The Orlando Magic Remain Title Contenders for the Time Being | Magic Basketball

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Sep 21

The Orlando Magic Remain Title Contenders for the Time Being

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Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

“Does Orlando still have a window open to win an NBA championship?”

This question was asked last week and even though the answer may be obvious to some, it’s a topic that’s worth exploring as the Orlando Magic get ready to start training camp next week at the Amway Center. Yes, the Magic have a chance to win a title.

But it’s an opportunity that has been nearly vanquished after the Miami Heat pulled off — arguably — the greatest free-agent haul in league history by signing LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and a bevy of other players. Not only that but the Boston Celtics continued to add pieces to their core, bringing in Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal (no relation). And then there’s the Los Angeles Lakers, a team in the middle of building a dynasty after winning the last two championships.

These are the teams that are primary threats to Orlando by varying degrees.

Rather than talk about a number of external factors that may or may not allow the Magic to win a championship in the immediate future, let’s direct the attention elsewhere.

There are a multitude of reasons why Orlando is still an elite team and a title contender for the time being, but probably lower on the totem pole compared to teams like the Heat, Celtics, and Lakers.

A coach without a tie
Say what you will about head coach Stan Van Gundy, someone that is not afraid to give or receive criticism when the situation arises, but there’s no question that he is one of the best coaches in the NBA and does an excellent job of getting the maximum out of almost all of his players. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule (hence the use of the word ‘almost’) but when it comes down to it, there is little doubt that the Magic are almost always well-prepared and tactically sound on the basketball court with Van Gundy on the sidelines.

If you’ve ever seen Van Gundy’s legendary whiteboard, you’ll know what I mean.

Does Van Gundy get out-coached sometimes? Indeed he does, but that happens to any head coach in the league — even Phil Jackson, someone that will probably go down as the best coach in NBA history when it’s all said and done.

Nevertheless, Van Gundy is a great coach because of his insane attention to detail.

That is his modus operandi.

Van Gundy’s ability to quickly define rotations so that team continuity is established right away, develop players’ potential, and formulate schemes that work on both ends of the floor are just a few examples of his coaching acumen. Whenever Orlando steps on the court against an opponent, they are usually going to play to the best of their abilities and that has a lot to do with Van Gundy.

Demanding perfection and creating the expectation of winning on a nightly basis is the type of culture that Van Gundy has brought to the table since arriving in 2008, and those are things that matter for the Magic as they continue to chase a championship.

The one they call Superman
First off, Howard is a top five player in the league. Plus, a convincing argument can be made that only LeBron James is better than him when taking into account the impact Howard makes on both ends of the floor. Not only that but in the NBA you need stars to win and fortunately for Orlando, they have one of the most dynamic players that roams the parquet floor.

Like the case with other elite players, as long as Howard is healthy, the Magic are a championship-caliber team practically by default. It’s true that Howard’s offense still needs some sharpening and refinement, but it’s not in such a dilapidated state as some would like for you to believe. No, Howard may never be like Hakeem Olajuwon with a basketball in his hands but at the same time, he is one of the most gifted defenders the league has seen in quite a while.

It’s been stated before but Howard is the “LeBron of defense” because of his dominating ways, and there’s a number of reasons why that’s the case. Howard’s presence on the court forces opposing teams to alter their strategies offensively. When taking a look back at how Orlando has defended in recent years, all signs point back to Howard one way or the other.

eFG% DRB% FT/FGA DRtg At Rim FG%
2007-2008 regular season .484 (6) .748 (6) .217 (12) 105.5 (5) 60.3 (12)
2008-2009 regular season .465 (1) .759 (2) .209 (4) 101.9 (1) 56.5 (1)
2009-2010 regular season .477 (1) .774 (1) .205 (3) 103.3 (3) 57.4 (2)

Team ranking in parentheses.


Because of Howard, the Magic are an excellent rebounding team.

Because of Howard, opponents are unable to reach the free-throw line a lot, shoot threes very well (though the opposite was the case in 2010), or attack the rim with great success.

Did I mention that those are the three most efficient shots in basketball? Defense indeed wins championships and Orlando has the very best defender in the league today.

An excellent supporting cast
You’re only as good as your teammates are.

Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player ever, learned this the hard way for six seasons before he was finally able to win the first of his six championships in 1991 in his seventh year.

For the Magic, Howard has the type of supporting cast that can win a title.

Yes, even with Vince Carter on the roster. Carter is still a good player, though he hasn’t been able to endear himself to Magic fans after his performance in the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics. Jameer Nelson, at his very best, is an All-Star caliber player. Rashard Lewis, despite being shut down by Kevin Garnett in the Conference Finals, has proven his playoff mettle time and again. Orlando isn’t lacking for excellent role players like J.J. Redick, either.

Many writers like to say that the Magic are stacked and when looking at the rotation, it’s easy to see why they say that. When Brandon Bass is the 11th man on the depth chart, you know you have an embarrassment of riches.

But are these factors enough for Orlando to win a championship?

It’s too early to say, but the Magic have a chance.

Even if it’s a slim one.

Remember too, this is the practically the same roster that led the NBA in efficiency differential last season. One way or the other, this is still a great team.

15 comments
Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Mikeyho

No worries. I appreciate the educated discussion.

@tha truth is…

No matter what happens, this is going to be one of the most highly anticipated seasons in NBA history. That fact alone will make for some exciting basketball drama.

@MightyMouth

No problem.

@Tim

You hit the nail on the head with your last sentence -- "all that matters is that this is an elite team that could win a championship."

@Jonathan

An injury to James and Wade WOULD be more impactful, of course, because they're the two best players in the NBA. That being said, Bosh should not be underestimated cause he's been an infamous Magic-killer in years past.

@Adolfo

We'll see!

Adolfo
Adolfo

This year I really won't care about If the Magic is not in the top 5 teams (although is very likely that the Magic will end up in top 3), I think is better for us to get to the playoffs and once they're there really focus on the Finals, the team will have far more experience this year and I think most of us are not taking this into account... GO MAGIC!

Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

@Jonathan
Bosh played great D on the Olympic team when in a system focused more on defense than Toronto's (every system is more focused on D than they are). Of course he was surrounded by better defenders, but that's going to be the case in Miami too, so that's a moot point. His offensive output against the Magic over the years says enough about his value on that end.

Jonathan
Jonathan

I think people are overestimating Bosh's value, especially when matched up against the Magic. An injury to LBJ or D-Wade would be a lot more impactful than Bosh getting hurt.

Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

I think the Magic will again have one of the top two records in the league at season's end. But in the playoffs, a healthy Boston or Miami team would likely knock us out, unless Dwight makes another serious leap this year and Vince finds the fountain of youth. Jameer playing like he did in the majority of the playoffs helps too.

I honestly thought we had the best team going into last year's season and playoffs. But that Boston series showed a serious gap in overall maturity and basketball IQ between the Celtics and the Magic, and I don't know if that will change this year. The Heat's trio will win any series in the East if they're all healthy and can play 42+ minutes a game. As much as it kills me to say this, I think the only way the Magic win a title is if Boston's age finally catches up with them and if Miami suffers an injury to one of their trio.

Tim
Tim

I don't think it matters if you're the best team in the league during the preseason or the sixth or seventh best. As long as you clearly have the talent and drive to put yourself in the position to reach the Finals it's all just a matter of circumstance. Just look at last year's playoffs. Players are going to be injured (Perkins or BRoy), players are going to be sick (Rashard), teams/players are going to be absolutely catch fire (Rondo/Celtics), while other players/teams are going to wilt (Lebron/Cavs and Carter/Magic), people you never expect to are going to step up huge (Goran Dragic), coaches are make changes (Magic staggered pick and roll, Sun's zone defense), match-ups are going to change. It doesn't matter at all if on paper the Magic are the fourth best team before the season starts- that doesn't mean that we are definitely coming in fourth in the NBA- all that matters is that this is an elite team that could win a championship.

MightyMouth
MightyMouth

Thank you for this post, Eddy. This is the one of the most honest and realistic assessments of the Magic's prospective season that I have seen. I do agree that we are 4th on the totem pole behind L.A., Miami, and Boston. The fact is, even if Miami didn't pull off the biggest coup in free agent history, we still haven't proven that we can beat the Lakers or Celtics in a 7 game series. We are an elite team but should not be looked upon as the primary favorites coming into this season. Barring any unforeseen injuries and/or midseason trades, I don't expect us to win a title this year. But there's always a chance, and I'll be rooting for them to do so.

tha truth is...
tha truth is...

@ Mikeyho

Steady Eddy is a mean cookie with words, but absolutely means no harm. IMO he calls things more honestly rather than tha "politically correct" answer. Anyway, as of now were tha 4th best team in tha league behind LA, Boston, and MIA. We can beat any of those teams on any given night due 2 our talents not being a disparity. LA & Boston will give us problems far as experience, as MIA will give us problems with Miami Thrice and LBJ's and or D-Wades ability 2 run tha point. 2010 will be one of tha better seasons 2 watch and follow tha NBA.

Mikeyho
Mikeyho

Yeah. It was during the Chris Paul rumors. You said that the Magic didn't have enough to win without a trade or something like that. We had a conversation not unlike this one. You can go look if you want.

I'm actually really tired and need to go to bed. I live on the other side of the world and had to work and go to class today. Forgive me for being rude. I don't even care if you said that or not. I do like your work but have a soft spot after the last couple of years about any sort of "rankings."

I know your opinion is educated and you can feel free to delete my rants cause they're probably not helpful. If I weren't biased I'd probably say the same things you are.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Mikeyho

I've never definitively said that the Magic can't win a title with the current roster.

If I have, feel free to search this site and see where I stated it.

Mikeyho
Mikeyho

You've said this before so it's not just one sentence. You already said that Orlando can't win a championship with the team they have. It's not true.

Lebron's teams are always a unique case aren't they. He's done nothing to prove he's a winner and running to South Beach is just another reason why this Lebron team is "the one."

It's just the way you word things that seems to bother me. I'll let it go. My bad.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Mikeyho

Sure, they're talented. But the Magic didn't beat the Celtics last season and the Lakers the year prior. Those are the facts. As for the Heat, they're a unique case but I'm confident in saying that they're better as well.

Still, Orlando is a title contender.

I think you're taking one sentence way too seriously.

Mikeyho
Mikeyho

@Eddy Rivera

I know. You've said that many times before. I heard it about the 67 win Cleveland team and the last Cleveland team also. The Magic are as talented as any team besides the Lakers.

Kevin Garnet or not, the Magic won and they're only more likely to have another injury. Even if they don't they are still getting older as we are. Only they are creeping into mid 30's and we aren't.

Why do you argue against the Magic when they've been the second best team? I would think this was a Celtics blog or something.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Mikeyho

I have to disagree.

The Celtics beat the Magic last year in the Conference Finals and likely would have done the same in 2009 if Kevin Garnett was healthy, though we'll never know. As for the Heat, it'd be foolish to say that the Magic are better than them simply because the talent disparity is quite noticeable.

Mikeyho
Mikeyho

Gosh. You're not going to be very popular saying we're not as good as the Celtics. We lost last year but we're a better team just by getting older with Howard, Redick, and Anderson to name a few. Redick can is obviously improving faster than VC is declining.

The Magic have been the second best team in the league the last two years and nothing has changed until proven otherwise.

Continue to say what you will about the Magic, but the truth is they've always been seen as at least the fourth best team behind L.A., Boston, and Cleveland by people like you at this time of the season. It most likely won't end that way.

Say what you will about Cleveland not being good before but they were considered better than the Magic all the way up until they exited earlier. Let your calculator pretend that Lebron's new team is automatically better also.

I say the only team who has out performed the Magic and should be considered higher on your "totem poll" is the Lakers because they are the only ones who have done better.