How quickly things can change in the NBA. On Saturday morning, December 4th, the Orlando Magic woke up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, fresh off a 13-point over Detroit the night before. They had beaten the Pistons with only 8 healthy players. They were 15-4 and had the second best record in the NBA behind only the San Antonio Spurs. Two weeks later, to the day, four of the top 10 players were gone, traded away in the most significant single day of player swapping in Magic franchise history.
Here’s what precipitated the moves. Following the win in Detroit, Orlando lost that Saturday night in Milwaukee. Then they lost at home to Atlanta. After that, a 1-3 west coast road trip convinced Magic GM Otis Smith that his team, as presently constituted, was incapable of competing with Boston and Miami in the Eastern Conference.
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Smith felt that the Magic did not have sufficient offensive firepower to compete for an NBA title. Dwight Howard, having the best offensive year in his career, needed more help. So, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark were brought in to help solve the problems. Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus were thanked for their service with the ballclub, and given a fresh start in a new NBA city. Part of the business.
Lewis, Carter and Pietrus were understandably disappointed. Lewis and Pietrus contributed greatly to Orlando’s 2009 run to the Finals. Carter tried his best to fit in, but never really seemed to find his niche with the team. Gortat is by far the happiest guy of the bunch. The supremely confident “Polish Hammer” now gets a chance to move out from under Superman’s shadow and prove what he’s been telling people for a while now, that he’s an elite NBA center. Best of luck to them all.
As for the new additions, opportunity awaits.
If Gortat was the happiest man exiting Orlando, Gilbert Arenas was the most joyful arriver to the City Beautiful. One week before Christmas, Arenas comes to central Florida seeking forgiveness and redemption for past sins. Weapons charges brought against him one year ago in the nation’s capital are now in his rear-view mirror. Arenas hopes for a rebirth in Orlando. His strong relationship with Smith should help keep him on a straight path. If his oft-injured left knee holds up, the 3-time all-star could very well become that consistent scorer that the Magic need.
Jason Richardson may be a stranger to more casual Magic fans, but only because he has spent most of his NBA career in the western conference. A fine three-point shooter, Richardson, three times in his career, has averaged better than 20 points per game in a season. He has been close to that mark this year in Phoenix, and will more than fill the scoring void left vacant by the departure of Carter. By the way, Arenas and Richardson have been teammates before. They both began their careers in Golden State in 2001.
Hedo Turkoglu was a major player in Orlando’s Finals run in 2009, and the big question in bringing him back is; does he still have what it takes to help the Magic get there again? I see it this way. Before Turkoglu arrived in Orlando, and after he left, he was never as good as he was playing for Stan Van Gundy and alongside Dwight Howard for 5 years in Orlando. Van Gundy knows what buttons to push to get the most out of Turk, and we can expect the Howard/Hedo pick and roll to once again become a staple of the Magic’s half-court offense. If Arenas is the happiest camper coming to the Magic Kingdom, Turkoglu has to be a close second.
The man with the most challenging job in this Magic makeover is Stan Van Gundy. One-third of the way through the season, the coach must figure out how to best integrate three vital new players into his system. And he must do it in a hurry. The NBA schedule waits for no one, and Boston, Miami and the rest of the improving eastern conference will only try to take advantage of the fact that the Magic have chosen mid-season for a team re-tooling.
Some are calling the blockbuster trades consummated by Otis Smith a big gamble. But if you’re Otis, and your solitary goal is winning an NBA title, and you know your team is not good enough to do the job, bold moves are called for. The Magic gm says he’s likely not done dealing. More size on the front line is needed. The clock is ticking on Orlando’s championship window of opportunity. Time will tell if the Magic maneuvering is successful.