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The Orlando Magic — similar to the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Bobcats and a host of other Eastern Conference teams — are wedged between a tank job and the very real possibility they make the playoffs in a flat-lining East.
This is both good and bad — depending on whom you ask. Many Magic fans are hoping the team took a dive this season. Anything less than a 10 percent chance at the No. 1 pick makes a lot of people unhappy.
The difference between mediocre and awful is smaller than many think, and that’s why trade options for shooting guard Arron Afflalo should not be ignored.
Yes, he’s Orlando’s only real All-Star level talent, and he doesn’t have the stink of losing bleeding into his psyche — at least not yet. So what’s the impetus to trade one of the the best shooting guards in the league?
A lot of people denigrate him because he’s on TV a lot more now, and he’s an editor-in-chief instead of a scrappy blogger, but Grantland’s Bill Simmons described why Afflalo has become a top-five shooting guard in his column from a couple weeks ago, “The NBA’s E-League“:
Afflalo leads all 2-guards in PER (21.46); he’s first in Estimated Wins Added (3.6); he’s third in PPG (22.6); he’s sixth in 3-point percentage (46.3 percent), seventh in FT percentage (85.4 percent) and sixth in FG percentage (48.8 percent); and he’s an excellent defensive player. With James Harden taking the season off defensively (hey, James, you’re not a DH), and Dwyane Wade taking days off left and right like he’s the retiring CEO of a successful company or something, Afflalo is the league’s most reliable 2-guard right now. He’s also one of the league’s best bargains at $7.5 million per year, making him the single best commodity on the trade market right now. It’s true.
This made me re-evaluate whether or not Orlando should trade Afflalo. He continues to look fantastic, and while he’s not as tremendous of a defensive player as people think he is, it’s that amazing shooting that’s leading to graphs about why he’s a top-five shooting guard. No one trades a top-five shooting guard, right?
Here’s Simmons later on in his Magic section, emphasis mine:
Worst-Case Scenario: Doesn’t exist. They’re in the best shape of any Eastern team not named Indy or Miami — they have cost-effective assets, draft picks and cap space. Part of me wants to pull a Tom Ripley on Hennigan and take his job. I’m only half-kidding.
Prognosis: They’ll fade after the All-Star break because of injuries, fake injuries, self-sabotage trades and erratic substitution patterns. I have them happily missing the playoffs. Well done all the way around, Orlando.
So do you trade Afflalo, or has his play through the season’s first trimester turned him into a part of Hennigan’s rebuilding plan? Whenever I’ve got a difficult decision, it’s helpful to create a pro/con list.
Here are the pros and cons of trading Arron Afflalo:
Pro: The Magic immediately get worse on the court, removing any doubt they’re lottery-bound this season, and alleviate the tension in Magic fans if they squeak into the playoffs in a terrible Eastern Conference. It’s counterproductive to root for a playoff berth this year with the 2014 Draft looming like an oasis, and Indiana and Miami are so obviously better than anything the East has to offer in the lower playoff rungs.
Con: The Magic lose one of the top-five shooting guards in the league! It becomes clearer with each passing game that Afflalo is really good. Maybe not the best player on a Finals-team good, but certainly the second- or third-best player on a Finals-team good.
Pro: After last season’s debacle where Afflalo’s shooting percentages plummeted and everyone was throwing Rob Hennigan under the bus for the Dwight Howard trade, Afflalo has righted the ship. He’s one of the hottest commodities on the trade market right now, which could bear fruit with picks in this summer’s draft, or with future first round selections — something GM’s have become justifiably loath to part with considering the CBA’s harsh luxury tax penalties. Draft picks mean cheap talent, where rookies are earning substantially less through their first few years then they do with their first big contract. It’s cheaper to soak those players up than stay with Afflalo.
Con: But Afflalo’s super cheap, too. He’s only making $7.5 million this year and next, with a player option for 2015-16. Among some of the names Simmons threw in the mix when describing Afflalo’s top-five two-guard bonafides, he was easily the cheapest.
Pro: His affordable contract makes Orlando an even sexier trade partner, since the new team isn’t bringing on a ton of money in the deal for him.
Con: The younger players look up to him, and he doesn’t turn 29 until next season. He’s diligent on both ends of the court, which isn’t necessarily the case with a lot of sub-30-year-old players who can light it up on the offensive end.
Pro: He plays both ends of the court. In a league where many offensive stars loaf on the defensive end of the ball, Afflalo is not one of them. He could be content to just jack 3-pointers for a losing Magic team and ignore his defensive assignment. But he’s connecting on a large percentage of his shots from deep, and he’s continuing to expend energy on the defensive end, though his on/off numbers and Synergy numbers don’t bear this out.
Con: The eye-test for Afflalo’s D shows that he’s trying. The problem is that players are shooting better than 56 percent in isolations against him, and better than 49 percent in spot-up opportunities, per Synergy. While his defense on pick-and-roll ballhandlers has been a lot better in comparison this season (38 percent shooting), he’s not as staunch on defense as many like to believe. And it doesn’t help that the Magic are 8.8 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with Afflalo on the floor, per NBA.com. But trade partners might not know that, and Afflalo’s poor numbers in a limited sample size can be attributed to Orlando’s overall lack of defensive talent.
Prognosis: Wait and see.
After looking at all the arguments in favor of trading Afflalo, and the sides that say keep him, it’s still murky what the Magic should do. There’s more than two months before the trade deadline, and the best Hennigan can do right now is let Afflalo’s work ethic and professionalism keep rubbing off on the younger players — particularly Tobias, Moe, ‘Dipo, O’Quinn, Nicholson and anyone under 25 — while quietly listening to trade offers. To close the book on dealing him would be stupid, but pulling the trigger on a hastily thrown-together deal could be just as costly.
Afflalo’s play this season has been excellent. While that might lead many to the conclusion he’s a cornerstone of the Magic’s rebuilding project, within the contemporary NBA game, GM’s should never make a player untouchable, especially in such a watershed season.
The Magic are trying to become title contenders, and sometimes the only way to do that is to deal popular players with a lower potential ceiling for riskier investments that could pay off better long-term.
Then again, Arron Afflalo is one of the five best shooting guards in the league right now. How do you trade a player in that class? You don’t — at least, not yet.