Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 146

May 13

What went wrong for the Orlando Magic, Part II

Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The rise and fall of the Orlando Magic as an elite team and championship contender will be examined by Magic Basketball in a two-part series — here’s Part II.

As the Magic continue to face their uncertain near-future, I’m thinking about something I imagine a lot of us are: John Milton. Specifically, I’m thinking about Paradise Lost, his account of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. It seems to me that Magic nation probably feels how Adam and Eve did shortly after God exposed the whole apple/fig leaf-clothing fiasco: “We had it all, and we blew it somehow, and now we need to figure out who to blame. Also, I hate snakes.” Yeah, verily, fellow Magic watchers, we have dined on the ambrosia of celestial basketball, have stared lovingly into the pond at our reflections as Eve did, contemplating how nice it was to be a perennial contender. And now we must make our way into the less hospitable basketball wilderness, to try and figure out how to reclaim that divinity.

There is a strain of criticism in Paradise Lost readers that says that Adam and Eve did us all a solid by getting kicked out of Eden–their screw-up, basically, gave us life as we know it. It’s a pleasant take on the notion of original sin, usually called the fortunate fall. By sinning their way out of Eden,  Adam and Eve became people, and exposed the rest of the race to all the goods and bads that come with the territory. For the Magic, our fortunate fall was Rashard Lewis.

You remember that sign-and-trade. The Magic were getting a 27-year-old inside/outside player, the Sonics’ career leader in three-pointers, a player who had scored more than 20 points per game for three straight seasons and was coming of a career high in that department. Of the trade, Stan Van Gundy said, “It really makes our roster very, very good.  And even more than that, what this says to me and what our organization has done with Rashard shows me and should show everyone out there how committed this organization is to winning and winning a championship.”

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May 12

Orlando’s Dwight Howard highlights 2010-11 All-NBA First Team

Photo by Handout/Getty Images

Via the Orlando Magic:

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, the recipient of the 2010-11 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, highlights the 2010-11 All-NBA First Team, the NBA announced today. Joining Howard on the First Team are Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and LeBron James of the Miami Heat.

Howard, an All-NBA First Team selection for the fourth consecutive season, earned the 2010-11 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, becoming the first player to win the award three straight seasons. He led the league with 66 double-doubles, while ranking second in rebounds (14.1 rpg) and fourth in blocks (2.38 bpg). Howard also averaged a career-high 22.9 points.

The All-NBA Second Team consists of guards Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, forwards Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers and Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, and center Amar’e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks.

The All-NBA Third Team includes the San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginobili and the New Orleans Hornets’ Chris Paul at guard, the Portland Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge and the Memphis Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph at forward, and the Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford at center.

The All-NBA Teams were chosen by a panel of 119 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. The media voted for All-NBA First, Second and Third Teams by position with points awarded on a 5-3-1 basis.

May 12

3-on-3 roundtable: The past, present, and future of the Orlando Magic

Photo by Handout/Getty Images

It’s May and the Orlando Magic aren’t playing basketball right now.

Weird.

The last time the Magic weren’t playing basketball in May was in 2007 when they were swept by the Detroit Pistons in the first round, which was Brian Hill’s final year as the head coach. Once head coach Stan Van Gundy arrived, Orlando became accustomed to continuing their season beyond April to the months of May and June but not this time around.

Instead, the Magic are spectators and sitting at home after losing to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs.

As such, it seems appropriate to look back at what happened in the postseason for Orlando and chime in on Dwight Howard‘s future with the franchise. So without further ado, welcome to Magic Basketball’s first in-house roundtable discussion.

Credit goes to Matt Scribbins for the questions.

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If ifs and buts were candy and Zaza head-butts, the Magic would still be in the playoffs. What is your #1 if?

Nate Drexler: It would have been nice to see a healthy Magic team in the playoffs. If Gilbert Arenas was at 100 percent for the second half of the season, for instance, things would have played out differently. I only say it because Hibachi is a tremendous player, and the reason so many people are frustrated with his huge contract and poor play is they know what a huge impact he can have on a team.  As for this season, he was dead wood. That is why my biggest “if” is having Gilbert mentally and physically peaked for the playoffs.

Danny Nowell: The biggest if, for me, is what if Hedo Turkoglu had been the same Hedo Turkoglu that propelled the 2009 run. I know, I know, it’s easy to make him a scapegoat—and it’s not like he’s getting younger, so maybe his decline is strictly about aging—but what else would the Magic have realistically been able to get that they needed? Jameer [Nelson] showed up in spurts, Dwight had an historically good series; I think the key could have been a big ball handler that was aggressive when he needed to be and a creator when he didn’t. Hedo’s play was almost the direct inverse of that.

Matt Scribbins: The Magic would still be in the playoffs if they had a legitimate option on offense besides Dwight Howard. With help from the Basketball Reference database, I learned only seven players since 1947 have made 20 or fewer shots while attempting 68+ in the playoffs. Hedo Turkoglu did just that this post-season and bricked his way into the record books.  Hedo, one of the worst shooters in NBA playoff history, actually out did himself and provided his worst playoff shooting performance ever.

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May 11

Orlando Magic Youth Fund surprise three local high school students with $30,000 in scholarships

Photo taken by Gary Bassing.

Via the Orlando Magic:

Imagine sitting in a high school class – for instance an elective like TV Production or Psychology – and your teacher delivering the lesson of the day when unexpectedly a raucous crowd storms through the door with party poppers, blow horns, pom poms and other commemorative noisemakers.

Or even more enthralling: Picture being informed that you must return to your previous classroom for mystifying reasons before the same enthusiastic assembly marches in to convey some exhilarating news. Some reactions and emotions may include jubilation, delight and perhaps even some disbelief.

For three high school seniors in the Central Florida community, a moment of shock and curiosity promptly evolved into total elation and happiness when they learned that they were Orlando Magic Youth Fund scholarship winners on Wednesday.

Jessica Taylor (Freedom High School), Louvens “Laron” Louis-Jeune (Dr. Phillips High School) and Roscelin Figueroa (Lake Mary High School) expressed a variety of emotions when they were startlingly presented with scholarship checks of $10,000 each.

For the last six months, students across the area competed for scholarship money to any in-state college of their choice. After gathering all of the requirements, which included test scores, grades, a written essay and a comprehensive interview with the decision makers, it was decided that Taylor, Louis-Jeune and Figueroa were the perfect aspirants.

Let’s take you through each of these invigorating presentations from what turned out to be a day none of these students will ever forget:

May 11

What went wrong for the Orlando Magic, Part I

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The rise and fall of the Orlando Magic as an elite team and championship contender will be examined by Magic Basketball in a two-part series — here’s Part I.

“What went wrong” is far less important right now than “what is going to happen next” for the Orlando Magic, but you cannot really answer the second question without giving a good look at the first. LeBron James’ trajectory and departure from Cleveland provides a significant blueprint for what to expect from Dwight this summer, and it does not look pretty.

I remember the 2009 season vividly. That fall I was meandering around the web, looking at preseason acquisitions and making predictions when certain names would stand out.

I raised my eyebrows when I saw the Cavs picked up Mo Williams, and then made a call to a friend of mine back home in St. Louis. Even though it had been a few weeks since the last time we caught up, the beginning of the conversation went something like this:

“Hello.”

“Uh, did you see that Cleveland got Mo Williams?”

“Oh, they did? Huh…”

“Dude, I think Lebron is going to get a ring this year.”

Obviously Mo Williams was not the reason the Cavs made a run at the Eastern Conference Finals, but here’s the point: When you have a superstar as your centerpiece, the rest becomes a chess game, and the winner of the game is the owner who can put the right pieces in place around your guy.

At that moment in the fall of 2008, I thought Dan Gilbert had done it, or at least had come close.

Since that move, Gilbert didn’t do a whole lot to improve LeBron’s situation. The Antawn Jamison pickup had moments of looking like a good move, but for the remainder of LeBron’s tenure as a Cav, Gilbert watched clumsily as LeBron kept being LeBron, kept empowering guys like Delonte West to max potential, and then fizzle out in the playoffs.

It is a sad story for Cleveland, but the demise of the Cavs and the departure of LeBron might have paved the way for guys like Dwight to have a much easier time come “decision time.”

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May 10

Dwight Howard’s future under the microscope

Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Via Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:

Of the teams [Dwight] Howard is likely to consider when exercising his early-termination option after next season — sources say the Lakers, Knicks and Nets are the strong favorites — L.A. is the one with the most attractive trade assets. The massive contracts attached to the Lakers’ most desirable players also puts them in the rare position of being able to absorb either [Gilbert] Arenas or [Hedo] Turkoglu as a way to soften the blow for Orlando. […]

The clincher, under current CBA rules that would govern any trades conducted before the deal expires July 1, would be assembling salaries in a way that would allow Orlando to get out from under their massive and ill-advised obligations to Turkloglu and/or Arenas. In all likelihood, the Lakers are the only team with the salaries and commensurate talent to pull it off.

If you’re the Magic, staring at an uncertain future with limited flexibility to build around Howard, you would feel pretty good about getting one of the world’s most skilled power forwards (Gasol), the only center in the league with the potential to rival Howard (Bynum, with an asterisk due to his history of knee injuries), or the league’s best sixth man (Odom, who has the ability to be so much more as a starter). Any one of them would be a better asset than Cleveland (James), Toronto (Chris Bosh), Denver (Carmelo Anthony), or Utah (Deron Williams) got for its departing superstar. Two of them would be a haul of talent that Magic GM Otis Smith simply wouldn’t be able to turn down.

But wait, there’s more.

Via J.A. Adande of ESPN.com:

I hear all kinds of mixed messages on Howard. One person told me Howard wants to be a Laker. Someone else said he wants Chris Paul to join him in Orlando. Another said his top priority is to sign a maximum contract, which would make a trade (either in-season or a summer 2012 sign-and-trade) the only way for him to land in Los Angeles.

Two plugged-in national reporters. And the words that stands out from their reports are ‘Howard’ and ‘Lakers’ — in the same sentence.

For Magic fans that don’t remember what it was like during the offseason in 1996 when Shaquille O’Neal signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, get used to the chatter because it’s not going away any time soon. For Magic fans that do remember, it’s like reliving a nightmare that never ends.

After the Lakers crashed and burned against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Western Conference Semifinals, in conjunction with the Orlando Magic’s premature exit in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks, it’s as if the Howard-to-Los Angeles narrative accelerated tenfold.

Right now, the record states that the Magic are a team that’s going nowhere with an MVP-caliber player that can exercise his early-termination option in 2012 while the Lakers, with head coach Phil Jackson’s departure, are in need of a face lift after getting swept by the Mavericks. Enter Howard, speculated by many to be the answer to Los Angeles’ woes.

But let’s take a step back. Until Howard figures out his intentions, one way or the other, the only things that writers and reporters are dealing with is mostly speculation and hearsay. It’s going to take time for the endgame to occur.

That being said, this is only the beginning.

Howard’s future will dominate the headlines in Orlando for the foreseeable future.

May 09

Magic fans appreciated throughout Central Florida

Photo by Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic

Via the Orlando Magic:

Friday, May 6, was no ordinary day for Magic fans. Whether fans were driving their children to school, heading to work or grabbing some breakfast, Magic fans across the city of Orlando couldn’t get far from their house without receiving a big THANK YOU for all their support and dedication to the Orlando Magic. A number of “Thank You Fans” banners, posters, T-shirts and a giant billboard seemed to MAGICALLY appear out of thin air all over town. Banners were seen hanging on overpasses, Lady Liberty, near Lake Ivanhoe, was wearing a “Thank You Fans” T-shirt and a billboard on I-4 near Lake Mary gave a special shout out to Orlando’s strong fan base.

May 09

Orlando’s Dwight Howard headlines 2010-11 NBA All-Defensive First Team

Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images

Via the Orlando Magic:

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, winner of the last three Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Awards, headlines the NBA All-Defensive First Team, the NBA announced today. Howard totaled 56 points overall, including 27 First Team votes.

Howard earned the 2010-11 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, becoming the first player to win the award three straight seasons. He led the league with 66 double-doubles, while ranking second in rebounds (14.1 rpg) and fourth in blocks (2.38 bpg). He recorded at least 1,000 rebounds and 100 blocked shots for the sixth straight year; since blocked shots were officially tracked in 1973-74, only Moses Malone has done it more (seven seasons). With Howard manning the middle, the [Orlando] Magic allowed 93.5 ppg, ranking fourth in that category.

Also selected to the All-Defensive First Team are guard Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics (39 points), forward LeBron James of the Miami Heat (38 points), forward Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics (33 points) and guard Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers (33 points). Garnett and Bryant each earn All-Defensive First Team honors for the ninth time, tying Michael Jordan and Gary Payton for the most in NBA history.

The NBA All-Defensive Second Team consists of guards Tony Allen of the Memphis Grizzlies and Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets, center Tyson Chandler of the Dallas Mavericks, forward Andre Iguodala of the Philadelphia 76ers and forward-center Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls.

The voting panel consisted of the NBA’s 30 head coaches, who were asked to select NBA All-Defensive First and Second Teams by position. Coaches were not permitted to vote for players from their own team. Two points were awarded for a First Team vote and one point was awarded for a Second Team vote.

May 09

Dwight Howard, fourth quarters, and the truth

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There once was a man made of brick-and-mortar,
but his role diminished in the 4th quarter.
He will be remembered as an all-time great,
but you’d never guess it from his usage rate.

Today, I stumbled upon a poem I wrote a while ago (yesterday), and it compelled me to explore Dwight Howard’s usage rate in the 4th quarter with the help of StatsCube.

Orlando’s center boasted the NBA’s 19th highest usage rate (possessions used while on floor) during the 2010-2011 regular season, but his rate plummeted in the final period of the game. Some other key statistics indicate Dwight was at his best in the 4th quarter.

Green indicates at least 10% greater than average. Red indicates at least 10% below average.

However, maybe his stats are just a classic case of a reduced usage rate coinciding with more efficient performance? Let’s explore possible explanations for why the MVP candidate’s usage rate decreased in the final frame.

Dwight struggled at the stripe
Dwight averaged 11.2 free throw attempts per 36 minutes in the regular season. In the 4th quarter, his attempts rose to 14.0 per 36 minutes, nearly twice his 1st quarter rate of 7.8.

Why did this happen? Either teams deliberately fouled Dwight late or the Magic went to him more often. Dwight’s relatively low usage rate in the 4th quarter suggests he was fouled more often by design.

The most important part of this debate is his free throw percentage in the 4th quarter. Dwight made 59.6% of his free throws during the season. In the 4th, he made 64% of his freebies, his best rate in any quarter. The big man never broke 60% in quarters 1 through 3.

In fairness, his 4th quarter rate was still a shot below those of his teammates: Hedo Turkoglu (70%), Jameer Nelson (74%), Jason Richardson (78%), and Brandon Bass (80%).

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May 06

Bob Vander Weide speaks out

AP Photo/John Raoux

Via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

A week has passed since the Orlando Magic exited the playoffs with a Game 6 first-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Haven’t gotten over it?

Neither has the Magic’s chief executive officer, Bob Vander Weide.

“We didn’t get to our goal, so it’ll take me a while and I’ll deal with it,” Vander Weide said today.

“As we get prepared to get through the summer and some of the business issues, we’ve got to keep thinking how do we get better and how do we improve this club and how do we not fall short of our goals? Everyone that works for the Magic feels the same way. We never, ever thought we’d be out in the first round. No, I’m not over it and I won’t be for a while.”

Magic fans would nod their heads in agreement.

The expectation entering the season for the Orlando Magic was to avenge last year’s series defeat in the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics and try to make their way back to the Finals.

With the Miami Heat and Celtics jostling for supremacy in the East, as well as the Chicago Bulls in retrospect, there was an understanding that the task at hand was going to be difficult but no one expected the Magic to lose in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs.

Nevertheless, that’s what happened. Now Orlando has to pick up the pieces.

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