When Robin Lopez first signed with the Orlando Magic, there was curiosity about what his on-court role would be.
Lopez didn’t need a lot of time to see how he fit in.
“I’ve always liked to think of myself as a utility guy,” Lopez said shortly after being signed to a 1-year, $5 million contract. “Whatever the teams needs, I attempt to fill that role.”
At the time, Lopez was joining a rebuilding Orlando team with three young bigs (Wendell Carter Jr., Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac).
The Magic reached an agreement to sign Moe Wagner to a 2-year deal the day after they came to an agreement with Lopez.
Isaac didn’t play for the second consecutive season while recovering from the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, but Lopez was often Orlando’s third or fourth big while the Magic prioritized developing the younger players.
Being the veteran on a rebuilding team or a backup big weren’t unfamiliar situations to Lopez, 34.
But having his role reduced to what it was compared to the rest of his 14-year career — playing in a career-low 36 games — was different.
Lopez embraced that change.
His production (7.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in 17 minutes) wasn’t eye-popping, but his reliability helped steady the ship for the Magic in times of need.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started to impact player availability in mid-December through early January, Lopez increased his scoring and offensive responsibilities.
When the Magic were without one of their other big men or needed a stronger body to defend a stronger opposing backup big, Lopez showed he can still produce on that end despite his limited mobility.
And when the chance came for Lopez, a well-known fan of Disney, to take rookie guard Jalen Suggs to Disney World, he didn’t hesitate.
Whether Lopez and his patented scoop hook shot would be willing to return to the Magic in a similar role next season is unknown.
Lopez will be one of the Magic’s two unrestricted free agents, along with Gary Harris.
He’s expected to be pursued by teams looking to contend for the playoffs in free agency, with most of those teams likely able to offer more prominent roles than the Magic.
Time will tell whether Lopez will be one-and-done in Orlando.