Time to Clean House

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.

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The Epic Magic Trade

Yesterday, the Orlando Magic traded Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, and Mickael Pietrus to the Suns for Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Earl Clark and then sent Rashard Lewis to the Wizards for Gilbert Arenas. As an ardent Magic fan, I can’t help but comment on these trades and voice my displeasure at what Otis Smith has done.

My main beef with these moves is they don’t make us better. We haven’t played well since that stomach virus took out half of our rotation, but we’re still one of the top teams in the East and there’s no need to panic when we’ve been successful with the same core for several years now. In fact, the only trade I would’ve made is for another top 10 player like Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony. A massive shakeup like this mid-season  is risky for chemistry and team unity. It also makes no sense financially because VC’s contract is not guaranteed next year and we’re getting the awful contracts of Turkoglu and Arenas in return.

If it was just the Suns trade, I still wouldn’t be thrilled but at least I’d be okay with it. Straight up Richardson is an upgrade over VC and they do a lot of the same things. There’s some reason to believe that Turkoglu can play like he did two years ago with Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard again so it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Aside from the financial implications, my only concern is throwing Gortat in the deal. We’re really thin at center right now behind Howard and completely screwed if he gets hurt or into foul trouble.

My bigger problem is with the Wizards trade. Gun incident aside, I’m not a fan of Arenas as a basketball player. To me, he’s never been more than a poor man’s Allen Iverson. He scores a lot, but doesn’t make his teammates better and takes too many bad shots. Position-wise he’s a poor fit for this team. Jameer is definitely our starting PG and Arenas isn’t good enough of a shooter to be our starting SG. I guess I can see him as a sixth man, but we’re still paying him too much. Plus he had that injury a few years ago that’s hurt his athleticism. I just can’t see him being a contributor when he couldn’t be effective next to John Wall in Washington. While Lewis has been playing horribly this year and I always thought he was overplayed, at least he can be a mismatch on offense and stretch the floor.

Most importantly, the trades do nothing to address the main reason for the Magic’s recent slide: poor defense. None of these guys are good defenders whereas we gave up Mickael Pietrus who did a solid job against Lebron and Kobe in the playoffs. In fact I’m worried that we’ve traded or let go of defenders like Courtney Lee and Matt Barnes these last few years and replaced them with mediocre shooters. I don’t know who’s going to guard Lebron, Wade, Pierce or Allen in the playoffs. I also want to see us get a backup center preferably by trading Quentin Richardson or Chris Duhon if we want any chance against the Celtics or Lakers.

Overall I’m not a fan of the new look Magic. They might be a fun team in NBA Live, but there’s not enough size and defense for a real playoff run. I completely agree with Bill Simmons’ assessment of what Orlando should’ve done. But hey maybe Arenas will turn his game around. I wasn’t a fan of the Vick signing either but it’s worked out (for the most part) since then.

Lakers-Celtics Finals: Where have we seen this before?

Well look who’s back in the NBA Finals? Since the 80s, we haven’t seen much of the best rivalry in basketball as each team took turns being mediocre, but now it appears there’s a revival as this will be the second time these two teams meet in 3 years. As a Magic fan, it pains me to see the Celtics representing the East instead of Dwight and the gang, but as a basketball fan, I couldn’t ask for a better match-up. So who am I picking?

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first (because this is my blog) a little side note about the Magic. I had my doubts going into their series against the Celtics. As I said in this blog, I thought the Magic had the talent to win, but my worst fear was that they would end up like the Cavs from last year, in that they swept through the first two rounds too easily and were unprepared for a challenging team in the conference finals. I think that’s exactly what happened. The Magic had it too easy and had way too much time off. They just looked out of sync, committing stupid turnovers, and didn’t hit shots they usually make. Individual players had strong games, but overall the whole team never got rolling. On the other hand, the Celtics played a tough series against Cleveland and had much more momentum and rhythm going in. All in all it took the Magic too long (first 3 games) to get going.

As for next year, I have no idea what’s going to happen to the Magic. We don’t have any major free agency departures and no real cap space to go after big free agents. At #29 in the draft, I doubt we’ll get anyone who can immediately have an impact. As for trades, all our players are either untradeable or guys we would have no desire to trade. As I see it, Nelson, Howard and Lewis are the core and untouchable (Lewis is also untradeable). I would like to get rid of Vince because his inconsistent offense doesn’t make up for his lack of defense, but I don’t think we could get anything better for him. The other shooters on the wing are replaceable, but we don’t need more JJ Redicks or Mickael Pietruses, but rather someone who can score and create (in other words what VC should have been). I just don’t see a readily available player we could trade for (although Manu Ginobili, if the Spurs are willing to part with him, is risky but intriguing). Maybe we can find a taker for Gortat. I don’t know what major moves we can make to improve unless we blow the whole team up. This really worries me.

Anyway, on to the Finals prediction. Let me first say that I have no love for the Lakers while Boston is a team I can respect and occasionally like since well (I do spend most of my time up there now). If health was not a factor, I would easily pick the Celtics. Lakers can’t stop quick point guards so Rajon Rondo would have a field day. The Big Three are all doing their thing and if Davis, Tony Allen, and Nate can contribute something off the bench, the Lakers are in trouble. Kobe Bryant can only take you so far and I still think the rest of that roster has a tendency to disappear when it matters without him.

However, seeing as the Magic did inflict some serious physical blows to the Celtics (Davis, Rasheed, Daniels, Rondo) and some…technical troubles (Perkins), all the aforementioned advantages go away, especially Rondo. I still think it will be a competitive series and I don’t want the Lakers to repeat, but I have a feeling the Celtics’ age and health will finally catch up to them. LA in 7.

I hope I’m wrong though. Beat LA!

Dear ESPN, there are still 2 rounds of playoffs left

Well, the unbeaten record through round 1 took a hit in round 2. I’m glad the Magic crushed the Hawks and I got the Lakers-Jazz series right, but missed the other two series. I’m surprised how little resistance the Spurs were able to put up after the emergence of George Hill and all the problems they’ve caused Phoenix. I guess it had to come to an end at some point.

I’m also really happy the Celtics beat the overrated Lebrons, but before I get to the picks I have to say something about the coverage after Game 6. Come on ESPN, the playoffs don’t end with Lebron. In case you haven’t noticed, there are two very good Conference matchups and whoever wins, it will sure to be a competitive Finals. Free agency doesn’t begin until July. Focus on what’s happening now. In fact, after the last few playoff exits, I’m not sure if I want Lebron on my team. He hasn’t just lost, he’s lost badly (sweep by Spurs, fizzling down the stretch against Magic and Celtics). So without giving him any more attention, here are my thoughts on the Conference Finals as I try to improve my 10-2 record.

Orlando Magic v. Boston Celtics: Obviously with any Magic series, you know I’m going to be biased. I’m coming into this one with more apprehension than you’d think. Yes we’ve swept our way through so far but that was against weak competition. The Celtics are also riding the momentum from the Cavs series so they will be sharp and Rajon Rondo looks downright scary. In fact, my worst nightmare is Dwight gets in foul trouble and the series ends up playing out the same way last year’s Cleveland-Orlando series played out, except this time the Magic are the Cavs. However, I have faith in Jameer Nelson. Orlando in 7.

LA Lakers v. Phoenix Suns: I would love to see the Suns upset the Lakers despite the fact I’m not the greatest fan of Amare Stoudemire. The Suns have several players I do like (Nash, Hill, Dudley) and there’s no team I dislike more in the NBA than the Lakers. Plus since the Suns play no interior defense Jameer and Dwight would have a field day in the Finals. However, I just don’t see it happening if Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol play with any effort. Unless Kobe pulls a Lebron, Lakers will return to the Finals. LA in 6.

Enjoy the games, and Let’s Go Magic!

Playoffs Round 2

Well, I’m a little late on this one, but I already had a reasonable idea of who I was going to go with in each series. So far, an 8-0 record in the first round. Here are my picks for the second round (not using knowledge of the Game 1’s that have already been played):

Cleveland Cavaliers v. Boston Celtics: I have nothing against the Boston Celtics. In fact, I went to their championship parade in 2008 and I would love for the Big Three to send Lebron home early again. However, unless Lebron can’t play because of his arm, I don’t think Boston can stop him. Plain and simple. Cleveland in 7.

Orlando Magic v. Atlanta Hawks: I might be a little biased again, but I think this one is pretty clear cut. Orlando blew out the Hawks the first three games of the season before losing the last one at the end of the season. Atlanta has no one that can match up with Howard. They can’t even harass him like Charlotte did because they just don’t have enough big men. Their 7 game series against a Bogut-less didn’t do anything to convince me otherwise. Orlando in 5.

LA Lakers v. Utah Jazz: The Lakers are probably my least favorite team in basketball and much like Cleveland above, I would love to see the Jazz beat them. This match-up is intriguing because of Utah’s Deron Williams. However, Utah’s injuries worry me. Kobe will be much tougher to guard than Carmelo Anthony and unfortunately for the Jazz they traded away Ronnie Brewer and AK-47 is hurt. Utah is also too thin to compete up front against the twin towers of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum with Okur out. While Williams can carry them to a few wins, don’t expect an upset. LA in 6.

Phoenix Suns v. San Antonio Spurs: I’m having deja vus about this series. Although Phoenix has looked pretty good late in the season and in the first round, I can’t look past the history between these two teams. Will the Spurs be able to upset another one of their perennial rivals? Can they stay healthy and get Richard Jefferson to contribute something? I’m going to same the same thing as I said about the Dallas series: Never count the Spurs out and never take the Suns for granted. San Antonio in 7.

Enjoy the games and Let’s Go Magic!

2010 Playoffs: Round 1

Well it’s time for the NBA playoffs again and that means its time for me to predict each series round by round. As with this year’s college tournament, I’m going to put up a disclaimer that I haven’t watched many games at all, save for a dreadful stretch of Magic games when I was home over Christmas break. That means don’t expect me to go 13-2 like in years past, but since NBA teams have more continuity than college basketball, I also don’t expect to completely blow it like with March Madness. So without further ado, here are my picks for the first round:

Eastern Conference

Cleveland Cavaliers v. Chicago Bulls: The Bulls barely eked into the playoffs. While I’ve seen some great Derrick Rose highlights and I think he will torch the Cavs, there’s no chance of an upset here. Cleveland in 4.

Orlando Magic v. Charlotte Bobcats: I’m not sure why a lot of people are saying Charlotte’s going to cause trouble for the Magic (looking at you Tim Legler). I simply don’t see Tyson Chandler and Gerald Wallace slowing down the best team from the second half of the season. Orlando in 5.

Atlanta Hawks v. Milwaukee Bucks: This series would be a lot more interesting with Andrew Bogut, but without him, there’s nothing to Fear about the Deer. Atlanta’s way too deep and athletic. Atlanta in 5.

Boston Celtics v. Miami Heat: While I think the “death of the Celtics” talk is a little premature, it is telling that they fell to 4th in the East. That said, I think the Big 3 (Pierce + Rondo + what’s left of Ray and KG) is enough to beat Team Wade (because let’s be honest without him they’re a D-League team). Boston in 6.

Western Conference (this is where it gets more interesting)

LA Lakers v. Oklahoma City Thunder: I have to say I really like the Thunder! A good young team that rebuilt the right way with a freakish star in Kevin Durant that has a legit chance of being better than Lebron in my opinion. However, they’re not ready for the Lakers yet, not without some size in the post. Still, it will be closer than people think because I think the Lakers will come out sluggish. LA in 6.

Dallas Mavericks v. San Antonio Spurs: Yes, the Spurs are old and yes, the Mavs have Haywood to guard Duncan and Marion to guard Ginobili, but I can’t help but like the Spurs here. They’re not as weak as last year and given the past track records of the Spurs (never count them out) and the Mavs (never take them for granted) I’m inclined to go for the upset (although in this year’s Western conference, can anything really be an upset?) San Antonio in 7.

Phoenix Suns v. Portland Trailblazers: I’ve never liked the Suns since the D’Antoni days (even though Jared Dudley is making BC proud) but this is a no brainer. Without Roy, the Trailblazers may make some inspiring runs, but in the end they’re outgunned. Phoenix in 5.

Utah Jazz v. Denver Nuggets: For a while I thought Denver was the second best team in the West, but apparently they’ve slipped a bit. The big question is which team can stay healthy and right now it looks like Utah is coming up with the short end since Boozer is questionable. However, the Jazz are deeper in my opinion and they have more momentum and fewer distractions headed into the postseason. Utah in 6.

Enjoy the games! I’ll try to catch a few myself. Go Magic!

WE’RE GOING TO THE ‘SHIP!

Wow! Magic are going to the NBA Finals! I thought it was possible all along but I wouldn’t admit it until I saw it.  After all these years since Shaq and Penny, the Magic are back in the Finals and playing against the Lakers.  So here it is:

LA Lakers v. Orlando Magic: If the Magic had Jameer Nelson, I would confidently predict Magc in 6.  The Lakers have a lot of trouble defending quick, penetrating point guards (see Aaron Brooks).  And there is a tiny chance that he may be back!  But assuming he doesn’t make a miraculous comeback, the outcome will be harder to predict.  If Alston can play like he did in the Cavs series, he can cause some of the same problems for the Lakers defense.  Howard will probably not be as dominant against LA, but he has easily outplayed Andrew Bynum during the regular season.  I just hope Dwight can knock down free throws because LA has a lot of fouls to give.  Courtney Lee and Mikael Pietrus will also have their hands full with Kobe, but again the Rockets showed you can slow Kobe down and that can cause serious disruptions for the Lakers.  Overall, I am cautiously optimistic about our chances.  I know we won’t get swept again like the last time we were in the Finals.  We have momentum, focus, and the inside presence on our side.  Lakers on the other hand have cruised a lot and their role players lose confidence easily.  Game 1 should be a good barometer of how the series turns out.  I may be going out on a limb here, but I can’t pick against my team in the Finals.  Let’s Go Magic.  Beat LA!  I wish I could watch the games.  Orlando in 7.

Also in French Open news, Rafa Nadal lost in the fourth round to a 23rd seed?  Wow!  And this is the man who’s only lost 7 sets EVER at Roland Garros! Wow!