The Orlando Magic have taken an unexpected offensive leap this season. Former lottery pick Mario Hezonja has not been a part of that equation.
The 6-foot-8 forward out of Croatia, Orlando’s No. 5 pick in the 2015 NBA draft, has averaged a career-low 4.5 points per game, which isn’t saying much, considering that 6.1 is his career high. It’s not much of a surprise, then, that the Magic decided to decline their fourth-year option on his rookie contract, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Orlando reportedly made a last-ditch attempt to trade Hezonja to the Sacramento Kings before the Oct. 31 deadline to extend rookies entering the second and third years of their contract. But that fell through, and the Magic chose to allow Hezonja to become an unrestricted free agent this summer rather than guaranteeing him $5.2 million to play in Central Florida in 2018-19.
After an up-and-down rookie season under coach Scott Skiles, new Magic head coach Frank Vogel tried giving Hezonja minutes at power forward to try to switch things up and get him on track. More than a year later, though, Hezonja has never quite found his fit in Orlando.
As a teenage swingman for FC Barcelona, Hezonja was touted as the next great European player who would take the NBA by storm. Before a growth spurt, Hezonja was a point guard receiving Luka Doncic-level praise. Before the 2015 draft, the 6-foot-8 Croatian became a more highly-touted prospect than Kristaps Porzingis. Through his three pro seasons, though, Hezonja has failed to translate his athleticism, slasher’s mentality and marksmanship into NBA stardom, leading to the Magic to choose to cut their losses come the end of this season.
If Hezonja is still looking for inspiration, all he has to do is look at two of the men who displaced him in Orlando’s lineup. The emergence of Evan Fournier and the signing of Jonathon Simmons have helped push Hezonja out of the picture. Fournier, a former top-20 pick in 2012 from France, was traded to Orlando following his second season after averaging a meager 8.4 points in 19 minutes per game. Now, he’s an entrenched starter averaging 22 points per game for one of the hottest teams in the East. Three years ago, Simmons was a 25-year-old who paid $150 to try out for a spot in the D-League. After two years proving himself with the San Antonio Spurs, he’s now a Sixth Man of the Year contender.
Right now, Hezonja’s looking like Orlando’s trash. It’s not too late, though, for him to become some other team’s treasure.