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As the franchise attempts to sort out exactly what went wrong, where 2010-11 turned for the worse, they can point to a mystifying playoff shooting slump or to some superb clutch shots by the Atlanta Hawks’ Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson or even to a few unfortunate bounces of the basketball.
But the [Orlando] Magic likely would be better served to recall Dec. 18, the day their team completed two high-risk trades that would define their season and might limit many of their seasons to come.
The team acquired Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark from the Phoenix Suns for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, a 2011 first-round pick and cash. The Magic also obtained Gilbert Arenas for Rashard Lewis.
Those deals provided the Magic an immediate short-term infusion of energy and offensive skill that led to a nine-game winning streak in late December and early January. But the longer-term aftereffects weakened Orlando’s defense, put additional pressure on center Dwight Howard and didn’t give the team the additional offensive firepower it needed at playoff time. [...]
[Otis] Smith never could have foreseen that Richardson would get into an altercation with Zaza Pachulia that led to Richardson’s ejection for Game 3′s final minutes and Richardson’s subsequent Game 4 suspension. Smith also can’t be blamed for Richardson stepping on some broken glass while in bare feet last Tuesday, an accident that slowed Richardson in Game 5 and severely hobbled Richardson in Game 6.
Indeed, take away either the altercation or the accident, and the Magic might be preparing now for the playoffs’ second round.
But although Richardson displayed toughness, he didn’t develop into the consistent, dependable second scoring that the Magic needed to complement Howard on offense.
Neither did Turkoglu, who became more of a passer than a shooter after a mesmerizing 17-assist performance on Jan. 8 in Dallas. Indeed, Turkoglu made just over 29 percent of his shots in the playoffs and couldn’t match the quickness and explosiveness of his Atlanta counterpart, Josh Smith.
Starting in the next week or so, the rise and fall of the Orlando Magic as an elite team and championship contender will be examined by Magic Basketball in a three-part series — specifically by Nate Drexler, Danny Nowell, and myself.
Key events will be analyzed on a macro and micro level.
The macro side of things will encompass general manager Otis Smith’s construction and, in some ways, deconstruction of a franchise that appeared in the 2009 NBA Finals, only to regress the next two years by losing in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010 and first round in 2011.
The micro side of things will touch on the signing of Rashard Lewis, a player that exemplified the rise and fall of the Magic in many ways. It’s Lewis’ arrival that triggered Orlando’s ascent to being one of the best teams in the NBA and it’s his eventual regression that signaled the end of that run of success. Also, the parallels between LeBron James (as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers) and Dwight Howard will be closely looked at, given that they are two players that have experienced similar career paths with the teams that originally drafted them. And like James, Howard’s future is under an intense microscope, given that everyone is trying to decipher whether he’ll remain with the Magic for the long-term or if he’ll move on and leave.
Stay tuned for these articles.