Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 111

Mar 16

Magic Basketball Weekly: Twitter and the NBA news cycle

AP Photo/John Raoux

Nothing like a little 24-hour news cycle drama to clear out the old sinuses dear readers and I, like most, took a great deal of joy in the chaos of yesterday.

It seems clearer each week that the NBA has staked out this bizarre entertainment niche where the on-court product is cross-pollinated with long-running soap operas and after some months of initial panic over this fact, I’ve settled into a comfortable rhythm of punch-drunk bemusement. Around the time of “The Decision,” I was a manic moralist, decrying the evils of invasive coverage and the propulsive inanity of the stories. Now? I’m a total glutton for this nonsense and I have very little justification other than the fact that it’s so uselessly captivating.

It has been interesting to see, though, that observers’ reactions to the league’s drama cycle split almost entirely on media, or maybe technological, lines. People decrying the narcissism of the athletes or the ubiquitous cataloging of athletes’ feelings seem to have accumulated around print media — even print media with a developed online presence — while the gleeful peanut gallery seems has congregated around “new media” (we really, really need a better term than that).

I know this seems totally banal at first but I guess my question is: why? It has been noted that Twitter and the NBA have a special kind of symbiosis, and Twitter certainly seems to drive the melodramatic market the NBA now seems to occupy exclusively — I can’t think of one story from this week I didn’t learn first from unconfirmed reports on Twitter — but why is the NBA the Twitter sport and why do the people on Twitter seem to have such a different relationship to league business?

I suspect a reason for the NBA to have become the most “melodramatic” of the major sports — and it is arguable whether this is true, but I certainly believe it to be — is that the athletes, as many have noted, are the most visible as people. This is a theory about NBA appeal I’m very drawn to, the idea that we’re so much more physically exposed to NBA athletes that it’s easier to fit them into human stories.

Another idea I found myself pondering was the connection between Twitter, black American culture, and the NBA. Certainly the NBA is the most visibly black of the major sports, and as one SXSW paper noted, Twitter and black culture seem to have developed a unique bond. As has so often happened in sport (and pop culture generally), I wonder if black cultural change is driving the way we think about the NBA.

Of course, that’s just one reason the Twittercycle might be what it is to the NBA and it’s something I need to think about further but it seems clear to me that the real high points of excitement in the NBA universe now include, and might be entirely, moments that take place off the court.

Let me hear your ideas for why the NBA seems to have staked this territory out so much more than the NFL or MLB and what all you see coming down the pipe as a result.

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Mar 16

3-on-3 roundtable: The ramifications of “The Indecision”

AP Photo/John Raoux

With Dwight Howard opting in to the final year of his contract, the Orlando Magic got what they were looking for. Time.

With a little more time, it’s up to the Magic to do what they promised to do for Dwight — build an elite team and championship contender around him. Orlando has done it once. Now it’s time for the Magic to do it again. Will Orlando get the job done and convince Dwight to stay even longer?

We shall see.

The crew at Magic Basketball, along with Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post, discuss what might happen with Dwight and the Magic next.

Fact or Fiction: With Dwight Howard waiving the early termination option in his contract, the Orlando Magic made a mistake by not making a trade at the deadline to bring in help.

Dunlap: Fact. We’re not privy to the trade discussions involving the Magic that did or did not take place, but when you see one of the strongest backup-caliber players at your team’s weakest position get traded for Luke Walton and Jason Kapono, it raises some eyebrows. Ramon Sessions really would have helped Orlando, but perhaps its trade chips weren’t appealing enough.

Nowell: Fact. I wouldn’t have said this until I saw how low the going price was for Ramon Sessions and Nick Young, but you have to wonder why the Magic weren’t making inquiries when players were being had for basically nothing.

Scribbins: Fiction. What’s the hurry now? The team has time to work on a deal that will make the team significantly better and convince Dwight to stay. There was no need to rush into a deal at the deadline. At the end of the day, Dwight is still wearing an Orlando uniform. That’s really all there is to it.

Fact or Fiction: The Magic will pair a second star next to Dwight before the trade deadline next season.

Dunlap: Fact. Though it’d be my preference for Orlando to wait until the 2013 free-agent period to make its big move — the Magic simply have to set their sights on Chris Paul, don’t they? — it’s more prudent for it to try upgrading as soon as possible. The sooner Howard sees the Magic’s potential with better players, the easier convincing him not to leave in 2013 will be.

Nowell: Fiction. I think the best case scenario, with the money they’re paying their current roster, is to acquire young, cheap system guys to pair with Dwight. That might provide the upside and competitiveness it would take to keep Dwight long-term so the team can wait for the right situation with a star-level player.

Scribbins: Fact. Can you imagine the fan reaction if they don’t get another star in a Magic uniform by this time next year? There is no way they’re letting Dwight leave because they didn’t add help. You better believe they’ll find a way to make it a reality.

Fact or Fiction: Dwight will remain with Orlando past the 2012-2013 season.

Dunlap: Fact. I think the Magic will have made enough roster moves by then to build a stronger team and intrigue Howard into staying. They’ll also have a bit of salary-cap room and could try pairing him with another superstar, if they haven’t already traded for one by then.

Nowell: Fact. I’m not actually sure about this, but with the Magic having bought themselves a year, there may just be enough time for them to triage the payroll and find some talent somewhere in a year. Why not be hopeful today?

Scribbins: Fact. The team now has an additional year to figure out a way to keep the best player in franchise history. Plus, it doesn’t seem like Dwight wants to leave anymore. The odds are more favorable now than they have been in a while.

Mar 15

Dwight’s Magic Word

  • Dwight Howard, waiving the early termination option in his contract (which means he’ll remain with the Orlando Magic for one more season), and the Magic have some marriage counseling to do. The onus now is on Orlando to improve the roster, in the hopes of convincing Dwight to stay for the long haul.
  • Loyalty is a big reason why Dwight is sticking around with the Magic for a little while longer.
  • After flip-flopping between staying or going, Dwight had one last change of heart by the time he landed in Orlando early Thursday morning after the team played the San Antonio Spurs on the road. General manager Otis Smith advised Dwight to sleep on the decision. Dwight remained steadfast in his choice after doing so.
  • CEO Alex Martins, seen as the right man for the job, re-recruited Dwight to stay with Orlando for another year. Martins’ hard work paid off.
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: “The issue is this: How will Howard feel after an offseason in which the same people are in his ear again, the ones who were pushing him to go to a bigger market? […] Howard needs to take control of his world, and maybe he will start doing that by splitting with agent Dan Fegan, whom he hired to get him out of Orlando without this muss and fuss. He needs to get away to some island this offseason and really decide what he wants.”
  • Dwight’s future with the Magic captivated a nationwide, and perhaps worldwide, audience.
  • Is Orlando, able to win games and beat some of the best teams in the NBA despite the trade turmoil surrounding Dwight, a team of destiny?
  • During today’s press conference, in which he announced his intentions to remain a member of the Magic for an additional season, Dwight branded himself as a loyal person. That loyalty makes Dwight different from many of today’s NBA stars. Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated goes as far to say that Dwight is “establishing himself to become the anti-LeBron.”
  • By trading for Gerald Wallace at the deadline, the New Jersey Nets are trying to keep Deron Williams around so that they still have a shot at signing Dwight in 2013. It’s a big gamble to say the least.
  • Dwyane Wade uses Twitter to share his opinion on loyalty.
  • Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie writes that Magic fans are guaranteed one more year of drama with Dwight: “All he did was commit to picking up his contract option for 2012-13. He can still leave in 2013. He can still ask for a trade, behind the scenes. He can still make life — off-court life, at least — untenable for the Orlando Magic franchise. Unless Howard signs that extension, this isn’t over.”
  • There’s still a chance, albeit a small one, that Dwight lands with the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent in 2013.
  • Larry Coon, author of the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement FAQ, lays out all of Dwight’s contract possibilities at TrueHoop.
  • The possibility that Dwight and Chris Paul team up — in 2013 — is still very real. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com explains: “If they so desired, Paul and Howard could join forces in any number of destinations, including Los Angeles — a city Howard reportedly likes a whole lot — or Orlando. For the Magic, it would be relatively simple. They’ll have a glut of cap space because Jameer Nelson’s contract comes off the books, and the final year of Hedo Turkoglu’s deal is unguaranteed.”
  • How did Orlando convince Dwight to stick around? By threatening to trade him to the Nets, a team that’s struggling to make the playoffs. That would have impacted Dwight in a number of ways (like his off-court ventures). J.A. Adande of ESPN.com applauds the Magic’s gumption: “A league source said that missing out on the playoffs would cost Howard significant bonuses from his Adidas contract. What a great play by the Magic. It seemed to drive home the point they were trying to make all along, that if Howard wants to win a championship the Magic are about as good a short- and mid-term option as he’s got.”
  • Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk: “Howard had flip-flopped worse than a presidential candidate the last 48 hours between wanting to stay with the Magic and wanting to keep his free agent options open.”
  • There’s a ripple effect around the league now that Dwight is still with the Magic. Teams like New Jersey and Dallas, potential suitors for Dwight, are obviously affected but they’re not the only ones.
  • Marcel Mutoni of SLAM ONLINE with the line of the day regarding Dwight’s indecisiveness: “Dwight Howard is a confused young man.”
  • Some quotes from Dwight’s presser.
  • Ethan Sherwood Strauss of CourtVision doesn’t think Dwight should be blamed for being indecisive about his future: This is not Dwight Howard’s fault. He did not create the collective bargaining agreement. He did not create the 24-hour news cycle. He did not foster a confusing system in which the most interesting “news” is funneled to us via conflicting anonymous sources.”
  • Dwight: “I’m going to go home, and play a video game.” This was said after Dwight was asked what he was going to do after his press conference today was over.
  • A must-read breakdown by Andrew Sharp of SB Nation on those involved in the Dwight drama.
  • Should Orlando still trade Dwight? Tom Ziller of SB Nation thinks so: “Recent NBA history has shown that the packages offered for trading a superstar with at least a year left on his deal are much better than for rentals. The Jazz did it with Deron Williams. The Hornets did it with Chris Paul (who waived his own early termination option in the Clippers deal). Howard’s waiver […] lets the Magic effectively rewind a calendar and make a blockbuster that sets Orlando up for the future … the post-Howard future.”

Mar 15

M. Dwight Shyamalan

Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

I get it, I really do.

Dwight Howard doesn’t want to be the next LeBron James and that’s totally admirable. He sees how everything went down with LeBron getting his jersey burned, getting booed in every city, and having unreasonable (and yet probably warranted) criticism and scrutiny strapped to his every missed shot and pass in crunch time.

It makes sense to not want to do that, especially when you see where requesting a trade has gotten Carmelo Anthony. He has essentially run a coach out of the biggest city in the NBA and the new team has been a complete catastrophe since he arrived. Dwight doesn’t want the same fate as Carmelo. If anything, he’d love the Chris Paul scenario of revitalizing a big market and getting all the joy and love of doing so.

And there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with wanting to work in a new city and around new people. Yes, he has a good setup in Orlando and he gets to be the face of a franchise there. He gets to try to do what Shaquille O’Neal never would do, which is stay for the long haul and bring a title to the DeVos family. He also could go become the face of Brooklyn and help corner the biggest market in the NBA.

That would be a fun new chapter in Dwight’s career. That would be a fun new chapter in ANYONE’S career. Yes, loyalty to the franchise that drafted you is one thing but there is nothing that states he shouldn’t want to work in a new city if that’s what he wants to do.

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Mar 15

Dwight Howard stays

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

It’s no longer bittersweet to talk about Dwight Howard. For Orlando Magic fans, for today, it’s just sweet.

Howard opts in for the 2012-2013 season? A collective sigh of relief swells up in Orlando. The tension and dizziness that Dwight’s indecision has created for Orlando fans has been frustrating, overshadowing the Magic’s considerable success and casting an uneasiness over the festivities of Orlando’s first All-Star Weekend.

But today, the Magic fan base can rest easy, at least for a little while. In a report now confirmed by other major media outlets, Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM has stated that Dwight will indeed waive his early termination option (which he has officially done) and remain a Magic player for the final year of his contract.

So what does it all mean?

It means that Orlando is playing for keeps this season. It means the No. 3 seed in the East and recent wins over Miami and Chicago are no joke. The Magic are invested in the present and are now looking at making a serious push with the roster they have.

Though Howard’s decision still only extends his current contract for one more season, it gives the organization a chance to band together for the stretch run of the current season. For a team playing as well as the Magic have through the torment and antics of the past several months, just imagine how much better they will be now that they are united for up to 15 more months.

In the long term, it means that the top objective for general manager Otis Smith is going to be finding a guy or two (a star or two) to bring on board in Orlando and get Dwight to sign that huge career-ending contract that the Magic fanbase is hoping for. When the free agency circus comes to town next year, the onerous veteran contracts now on the payroll will be a little less onerous and the Magic won’t be in such dire straits trying to find players or flexibility to put around Howard for the long run.

In short, the events that transpired the past 24 hours benefit Orlando both in the immediate and in the long run.

The biggest positive to come from today?

Hope.

Lord knows fans would’ve been tempted to throw in the towel if Dwight took off at the end of this season or Orlando was forced to put up with the likes of Brook Lopez for the remainder of this season. Instead, Orlando is blessed with more time and to make matters better, that blessing carries the added benefit of allowing the franchise to focus on staying one of the winningest teams in the league.

Mar 14

Recap: San Antonio Spurs 122, Orlando Magic 111

Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

BOX SCORE

In a span of seven days, the Orlando Magic have played the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, and San Antonio Spurs, with tonight’s matchup against the Spurs ending a four-game stretch for the Magic that has revealed a lot about the team. More on that in a second.

If it wasn’t for Tony Parker going bananas in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 of his 31 points in the period in every way imaginable, Orlando stood a good chance at beating San Antonio and — somewhat improbably — sweeping the toughest portion of their schedule so far in the regular season.

Alas, after going scoreless in the third quarter, Parker came alive in a big way against the Magic in the final period, making big shot after big shot as Orlando tried to keep pace with the Spurs. A layup on a one man fast break, a baseline jumper in a pick-and-roll set, a corner three while spotting up on the perimeter and with the shot clock winding down, Parker did it all for San Antonio which has been the book on him all season long.

Even though the Magic played extremely well for long stretches of the game, not so much on defense but particularly on offense, the Spurs — as exemplified by Parker — were better.

So have these seven days meant? What do we know about Orlando now that we didn’t know before?

Well, and this goes back to the Magic’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 1, it’s that Orlando can hang with any team in the NBA with their current squad. But the key is that Dwight Howard has to play like the best player on the floor on the nights when the Magic play the Heat, or Bulls, or whoever. Getting Jameer Nelson to play at a high level is preferable but not a prerequisite. Not with guys like Ryan Anderson being able to pick up the slack. And even though the bench has its flaws, they’re not fatal. Plus the slow emergence of DeAndre Liggins as a rotation-quality player gives head coach Stan Van Gundy another piece to play with.

It starts and ends with Dwight, though. When he’s the best player on the floor against the championship contenders in the league, Orlando wins. When he’s not, as was the case against San Antonio, the Magic lose.

Magic fans like use the 2009 team as a barometer for this season’s roster. To be frank, Orlando this season isn’t too far off from being as good as the team that went to the NBA Finals. The problem is primarily the defense and the quality of the bench. Oh, and Dwight sticking around past the trade deadline.

If Dwight does remain with the Magic past March 15, then the answer is clear. Orlando will be a thorn on the side of the elite teams in the NBA.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

On a night where the stars played like stars, Tony Parker shone the brightest. He was a monster all night long against Orlando, but made his presence felt the most in the fourth quarter.

Defining Moment

With the Spurs up by the score of 101-98 with 6:18 left in the game, Parker went on an 8-2 run of his own in two minutes to put the game out of reach for the Magic.

That Was … Dwight’s Last Game?

On a day where Dwight flip-flopped in a span of a few hours on his desire to stay with Orlando for one more season or opt out in the offseason, tonight could very well have been his farewell.

Mar 14

Preview: Orlando Magic at San Antonio Spurs

Essentials

  • Teams: Orlando Magic at San Antonio Spurs
  • Date: Mar. 14, 2012
  • Time: 8:30 p.m.
  • Television: Sun Sports
  • Arena: AT&T Center

Records

  • Magic: 28-15
  • Spurs: 27-13

Probable starters

Magic:

  • Jameer Nelson
  • J.J. Redick
  • Hedo Turkoglu
  • Ryan Anderson
  • Dwight Howard

Spurs:

  • Tony Parker
  • Danny Green
  • Richard Jefferson
  • DeJuan Blair
  • Tim Duncan

Advanced stats

Magic:

  • Pace: 89.5 (27th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 104.6 (13th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 101.7 (11th of 30)

Spurs:

  • Pace: 91.8 (13th of 30)
  • Offensive Rating: 107.7 (6th of 30)
  • Defensive Rating: 103.4 (14th of 30)

Read about the Spurs

48 Minutes of Hell

Mar 14

HoopIdea: NBA players protecting their shooting percentages

Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Take yourself back to the fall and imagine sitting on your couch watching NFL Sunday Ticket. There are 10 seconds remaining in the second quarter and the Detroit Lions just got the ball back at their own 40 yard line.

Everyone in the world knows what is coming next. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will scramble for a few seconds and then launch the ball into the end zone in the direction of wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The chances are rather low that the Lions will actually score six points on the play, but who cares? It’s worth a shot.

The outcome was probably that Stafford threw a pick or incompletion and his passer rating took a hit. Whatever. The Lions tried to maximize their point total and it was a lot more exciting to watch than Stafford receiving the snap and taking a knee. Also, the Lions threw it deep, even though there was a chance the defense could intercept the pass and return it for six points the other way.

You would think a similar situation plays out in the NBA at the end of quarters, but it doesn’t. NBA players are all too happy to hold the ball instead of jacking up a half-court shot and there is virtually no way the other team can score points on the play! Why don’t NBA players just let it fly?

Players are more interested in protecting their field goal percentage than adding three points to the scoreboard. Since field goal percentage and three point percentage come into play in contract negotiations, one could argue that players are making a smart business decision when they refuse to toss a low percentage shot at the rim.

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Mar 14

Who’s to blame between the Magic and Dwight Howard?

Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Well, it finally happened. Dwight Howard finally broke and said something to chum the waters for the rest of his career. After months of frustrating indecision which was not exactly helping Howard’s image, he finally provided his detractors some quotable ammunition, saying of his discussions with the Magic:

“I told them I want to finish this season out and give our team, give our fans some hope for the future. But I feel they have to roll the dice. It might be tough, but I feel we’ve got a great opportunity. But they’ve got to roll it.”

That comment is … uh, tonedeaf. And narcissistic. And while I truly don’t think Howard is as shallow as the remark sounds, it’s the sort of thing he’ll be answering for for years.

However, what is distressing to me is not the comment itself — what, you’re telling me a 26-year-old millionaire being catered to by an incompetent business has a little much self-regard? — but the way the comment is being processed and that reaching this point was just about inevitable.

Individual labor issues in the NBA now are a media-powered gotcha game: you’re either re-upping with the home team on Twitter FROM THE INSIDE OF YOUR BACKPACK or you’re a delusional mini-tyrant who demands to be flanked with yes men and given your own in-season reality television saga.

By all accounts, Dwight Howard is pretty close to what his public persona has always been: he’s youthful to the point of being juvenile, he’s image-minded but not always image-savvy, he’s warm and kind, and sort of a goof. But the reactions I’ve noticed since Dwight made his remark have not been that the Magic have dug their own grave and allowed things to come to this point, but that Dwight is revealing the extent of his own self-interest at the expense of the team.

It’s old news how undervalued superstars are on a max contract, yet so much of this discussion is about how Dwight Howard is screwing the franchise by insisting on leaving at the end of the season rather than allowing the Magic to get something back in a trade. If he cared about the team, the line goes, he’d let them deal him to the Bulls, or at least the Lakers, or even to the Nets for their middling offer. This argument keeps coming up in free agency news cycles but I’ll make it again: what, precisely, does Dwight Howard owe to the Magic?

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Mar 13

Recap: Orlando Magic 104, Miami Heat 98 (OT)

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

BOX SCORE

When Jameer Nelson performed at an All-Star caliber level during the 2008-2009 regular season and 2010 NBA Playoffs, the Orlando Magic weren’t just a different team, they were a special team. A team that could beat anyone on any given night (except the Boston Celtics).

That team that could beat anyone on any given night?

It showed up against the Miami Heat. All thanks to Nelson.

You’d have to go back to Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks to remember the last time Nelson played like an All-Star. That’s how good he was against the Heat.

It took Nelson a while to rev up his engines, too, scoring only five points in the first half before putting up 20 points in the second half and overtime combined. What did he do to eventually get going on offense?

Be aggressive.

It’s a novel concept, but Nelson’s aggressiveness offensively (or lack of it) has always determined how good of a player he is. When he’s passive, as he has been for most of this season, he’s an average point guard or worse. When he’s in attack mode, as he was against Miami, there’s not many point guards in the NBA that are better than Nelson. That’s not an overstatement either. That’s how good he can be.

In the second half, Nelson picked apart the Heat’s defense in a variety of ways. He spotted up from the perimeter and made a couple of three-pointers, not hesitating and shooting with decisiveness.

Nelson stepped up in the clutch. He made a big three-point shot on the left wing in crunch time with 44 seconds left in regulation and the game tied at 91 apiece. He received the outlet pass from Hedo Turkoglu after Turkoglu secured the rebound, dribbled up the court as the Magic were getting set to run a play, and hoisted up a three-pointer with no hesitation whatsoever, perhaps to the surprise of Shane Battier, who gave Nelson a little too much airspace to put up a shot. That jumper gave Orlando the lead momentarily at 94-91 before Dwyane Wade responded with a three-point shot of his own.

Then in overtime, Nelson broke down Miami defensively not once but twice in pick-and-rolls, splitting two defenders and making a layup on both occasions in spectacular fashion. The second of his two layups was more impressive than the first, given that he split LeBron James and Udonis Haslem off the dribble at the top of the key, then maneuvered around Chris Bosh at the rim for a layup that had the right amount of spin off the glass to go in. Nelson’s layup put the Magic up by the score of 102-96 with 55.3 seconds left in overtime, beginning the process of closing the door on the game before Redick slammed it shut with two free-throws to ice it.

Yes, Dwight Howard was special, putting up 24 points, 25 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, his 40th 20-20 game of his career and eighth this season. Yes, J.J. Redick had another eye-popping plus/minus (+26) for a second straight game.

But this was Nelson’s night to shine.

MVP (Most Valuable Player)

Nelson was the difference-maker. Dwight was the best player on the floor and that’s taking into account Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh each putting up numbers against Orlando, with Wade delivering in the clutch in the fourth quarter.

Defining Moment

Up 102-98, Dwight missed four free-throws with a chance to seal the game in overtime. For whatever reason, with the Heat down four points on each possession, LeBron and Wade shot (and missed) three-pointers. Why?

X-Factor

The Magic were down by as many as 14 points in the game, yet never gave up. Led by Nelson in the second half and overtime, Orlando traded haymakers with Miami and came out victorious.

That Game Was … a Classic

It remains to be seen whether or not this was Dwight’s last home game in a Magic uniform. No matter what, you can add this volume to the collection of classic games between the Magic and Heat.

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