Magic Basketball: An Orlando Magic blog - Part 86

Aug 31

Dwight Week Recap

August 27

August 28

August 29

August 30

August 31

Aug 31

Retire Dwight Howard’s jersey in Orlando?

Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Six months ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a lot of people within the Magic fan base that did not want Dwight Howard’s jersey retired. Yes, at that point in time, Dwight had already made known his desire to be traded, with the Brooklyn Nets at the top of his wish list.

But this was before Dwight chose to opt in, then opt out, then opt in again at the March 15 trade deadline when the Orlando Magic needed to know from him whether he was going to waive his early termination option and stay for one more year beyond the 2011-2012 season (backing away from their original stance of wanting to know if he was going to commit long-term) or be forced to trade him.

This was also before Stan Van Gundy, on April 6, spilled the beans and let the public know before the Magic’s regular season game against the New York Knicks (which aired on TNT, heightening already-heightened drama surrounding the team) that Dwight wanted him fired.

In other words, Dwight hadn’t turned nearly every Magic fan against him just yet. Many of them were sympathetic to him wanting to join a better team, in fact.

Fast-forward to today and if asked the question, “would you retire Dwight’s jersey?” a majority of the Magic fan base would answer “no.” That’s because all the goodwill that Dwight built up over the years in Orlando was destroyed in a matter of months because he was indecisive about wanting to stay or leave, all the while undermining Van Gundy. But when stepping back and taking an objective look at Dwight’s career with the Magic, should he be denied the honor of having his jersey retired?

With the help of a jersey retirement formula created by Ben Golliver of Blazer’s Edge, we can come up with a verdict.

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Aug 31

The Dwight Howard trade: a disaster or a fresh start?

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

In the two weeks or so since Dwight Howard became a Laker, I’ve gone back and forth countless times on whether or not I actually like the trade for the Magic.

The most prevalent criticism — and the most valid — is of the draft picks Orlando received in the deal, which are something of a small travesty. They were sent one future first-rounder from each of the other three teams involved in the trade, the Lakers (2017), Sixers (2015), and Nuggets (2014). However, all three picks have lottery protections. There’s no excuse for this whatsoever.

Sure, all three of those teams are expected to be playoff teams for years to come, especially given how well they all made out in this trade. But none of them gave up what the Magic did: an indisputable top five player, one of the few players in the league who is an instant franchise-changer. Was the Magic’s leverage so far gone by early August that they couldn’t even swing unprotected draft picks?

The deal is going to look bad for the Magic if you try to view it under the parameters of the Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony trades in the last 18 months. But viewing Arron Afflalo, the best player the Magic got for Howard, as the “centerpiece” of this trade a la Danilo Gallinari or Eric Gordon is missing the point entirely.

With the Magic’s options as limited as they were, general manager Rob Hennigan’s main goal should have been creating flexibility and not hamstringing the franchise with the type of cap-destroying contracts Otis Smith was famous for. That’s why they made the right move by turning down the offers they were receiving from the Brooklyn Nets.

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Aug 30

Magic complete coaching staff

Via Orlando Magic press release:

The Orlando Magic have named James Borrego, Wes Unseld Jr. and Brett Gunning as assistant coaches, general manager Rob Hennigan and head coach Jacque Vaughn announced today. In addition, Laron Profit and Luke Stuckey have been named assistant coaches/player development, while Gordon Chiesa has been named special consultant to the head coach. Per team policy, terms of the deals are not disclosed.

“Each coach brings a unique skill set to the staff,” said Vaughn. “Collectively, this staff possesses a diverse basketball background. We are truly fortunate that these men have decided to join our Magic family.”

Borrego spent the last two seasons (2010-12) as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Hornets. Prior to joining New Orleans, he spent seven seasons with the San Antonio Spurs from 2003-10. Borrego started as an assistant video coordinator in the summer of 2003 and finished his tenure as an assistant coach. During those season seasons, he was a part of two NBA World Championship teams in 2005 and 2007. [...]

Unseld spent the 2011-12 campaign as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors. Prior to joining Golden State, he spent 13 seasons with the Washington Wizards, including six seasons as an assistant coach from 2005-11. Unseld played a key role in player development for the Wizards, helping Washington to four consecutive playoff appearances from 2004-08. His scouting reports were also vital in the team’s game planning and preparation. [...]

Gunning spent the last four seasons (2008-12) in various capacities with the Houston Rockets. He began with Houston in 2008 as the team’s director of player development, where he was responsible for improving player performance through on-court, one-on-one skill development and the use of video analysis. Gunning was then named an assistant coach prior to the 2011-12 campaign. [...]

Profit played in 135 regular season games during his four-year NBA career with Washington and the L.A. Lakers, averaging 3.3 ppg., 1.5 rpg. and 1.2 apg. in 11.4 mpg. He was originally selected in the second round (38th overall) of the 1999 NBA Draft by Orlando, but was traded to Washington prior to the 1999-2000 season and never played for the Magic. Stuckey has served as varsity head coach at San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas, CA, a suburb of San Diego, for the last four seasons.

Last season, Chiesa served as a consultant for the NBA Development League. He is best known in NBA circles from his time as an assistant coach with the Utah Jazz, a position he held for 16 seasons from 1989-90 to 2004-05. During his tenure, he helped guide Utah to two Western Conference crowns, three Midwest Division championships, a regular season record of 809-471 (.632) and 14 consecutive postseason appearances, including 149 playoff games. Chiesa has also been an assistant coach with Seattle and Memphis, and was the Grizzlies’ director of pro scouting.

Aug 30

Dwight Howard and the 99 percent

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s hard enough to believe there is an award called the Rich and Helen Devos Community Enrichment award. Given the turmoil Dwight Howard put Magic fans through in both wanting the beloved Stan Van Gundy fired and then getting traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s hard to remember the Dwight Howard who was once a shoo-in to win the award.

But think back to the start of the 2011-2012 lockout-shortened season and remember the goofy, fun-loving, and dominant player, fresh off a career year in 2011 which culminated in him taking home the distinction of Defensive Player of the Year for a league-record third consecutive season.

One thing was clear. The Orlando Magic was Dwight’s team and nobody had any problem with that. He was the future, not the problem. He was the hero, not the thorn in the side of a city. He not only won Community Enrichment awards and Defensive Player of the Year awards but he probably deserved more individual accolades, particularly the MVP.

Then things took a turn for the worse. The Magic became average. The lack of new blood and perpetual lethargy from veteran players wore out the franchise. Orlando was going nowhere as a team. You know the rest of this story. One quick (yet seemingly drawn out) downward spiral later and Dwight is the enemy, posted up in his ivory tower in Los Angeles.

But let’s not make the mistake of forgetting the Dwight Howard that was almost universally praised at the end of the 2010-2011 season.

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Aug 30

Dwight Howard’s lasting impact in Orlando

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Dwight Howard is, by some distance, the greatest player in Orlando Magic history. Beyond everything that has transpired in the past two years, beyond the most mutually embarrassing unhappy-superstar saga this side of Vince Carter, that is the ultimate takeaway from the eight seasons he spent with the Magic. He gave the franchise a newfound respectability, a signature player utterly unlike any of his era.

Several things set Howard apart from the other superstar-level talents that have worn the blue and white. The first, of course, is his longevity in Orlando.

Shaq bolted for Hollywood after four seasons and the dominance of his Lakers-era peak has reduced the Magic years, despite a franchise-first Finals appearance, to (at best) secondary status in his body of work.

Penny Hardaway’s status as the franchise’s all-time signature guy was partly doomed with Shaq’s departure, as he was forced to take on a greater load without the benefit of a big man that proficient. But it was mostly a left knee injury during the 1997-1998 season, which needed microfracture surgery (back when not many people in the NBA knew what that procedure was), that short-circuited Penny’s career and affected his standing in the pantheon of Magic greats.

Like Shaq, T-Mac only spent four seasons in Orlando and while his staggering, breathtaking season in 2003 is the highest individual peak any Magic player has had, his teams didn’t do much in the way of winning playoff games, making it considerably more difficult to reminisce about his apex as a part of any greater cause.

Which leaves Howard, who not only put together the phenomenal individual seasons that have been covered elsewhere during Dwight Week at Magic Basketball, but also shepherded the Magic to a period of title contention, including one trip to the Finals.

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Aug 29

Dwight Howard’s last game in a Magic uniform

Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Dwight Howard is a phenomenal basketball player and it’s a real shame his final game in a Magic jersey was not legendary, not impressive, and not even on par with what he is capable of.

Orlando will remember Dwight in several different ways. On the one hand, he was the lovable center, ever-devoted to the city of Orlando. On the other hand, he was a scoundrel, an indecisive child who got his coach fired and then left. Even another voice, the reasonable voice, is bidding Dwight good luck in Los Angeles and claiming it’s probably a better fit for him.

The one thing you won’t hear anyone remember him for in Orlando is what actually happened on the floor. That’s what’s so crazy about Dwight’s last game in an Orlando Magic uniform on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers. It doesn’t matter in the least what happened in that game. It doesn’t matter that he was playing with a jacked up back, doesn’t matter that he shot 28.6 percent from the field, doesn’t matter that he somehow shot 12-for-18 from the free-throw line, and doesn’t matter that he recorded a big ol’ double-double (20 points and 22 rebounds).

Still, though, there’s tons of intrigue in this game.

The ESPN broadcast crew on April 7 did everything in their power to uphold Dwight’s status as a superstar. Even in his early struggles, they pointed out the things he was doing right. How often do we need to hear that a screen is not something we’ll read about in the stat sheet? The truth is Dwight did a lot of things right in the game. He also did a lot of things wrong, a lot of things lazy, and a lot of things that make an optimist like me say, “thank God we don’t have to endure that style of play any longer.”

Playing time
Dwight played 44 minutes in this game. That’s seriously ridiculous. The guy played more than 44 minutes in only four other games during the regular season (out of the 54 games he played in last season). So, if you’re the sadistic type, rest in the fact that at least Van Gundy got his money’s worth out of Dwight in their last dance together.

Dwight’s game against the Sixers reminds me of that scene in “Miracle” when Herb Brooks made the USA hockey team run wind sprints (“Herbies”) over and over after tying Norway in an exhibition game.

“Again…”

“Again…”

“Again…”

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Aug 28

Dwight Howard, defense, and dominance

Photo by Fernando Medina/Getty Images

“Old Indian game. It’s called, uh, put the ball in the hole.” – Randle McMurphy, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

Basketball really is as simple as an in-character Jack Nicholson says it is. Put the ball in the hole, stop the other guys from putting the ball in the hole, and you’re all good.

It’s only us loonies that insist on making it more than it is -– a story about humans, mental achievements intertwining with physical capabilities, or the guys with the colors I like against the guys with the colors I hate.

The trick to putting the ball in the hole is getting there, because –- here’s the catch -– the hole is pretty high in the air. 10 feet, to be exact. Most of us are not 10 feet tall, not remotely, not even with our hands stretched up high.

But if you can get your Chief Bromden lookalike to stand under the basket and hold the net shut, you can shut off the other team.

Dwight Howard won the genetic lottery, a 6-foot-11 behemoth with springs for legs and boulders for shoulders. But to dismiss his defensive dominance as the natural conclusion to the combination of his parents’ DNA is lazy and ignorant. True, Howard’s sheer being is domineering on the basketball court as we approach the rim –- even as an 18-year-old rookie with almost no idea how to play the game, that build and athleticism were enough to average 1.7 blocks in 32.6 minutes per game -– but over the years, Howard has become the first player in NBA history to win three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards because of his ever-increasing understanding of how to take that Apollonian structure and utilize it with devastating effects.

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Aug 28

The evolution of Dwight Howard’s post game

Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

For the consensus best player at his position, Dwight Howard sure hears a ton of criticism, not all of it unwarranted. He doesn’t take the game seriously enough. He needlessly blocks shots out-of-bounds instead of tipping them to teammates. He can’t make free throws and is thus a liability to his team in fourth quarters. His lack of back-to-basket moves limits him offensively.

I aim to address that last criticism of Howard’s, which has become a talking point for fans, analysts, and journalists throughout Howard’s eight-year career. Howard is by no means the game’s most polished back-to-basket center, but he’s not the glorified Tyson Chandler some folks make him out to be either.

To call Howard’s post game “clunky” is to be charitable to the six-time All-Star. Though he possesses excellent speed and quickness for a man his size, Howard is nothing if not deliberate on the block as he reads defenses.

A few years ago, Howard only had a jump hook in his arsenal; he’d pound his way to the goal, elevate, and toss the ball near the rim. He could do this move with either hand on either block, but it was his only weapon. A savvy defender could exploit his lack of versatility, as well as his famously top-heavy frame, by lowering his center of gravity to leverage Howard further from the basket, giving help defenders more time to dig down for a steal and making Howard’s eventual shot attempt a lower-percentage proposition.

Howard is still methodical, and even boring, when he operates in the post. What’s changed is the variety of moves at his disposal. Howard’s learned to counter the leveraging maneuver with quick spins to the baseline. He has a drop step that he can use on either block to shed defenders. He’s added a rolling hook, albeit one that’s much more effective going left-to-right with his right hand, as well. Regardless of the move he uses to set up his shots near the rim, he’s able to arc his shot more consistently in the past with fewer line-drive misfires.

Put simply, Dwight Howard is not utterly hopeless in the post as some folks in and around the game might have you believe. He’s neither refined nor spectacular in this part of his game, but he’s effective.

Evan Dunlap is the founder and managing editor of Orlando Pinstriped Post.

Aug 27

The Magic’s 2009 Finals run: starring Dwight Howard

Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

If you were to compare the current incarnation of Dwight Howard to any other player in NBA history, at least from a narrative-based perspective, the closest parallel would probably be post-Decision LeBron James. Like LeBron, Dwight was drafted straight out of high school, developed into a dominant superhuman, took his team to the Finals, couldn’t replicate that success, and ultimately, departed on the wings of a PR catastrophe to a hated superteam in a glitzier market.

LeBron, however, made the Finals in 2007 with a team heavily featuring the likes of Eric Snow and Drew Gooden; his subsequent failures in the years after that came with far superior teams. Dwight’s Finals team — the 2009 Magic –- may not have been good enough to win it all, but they were a fascinating and successful combination of players and personalities made possible only by the fella in the middle and his friend on the sidelines.

Four-out, one-in
The plan was as simple as it was brilliant.

Even three years ago, when the complaints about his post game were based in fact more than ignorance, Dwight Howard was the sort of interior presence that weighed an entire court in his direction. Strong and agile, capable of elevating from any given spot and arriving with the ball at the rim, the premise was simple –- get Dwight either near the rim or rolling to it and you immediately solicit a response from all five defenders. It was within this defensive scramble that Orlando’s offense thrived and it was this constant set of circumstances that their personnel was set to exploit.

The team’s starting lineup was a perfect reflection of that philosophy.

Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu could run the pick-and-roll with Dwight and were well-versed at either finding him diving towards the rim or pulling up themselves for a jumper on the perimeter within the space that his movement created.

Rashard Lewis, the prototypical stretch four, would spot up off the ball, ready to benefit from the chaos by releasing a wide-open three.

Courtney Lee –- as were Mickael Pietrus and J.J. Redick when they came off the bench –- was an athletic swingman with a good outside shot who would fill the seams created by the constant ball movement without complaining about his role.

If the offense was a Dwight-centric system, full of pieces that could react and respond to what his sheer presence created, the defense was even more dependent on his performance –- and the results were even better.

Dwight commanded the paint, and though many of his teammates were limited defenders outside of it, the direction of Stan Van Gundy would send them flying out to the three-point line, preventing opponents from making shots worth one point more, while knowing that Dwight is behind them to cover for their eager close-outs. Howard played his part to perfection –- in 2009, he led the league in blocks and rebounds per game and was second in total rebound percentage and block percentage. And to top it all off, the Orlando Magic ranked first in Defensive Rating during the regular season. All those statistics allowed Dwight Howard to take home his first Defensive Player of the Year award.

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