A Sleeping Giant: The Orlando Magic

This past off-season might have been arguably the most tumultuous one in NBA history given the players that switched teams during free agency. The biggest winners during this past summer have been (in no specific order) the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls, The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. These four teams acquired players that could potentially help them get to the NBA Finals and win it. Let’s have a quick breakdown of the acquisitions.
Los Angeles Lakers
Matt Barnes
Steve Blake
Theo Ratliff

Boston Celtics
Jermaine O’neal
Shaquilel O’Neal
Von Wafer
Delotne West

Miami Heat
Chris Bosh
Eddie House
Juwan Howard
Zydrunas Ilgauskas
LeBron James
Mike Miller

Chicago Bulls
Carlos Boozer
Kyle Korver
Kurt Thomas
CJ Watson

Just in case your memory is a bit faulty, the Lakers and Celtics played each other head to head in last season’s Finals and yet managed to get better. Needless to say, the road to the NBA Finals should be an interesting one but it does raise an intriguing question: have the Orlando Magic been paying attention? Review the teams listed above, three of them are in the Eastern Conference. Given the fact that Orlando has championship aspirations and that their team was eliminated by Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, don’t they clearly need to upgrade their roster?

This is not to say that the Magic are now a middle of the pack team; but rather that the best line up they trotted out last season was not good enough to win a title. An overhaul isn’t necessary but the team needs to make two important acquisitions. Let’s have a look at them.

1. Acquisition #1: A defensive stopper
If Orlando is going to win an NBA championship, they will at some point have the beat two or three of the teams listed above. As a result, it’s imperative they have someone on the roster to guard the likes of Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose. Magic fans will quickly come to the defense of Mickael Pietrus and say that with Matt Barnes gone he should be able to rise to the challenge. The truth is that Pietrus (same goes for Quentin Richardson by the way) is a decent defender, however, he is not the pest that Matt Barnes was last year. Barnes understood how to get inside his opponents heads and get them out of their games.

Keep in mind though, given the fact that the Magic are a team that spreads the court with shooters to allow Dwight Howard to operate; it’s of utmost importance to get a defensive player that is also capable of making open shots. So who are these would be stoppers? I have two in mind.

a. Tayshaun Prince
He’s 6’9 and became known as a stopper for doing a great job on Allen Iverson (in 2002 playoffs) and Kobe Bryant (in 2004 Finals) in the playoffs; just two of the most prolific scorers in NBA history. He would be able to play four positions for the Magic (on offense and defense) and keep defenses honest from deep where he shot 37.0% from three point range last year (also a career 37.0% 3PT FG shooter). Prince will make $11.1 million this coming season and the Pistons do not seem interested in giving him an extension; therefore a package of Marcin Gortat ($6.3 million) and Chris Duhon ($3.3 million) might just be enough to pry him away from Detroit.

b. James Posey
If the Pistons decide to hold out for a better offer, Orlando can always look at James Posey. He can guard multiple positions, has been part of two championship teams (2006 Heat and 2008 Celtics) and is a good shooter (shot 33.5% from deep last year but is a 35.1% three point shooter for his career; not great but not bad either). Since Posey makes $6.5 million, he could be traded for Marcin Gortat or possibly a package featuring Brandon Bass.

2. Acquisition #2: An elite playmaker
Dwight Howard is a really good defensive player (if he cuts down the fouls, he will be a truly great defensive force); however a great offensive player he is not. Further exacerbating the problem is that far too often he is treated like a good Sunday television show during football season; in other words, only a few people are watching him (yes CSI: Miami, that shall be your fate). Quite often, Howard works hard to get himself open only for his teammate with the ball to completely ignore him and take a tough shot or pass it to another player who is covered.

The solution to this issue would be to bring on board an elite playmaker capable of getting the ball to Howard when he’s open. Mind you, considering the fact that Howard is not much of an offensive option late in the fourth quarter; it is imperative that this said playmaker be able to assert himself offensively late in games and carry the team to the finish. Just who is it that fits that description perfectly? Well….

After watching Steve Nash spoon feed Amare Stoudemire for dunks over the course of these past few seasons and carry the Suns offense during the same time span, wouldn’t it make perfect sense to bring Nash to Orlando? Detractors might point to Nash’s less than stellar defense; but please remember he has never played on a team that actually placed a huge emphasis on defense. Also, having Howard protect the rim behind him will actually help mask his deficiencies as a defensive player.

So just how would the Magic bring Nash to Florida? Glad you asked.  Orlando could trade Vince Carter ($17.3 million contract with team option, meaning Phoenix could make him a free agent after the 2010-2011 season and get cap space), Jameer Nelson ($6.7 million) and Ryan Anderson for Steve Nash ($10.3 million) and Jason Richardson ($14.4 million expiring contract).

The Suns lose Nash (who has two years left on his contract) but get a younger Jameer Nelson to replace him. Also, with Vince Carter in a contract year, Phoenix could get a solid three months out of him and then trade him at the deadline for perhaps draft picks (Suns owner Robert Sarver loves those) or a good young player. If Carter pouts, he can either be bought out or just let go at the end of the season. Furthermore, the Suns would get Ryan Anderson in this trade; who just happens to be the type of player the Suns like (size and shooting touch).

The Magic on the other hand get a premiere point guard to feed their All-Star center and also to get open shots for the likes of J.J. Redick, Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus. In addition, Nash’s shooting touch (career 48.9%FG and career 43.2% 3PT FG) will be a welcomed addition in Orlando as well as his ability to raise his game late in games (possibly the most underrated clutch player in the NBA); thus removing the burden to make plays late from players who typically shrink from those responsibilities.

Jason Richardson could remain on the team, be bought out or traded away for a potential draft pick. Mind you, his presence on the team would actually bolster the Magic line up given that he would bring shooting and athleticism to the team.

 Not bad right? Well just remember that before acquiring Nash and Richardson, we got a defensive stopper on the team in the form of either Tayshaun Prince or James Posey. How do you like the Magic’s chances now to compete with the likes of Los Angeles, Boston, Miami and Chicago? And yet, Orlando stood pat during the summer. Let’s see if things change between now and February…..


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