to return for next season. That includes Moe Wagner, whose $1.88 million salary for the 2022-23 season became fully guaranteed Friday.

The lone player not coming back is expected to be veteran big man Robin Lopez, who agreed to terms on a 1-year with the Cleveland Cavaliers, according to ESPN.

Most deals that are agreed to during the free agency moratorium can’t become official until 12:01 p.m. on July 6.

The free agency moratorium is a negotiation period from Friday through Wednesday in which teams can come to terms on contracts and other deals while the new salary-cap numbers are adjusted after an audit of league finances.

In Bamba, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft, the Magic will bring back a player who made significant strides in his development last season before becoming a free agent.

Harris, who turns 28 in September and is entering his ninth NBA season, is a player coaches and teammates said was instrumental in the younger players’ development last season as a veteran voice and on-floor contributor. He got his groove back as a player in Orlando.

Bol, 22, didn’t play for the Magic last season because of right foot surgery he had a month before being traded to Orlando ahead of the Feb. 10 trade deadline. But he’s a young player the Magic’s basketball operations leadership, led by president Jeff Weltman, believes can make an impact with better opportunities.

Although the full details of the aforementioned deals weren’t known as of Friday evening, they should allow the Magic to maintain their financial flexibility for the 2023 offseason.

Bol and Bamba agreed to terms on 2-year deals. There’s an expectation both of their contracts will have team options for the second year.

Harris’ extension is for two years. He’s expected to be eligible for trades immediately because he signed an extension instead of a new deal before the free agency moratorium and 2022-23 league year officially began Friday.

Don’t mistake the Magic returning most of the roster from last season as being complacent.

Although next season’s squad will feature a lot of the same faces as the 2021-22 team that finished with the league’s second-worst record (22-60), Orlando wants and expects to improve immediately.

But the Magic aren’t going to do it at the expense of rushing their process. They want to keep the pathway clear for the young players to develop.

The external additions they made before free agency, such as Paolo Banchero, the No. 1 pick in last week’s draft, should help.

Banchero signed his rookie contract with the Magic, the team announced Friday afternoon. Former Michigan guard Caleb Houstan, Orlando’s second-round selection (pick No. 32), is expected to sign his contract like most second-rounders after the moratorium ends.

Orlando also has to factor in having playing time available for Bol and Jonathan Isaac, who’s missed the last two seasons after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in August 2020. Markelle Fultz, who returned from a torn left ACL in February and spent most of the season on a minutes restriction, should also be expected to play more.

“You guys know we didn’t do all the roster deconstruction we did so we can rush back to the middle,” Weltman said last week. “That’s not what we’re trying to do. There are a lot of different permutations to that. Right now, we want to play better basketball, make fewer mistakes, increase our IQ, build chemistry and continue to understand which of our players are going to impact winning. We do want to get better, but not at the expense of rushing back to mediocrity.

“We don’t want to compromise our timeline or compromise something that can be sustainable, but we also have to elevate standards and expectations.”

Orlando will lean on the veterans to help steer the team in the right direction and on its younger players’ development to get better.

“I know the record doesn’t always show what’s grown and progressed, but this group of young men stayed together,” Mosley said. “There’s been a spirit on the court every single night and that’s just going to turn up another level as we walk into next year.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.

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Stephon Marbury Drops Truth Bomb on Lakers Star Duo

Getty LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Nothing went right for the Los Angeles Lakers last season, from injuries to their star players to a disjointed rotation that never figured out how to work together despite their undoubted individual talents.

Russell Westbrook was the embodiment of all that was wrong with the Lakers last season – as he was often played out of his usual role, thus limiting his ability to be a positive influence for his team. Of course, as Westbrook’s struggles got worse, so did his relationship with the fanbase, and now, both parties are looking for a way out.

Magic says LeBron is to "blame" for Lakers passing on DeRozan

“LeBron got caught up in the star power of Russell Westbrook. But Westbrook got exposed, he's fraudulent.” — @RealSkipBayless pic.twitter.com/PbiYun9ssz

— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) April 5, 2022

However, in a recent episode of The Ryen Russillo podcast, former NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury took aim at LeBron James and Anthony Davis, noting how Westbrook’s struggles was down to their failures to help integrate the star guard into the Lakers style of play.

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“The best player is supposed to make the adjustments. You gotta allow Russell to be able to do what he does if you’re saying that you want him to come here because you watched him play, you’ve seen him play, you’ve played against him. LeBron and Davis, those guys know who Russell Westbrook was before he got here. You can’t be that smart of a basketball player and not know who you’re getting, who you’re going to be playing with…It can’t be blamed on Russell Westbrook,” Marbury said during the August 9 episode.

Interestingly, Westbrook still managed to end his debut season with the Lakers averaging 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 7.1 assists per game while shooting 44.4% from the field. Nevertheless, Westbrook’s inability to consistently convert his jump shots meant that the Lakers struggled to space the floor, forcing them into multiple stagnant offensive possessions on a nightly basis.

LeBron is ‘Entrenched’ in Los Angeles

As we head into the new season, a lot has been said about LeBron James’ current contract situation – where he can become an unrestricted free agent next summer – although he is eligible for a contract extension. Of course, there have also been concerns about his willingness to re-sign with a Lakers team that doesn’t project to be a championship contender as currently constructed.

However, according to an August 2 report by The Athletics’ Joe Vardon, LeBron and his family have become ‘entrenched’ in Los Angeles, and as such, should be expected to re-sign with the team moving forward.

Marc Stein reporting that LeBron is fully entrenched in LA and doesn't have a desire to leave and that the only thing that may get in the way is Bronny developing into an NBA prospect after 2024. Also says LeBron "badly" wants Irving to take Westbrook's place. pic.twitter.com/3iXejAcxqH

— Richard Staple, BSN, RN???????? (@RichStapless) July 29, 2022

“In the weeks and months that followed LeBron’s surprise conversation with The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd about not ruling out another Cleveland return, James and the people closest to him said he was happy in Los Angeles. His family is happy, and it’s something that certainly seems to matter in this case…LeBron’s middle child, Bryce, is entering his sophomore year of high school. His youngest, daughter Zhuri, will be 8 this fall. They, not to mention LeBron’s wife, Savannah, are entrenched in L.A,” Vardon wrote.

With LeBron being so engrained in the Los Angeles way of life, it’s fair to assume that he will remain with the Lakers regardless of if they trade Westbrook during the off-season or not.

Westbrook is Aware Lakers Are Trying to Trade Him

It’s no secret that the Lakers have attempted to trade Westbrook throughout the summer, most notably in their pursuit of Kyrie Irving. According to a July 29 report by Marc Stein, Westbrook is well aware that his current employers are trying to trade him – which could make for an interesting dynamic, should he remain on the roster to begin the season.

REPORT: LeBron James still “badly” wants Kyrie Irving to take Russell Westbrook’s place on the Lakers.

(via @TheSteinLine, https://t.co/Kn5wJhte9i) pic.twitter.com/N8Wwvi71cV

— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) July 29, 2022

“As it stands, barring a trade to ship out Westbrook suddenly coalescing after weeks of fruitless talks, (Darvin) Ham is going to have to coach Westbrook, which is bound to be challenging in the extreme given that Westbrook is well aware that the Lakers have been trying hard to move him. And that James badly wants Irving to take his place,” Stein reported.

If Westbrook does remain in Los Angeles, we will likely see both LeBron and Davis evolve their games to incorporate additional actions on the perimeter, as that will be the fastest way to get Westbrook playing at an All-Star level again – because, as we know, Westbrook is at his best when he can cause chaos around the rim.

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