HEAD COACH: STAN VAN GUNDY
PROJECTED ROTATION: (and it’s deep!)
The picture tells the story, more or less. The Magic, poised for greatness coming off an improbable run to the 2009 Finals, found themselves at a crossroads, with playmaker Hedo Turkoglu bound for free-agency and serious reservations about whether they could spend what it would take to keep a player entering his thirties and sure to be over-valued by the market coming off his Playoff performance.
In the end, they opted to let him go to Toronto, and replaced him with the ungodly talented, somewhat tin-hearted Vince Carter in what many viewed as a risky proposition. With Orlando already having the nucleus of a championship caliber team, they hoped Carter could provide a go-to scorer, if not the kind of creative playmaking and mismatch headaches that Hedo did.
Well, it certainly worked in the regular season, as Orlando finished 59-23, behind only the Cavaliers for best record in the NBA. The Magic looked downright ferocious in successive four game sweeps over Charlotte and Atlanta, even with Dwight Howard in constant foul trouble. Things were looking good for Orlando, getting ready to host the surprising Celtics in the Eastern Finals.
Things did not turn out good.
In fact, Orlando got spanked by a tougher, more physical team, much the way Boston dispatched the young Lakers in the 2008 Finals, and amid the rubble, Magic fans (and front office) were left to wonder if this team has the mental make-up required to beat a team like Boston. The prime offender or course was Carter, who turned the ball over 23 times in 6 games, barely made 20% of his three-point shots and generally disappeared down the stretch to the point where back-up JJ Redick was arguably more effective. So, at least at this juncture, it’s safe to say the Carter experiment has been a failure, and with this team still so close to the promised land, it’s immediate title hopes rest on what Otis Smith plans to do to rectify this obvious problem.
Good news for him is, he knows what he’s doing, having shown time and again the ability to make smart moves and add effective supporting players around franchise big man Howard. This is easily the deepest team in the league, with multiple options at every position, and insane flexibility with regard to match-ups. Orlando can go big, small, short, stout, you name it, and they have a bevy of 3 point shooters surrounding their interior threat.
I mean, this roster really is a sight to behold. An All-star point guard in Nelson, backed by not one, but two solid veterans in Jason Williams and Chris Duhon. Shooting Guard is manned by the multiple all-star Carter, as well as Redick (who the Bulls tried to snatch away for 20 million over three years, only to be matched by Orlando), AND veteran Quentin Richardson, who can shoot from deep and is a rugged physical presence for a guard.
At the 3 you have a choice between Mikael Pietrus or Richardson, with Lewis capable of playing there in bigger line-ups. Lewis is the starting Power Forward, and in reserve you can go with the rugged Brandon Bass OR the 3 point sniper Ryan Anderson. Finally, Howard mans Center, and behind him is Marcin Gortat, a player sough-after by several clubs looking for a tough interior presence.
Practically speaking, this team has more talent than it can possibly need, but is also in excellent position to trade for another star player, and more importantly, a guy who will relish the position of crunch time go-to-guy.
If you can’t tell, I love this team on paper, but they’ll only go as far as their hearts’ carry them.
IF THEY GET LUCKY: well, all sorts of good things can happen, namely a World Championship, a trade for another superstar player, or both. In the here and now, it will take some offensive improvement from Howard, who spent part of his Summer working with the legendary Hakeem Olajuwon, and a more than just a little mettle to get over the hump.
IF THEY DONT: Stan Van Gundy lets the league’s new no turtleneck policy fuck his head up, Howard manages to learn nothing from The Dream, and Carter pulls one of these in the playoffs again.
REALITY: Thing is, all of this means winning 50 games will come easy, but that can’t be what the Magic are playing for at this point, and as good as Nelson, Howard and Lewis are, none of them are capable of being the guy that can be counted on to score consistently at the end of games. It has to be Carter, or Orlando will be stuck in neutral for another year, coming up just short.
On the other hand, this team is loaded with the assets needed to snag a star player from another team, and thus acquire the final piece to the Championship puzzle. Fact is, the Magic are in excellent shape to compete at the highest level for years to come, and only the unlikliest of circumstances will prevent it from happening.
But will they win it this year? Ask me again after the trade deadline.
(MAGIC BONUS) THE CHEAPEST TRIPLE-DOUBLE THERE EVER WAS
gend of Anthony Bowie’s triple-double, one of the most heartwarming displays of sportsmanship you’ll ever see.
Since the folks at basketballawful did such a great job explaining, I’ll leave it to them (and Youtube) to fill you in…