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The moves that the Orlando Magic made which garnered them a grade of “A” last year is in stark contrast to the moves they made this year which earned them such a low mark. Yes, they’re still a team capable of winning it all, but even with Dwight Howard in the paint, this team is still primarily made up of guys who love to shoot from the outside and a squad built that way will never win a championship. Ever. Allowing your best perimeter defender (Matt Barnes) to leave and replacing him with someone (Quentin Richardson) who plays no defense at all was a real head scratcher. This puts even more pressure on Howard to defend the rim leaving him even more susceptible to foul trouble than he already is. Even with the Q deal and the re-signing of JJ Redick, Orlando did nothing to improve their chances of being a contender for the Eastern Conference crown. The Magic are still going to be a tough out in the East, but another appearance in the NBA Finals seems like a stretch at this point and Stan Van Gundy may find himself without a job after this season.
Three quick notes:
— Nearly everyone is enamored with the offensive philosophy of the Orlando Magic while they ignore that Dwight Howard anchors one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. That’s how the Magic got to the 2009 NBA Finals (first in Defensive Rating during the regular season in that year), and that’s ultimately what will determine whether or not they will win a championship before it’s all said and done. The axiom “defense wins championships” is cliched, without a doubt, but it means something in this particular situation.
— Matt Barnes wasn’t the best perimeter defender for Orlando. Mickael Pietrus was, and still is. As for Quentin Richardson, he does play defense and will likely be a superior fit with the Magic opposed to Barnes. However, one of the main elements that is being overlooked about Richardson is that he is a better shooter than Barnes and that means a lot. It was Barnes’ inability to spread the floor and be a threat on offense, among other things, that made him a liability in the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. And given Orlando’s small margin for error in winning a title, those little differences can matter a lot in the grand scheme of things.
— Head coach Stan Van Gundy may see himself without a job after this season? Anything is possible, sure, but it’s highly unlikely that Van Gundy will be unemployed beyond 2011 unless Orlando has a disastrous season. And that is also highly unlikely, even after taking account for the improvements of the Miami Heat and other teams in the Eastern Conference. It’s going to be a tough road ahead for the Magic, but there are still games to be played and nothing is set in stone.