As a die hard Orlando Magic, it pains me to say that it’s over. We had a great run in the second half of the 2000s, culminating in the franchise’s second trip to the Finals. The team had the best center in the NBA and was fun to watch, but in light of recent events, I don’t think the team can go anywhere with its current leadership and roster. I was slightly hopeful after Dwight announced he would stay for next season, but now I am convinced the Magic need to clean house, starting with GM Otis Smith. Smith has made one stupid move after another and I feel the need to list all his blunders:
- Signing Rashard Lewis to a ridiculous contract– I don’t necessarily disagree with the Lewis signing itself. In fact, I think he was a key reason why the team was able to make it to the Finals in ’09 because no one could figure out how to stop Dwight without leaving Rashard Lewis wide open for corner 3’s. However, he was ridiculously overpaid, so much so that even now he’s the second highest paid player in the NBA behind Kobe.
- Blowing up the Finals Team– The ’09 Finals were closer than the final series score. The Magic were one missed Courtney Lee layup from being tied 1-1 going back to Orlando. It’s also important to remember that All-Star PG Jameer Nelson was rushed back from injury and ineffective that series. The team was young and had an exciting offense as well as one of the top defenses in the league. The right move would have been to tinker with a few minor FA signings, trades, or draft picks.
- Trading for Vince Carter- The rationale for acquiring Vince Carter was the Magic needed a wing scorer who could create his own shot. Unfortunately VC was already past that stage of his career and provided only slightly better offense but worse defense than Courtney Lee and much worse play-making than Hedo. It turns out the best player to come out of that deal was not VC, but Ryan Anderson, a cap space throw-in by the Nets.
- Letting perimeter defenders go– In the seasons since reaching the Finals, Smith traded away Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus and let Matt Barnes walk. These were all tough perimeter defenders that helped take pressure off Dwight Howard and could knock down open 3’s on the other end. No wonder the defense has gotten worse.
- Not re-signing Turkoglu because he was asking for too much, then trading for him 2 years later– The rationale behind letting Hedo go after the Finals run was because he was old and asking for too much. So Otis Smith decides to trade for him 2 years later under the same size contract? It makes no sense at all. If the trade had just been Jason Richardson for VC I would’ve have been okay with it, but giving Marcin Gortat and Pietrus up for Turkoglu? He is still a serviceable player but nowhere near the clutch play-maker he was during the Finals run. Also, Smith did nothing to fill the void at backup center since that trade
- Trading for Gilbert Arenas- Rashard Lewis’s contract was bad, but two wrongs don’t make a right. At least Lewis could make shots and still caused some matchup problems. Arenas on the other hand was out of shape, had just been suspended, and even during his prime was nothing more than a poor man’s AI (ball hog who put up big numbers because he took so many shots). Last fall he was amnestied after the lockout.
- Signing Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson– These are both examples of FA money wasted on players who don’t fit with the team’s style of play and don’t really do anything well. Duhon plays okay defense but can’t shoot and doesn’t initiate the offense well. Quentin Richardson (Otis Smith seems to think if 1 Richardson is good, 2 must be better) only has good career numbers because he played with Steve Nash in Phoenix. He hasn’t done anything since.
- Trading Brandon Bass for Glen Davis– Otis Smith must have been fooled by the playoffs a few years ago when Big Baby lit up the Magic in place of an injured KG. Davis is undersized, out of shape and in general a poor fit for the team. He’s not as good of a shooter as Bass and has a worse contract.
With so many bad moves, it’s no surprise that the Magic have regressed every season since going to the Finals. Smith has failed to build a good team around Dwight, instead panicking like the Cavs did and making shortsighted moves for questionable or washed up veterans. In the process he has put the Magic payroll in a quagmire with lots of bad contracts and few tradeable assets. If anyone deserves blame for the Magic’s problems, it should be Smith.
Sadly, I have to say both Stan and Dwight have to go as well. After announcing that Dwight wanted him fired, Stan Van Gundy will never have the full respect and authority over his players he needs to lead the team. At the same time, no coach will want to come into a situation with the team’s superstar questioning his coach like that. The team needs to trade Dwight for draft picks, expiring contracts, and/or a few up and coming players. It needs to continue to shed contracts and get some good lottery picks. It will be painful, much like the post-T-mac years, but it’s something that needs to be done. I stuck with the Magic when we lost 19 straight games, I will remain loyal during this rebuilding phase as well.