It's Now or Never for the Orlando Magic | Magic Basketball



Jun 21

It’s Now or Never for the Orlando Magic


Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After the Los Angeles Lakers won their 16th championship in franchise history — that’s a lot — against the Boston Celtics on Thursday, one of the major storylines to emerge from the aftermath of the series was the future of the C’s. Head coach Doc Rivers dropped a bombshell, as some said, in his press conference following the Game 7 loss when he stated that he didn’t think Rasheed Wallace would play in the NBA again. Of course, that’s not all.

There’s been rampant speculation with regards to Rivers’ future with the Celtics and whether or not he will coach the team beyond this year, given that he’s openly stated that he’d like to spend more time with his family and kids in Orlando. It remains to be seen what Rivers decides to do. But one thing is for sure — assistant coach Tom Thibodeau will not be on Boston’s sidelines next season, since he will be the new head coach of the Chicago Bulls.

Lastly, there’s reports that Nate Robinson may not return to the Celtics next year. If this was a few months ago, when Robinson was relegated to the bench a majority of the time after he was traded by the New York Knicks, that bit of information would be nothing more than a footnote. However, after Robinson’s performance in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals and in several games during the 2010 NBA Finals, he became an important role player for Boston on the grandest stage in the league. As such, Robinson’s future with the Celtics becomes relevant news. Ray Allen will be a free agent, though he’s said many times he’d like to return to Boston.

Yes, the mainstays for the Celtics will return, like Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins, and Kevin Garnett, but the future of the team is up in the air. It should be assumed, out of respect for what they accomplished in the 2010 NBA Playoffs, that Boston will remain a threat to win a title next year. However, it’s fair to question whether or not the Celtics have another amazing playoff run in them. This isn’t to state Boston can’t do it again, though.

So, what does this all mean for the Orlando Magic?

Given the state of the Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers, too, the Magic have a chance to regain supremacy in the Eastern Conference and take the steps needed to win a championship. There are things working in Orlando’s favor, and they need to take advantage of them while they still can.

Superman is nearing his peak
For years, Magic fans have been praying that Dwight Howard would work with Hakeem Olajuwon to help him take the next evolutionary stage in his game offensively, as well as teach him some tricks of the trade on the low block. The fanbase got their wish recently when Howard visited Olajuwon in Houston and worked out with him for five days. If there was a checklist that contained items people have wanted Howard to do in his career, working out with Olajuwon was near the top of the list and now it’s officially been marked off. Howard will continue to be criticized for his extracurricular activities, but the fact he’s worked with Olajuwon almost immediately after losing in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics should speak volumes about his work ethic and his desire to continue to get better as a player. Howard may meet with Olajuwon a few more times before the summer is over, so this particular chapter in Orlando’s off-season isn’t closed yet.

Even without Olajuwon’s tutelage, Howard has been steadily improving on offense since he entered the NBA in 2004. With each passing season, the number of detractors that state Howard has no post game continues to get smaller as he piles evidence upon evidence that shows the contrary. Howard’s latest example came in the Eastern Conference Finals, when he played very well against Perkins and Wallace — two defenders that have slowed down or even stopped the big fella offensively in the past. And with Wallace contemplating retirement, Howard may have one less obstacle in his way next year. As such, one gets the sense that 2011 may be Howard’s time to shine. Everyone that is a fan of Howard wants him to get that elusive MVP to finally validate his worth as one of the best players in the game. More importantly, though, people are keeping an eye to see if Howard can continue to elevate his level of play on offense and reach a point where he is unstoppable on both ends of the floor.

There’s almost nothing Howard can’t do defensively. The key for Howard is for his offense to reach or get close to that elite plateau. Given his age, experience, and pedigree, Howard is nearing closer to reaching his zenith as a player and the last thing the Magic want to do is not take advantage of winning as many titles as possible with their franchise big man in his prime. In past years, when Orlando didn’t ultimately reach their goal of taking home the hardware, Magic fans would always soothe themselves, knowing that there’s always next year. However, it’s important that a fanbase does not get complacent because before you know it, Howard’s career will be over and there might not be a championship sitting around when it’s all said and done.

Taking advantage of a golden era
From a team level, there’s no question that the Magic are one of the elites in the NBA. Also, depending on what happens in the off-season, Orlando should continue to have one of the deepest rosters in the league. Can’t forget about the coaching staff, either, as head coach Stan Van Gundy is one of the best in the business and is supported by one of the better coaching staffs, with Brendan Malone, Patrick Ewing, and others.

It can’t be understated, however, that the Magic are a first-class organization from top to bottom. Orlando is one of many teams in the NBA that have dedicated themselves to statistical analysis and it’s no secret that Van Gundy is one of the more forward-thinking coaches out there. Given that basketball is such a competitive sport, gaining more knowledge about players from a quantitative point of view is never a bad thing.

Plus, more revenue will come with the new arena. Amway Arena was a facility that could only pump out so much money, given that it was small and lacked the type of amenities that have become standard in NBA arenas. The Amway Center will change that, as will the NBA All-Star Game when the city of Orlando will play host in 2012. A boost in revenue from these things should allow the Magic to pay the luxury tax for the time being.

A conference in flux
This has been touched on many times before but this summer’s free agent class could potentially change the landscape of the NBA for the next five years or even longer, mostly depending on where all the heavy hitters will sign when it’s all said and done. For now, Boston remains a de facto threat. Given that the odds are very high that Dwyane Wade sticks around with the Miami Heat, they could shoot up the ranks of the East if they land a second superstar (as expected) and upgrade the supporting cast. The same can be said if either the Chicago Bulls or the New York Knicks sign LeBron James, for the most part. It should be noted that the Bulls’ supporting cast doesn’t need much upgrading, given that they have Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, among other players. Likewise with the New Jersey Nets, though they appear to be the wildcard in the race. The Cavaliers admittedly seem like an afterthought in the conversation, given that not many people believe James will re-sign with them but you never know … he might. If so, the Cavs will be in the thick of things.

New threats will spring out from the shadows, but the Magic have the potential to be at the head of the class in the Eastern Conference next season. It’s not a guarantee, of course, but there are certain elements in Orlando’s favor.

The time is now for the Magic to take advantage.