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Orlando Magic Decline Daniel Orton Option – Unproven Big Man to Become Free Agent in 2012

2012 January 25
by Brian Serra

In a somewhat expected move, the Orlando Magic will not be picking up the 3rd year option on Daniel Orton’s rookie contract.  Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel broke the report. Orton was drafted 29th overall, out of the University of Kentucky, by Orlando in the 2010 draft was pegged as a “project” by the organization and they hoped to develop him into a strong backup center behind Dwight Howard, ala Marcin Gortat.

Unfortunately for Orton, the project would never actually get a chance to get started.  Orton came into Summer League play in 2010 admittedly out of shape and still not fully recovered from a knee injury that he suffered in high school.  He struggled through the 5 game summer stretch and the goal became simply to get fit. Once Daniel finally began able to participate in full court drills he was shipped off to the D-League , performing well for one game before reinjuring his knee. A few weeks later he would undergo arthroscopic knee surgery that would sideline him for the remainder of the year.

Finally feeling healthy during the offseason, Orton was often spotted playing full court games at UCF with the men’s basketball team. However with the lockout in place, Orton would be forced to miss training camp entirely and would have just two weeks to try to fit into Stan Van Gundy’s system before the hectic compressed season began.

Keep in mind, Orton missed his entire rookie season and wasn’t even able to practice with the team. He saw the sets and heard the lingo, but it’s a whole new ballgame when you’re on the floor and trying to execute. With practice time even more at a premium than normal this season, Orton just couldn’t catch the breaks he needed to showcase his ability.

With roster flexibility already a major issue for Orlando and the team trying to keep a guy named Dwight Howard happy, Otis Smith simply couldn’t afford to tie up another roster spot for next season in January to a guy who hasn’t been able to show the team he is an NBA player.

Keep in mind though, just because Orton’s option isn’t picked up does not mean that he won’t be in the NBA next season or even with the Magic. Staying close to home, Magic forward Earl Clark saw a similar situation last season where Phoenix declined to pick up his 3rd year rookie option before he was traded to Orlando. Earl got a second chance in Orlando and was able to show enough on the court that Otis brought him back under a two-year contract as an unrestricted free agent.

Orton himself will now become an unrestricted free agent come the summer.  The future may seem dim for Orton at the moment, but it shouldn’t. It’s no myth that big men take time to develop and at just 21 years old, the 6’10” Orton has the size, frame and skills that will always make teams take a second look.  He is a tough kid and isn’t afraid to get physical on the court. He shoots a solid mid range jumper and can rebound the basketball. What he lacks is experience and confidence, which just happen to be the most important learning tools in sports.

Selfishly, I’d have liked to see Orton back and to have a full season of work under Stan Van Gundy and Patrick Ewing before a decision had to be made. Realistically, it’s just another bounce of bad luck for Orton and a move the Magic had no choice but to make. This doesn’t completely confirm the end of Orton’s time in Orlando, but his future looks much brighter elsewhere.

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