Can Orlando Magic Prove There's Life After Dwight Howard?
The presses never stopped, the bloggers barely blogged and the Internet whirred on like nothing ever happened, but the Orlando Magic took down the Denver Nuggets to start their season off with a win on Friday night. At the same time, roughly 2,500 miles across the country, the Los Angeles Lakers were getting off to a purring 0-3 start.
So much for Dwight Howard, right?
Okay, that's probably a bit too far, or maybe even a lot too far, but that's not to say that there weren't things in Orlando's game Friday night that might suggest they won't be as hapless as I once thought.
For starters, they had a guy throw up a double-double. Glen Davis scored 29 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to go along with two inspiring blocks.
Let's go a bit deeper into that box score. JJ Reddick came off the bench as what was more or less the primary ball-handler (for some reason Ish Smith isn't exactly a competent backup point guard) to score 21 points and dole out six assists. If he can show that that's more than just one game's worth of life, then there could be a bit of Sixth Man of the Year Award chatter in his future.
Aside from that, Orlando got a solid defensive game out of Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson was good running the point (although both of them shot terribly) and preseason tack-on E'Twaun Moore piled on 13 points, five boards and three assists.
So what does life mean for this Magic team? Is there a chance that they make it back to the playoffs this season, or is this season just doomed to become a dreaded quest to the middle?
On the surface, it seems to be the latter, and it probably doesn't go much deeper than the surface, but that doesn't mean Orlando should frown at wins, they should look at them as an opportunity.
With luck, this Magic team is two drafts away from the playoffs, so they should look at the roster they have now and break down which current players will be of value to them in two seasons.
You can basically rule out Hedo Turkoglu, Al Harrington, Jameer Nelson and probably Reddick. Turk has one foot out of the league, Harrington is 32 and has maybe two solid years left before decline hits, Nelson is 30 in a league where superfast point guards are knocking every other day and Reddick's value as an asset probably outweighs what he could contribute to the team in two years.
In terms of good, productive players today, that leaves Big Baby and Afflalo as two guys who can contribute to a playoff run in a few seasons; everybody else is expendable.
Now what looks better to a potential trading partner in February: JJ Reddick scoring 13 points a game off the bench for a team that is pushing .500 or him scoring 18 off the bench for a team with a single-digit win total?
The success of the team early on makes their trade assets more valuable when deadline time comes around, and what they have is a collection of valuable assets at the top of their team. Reddick and Harrington can shoot, as can Nelson to an extent, and Turk—well, Turk is probably untradeable.
That's where Orlando's life comes from. There will be teams who need a guy who can shoot for the playoff run, and if they're willing to flip a draft pick for a guy like that, then Orlando will be there with open arms.
Is Orlando stuck between a rock and a hard place if they win too many games this season? Absolutely. But if they get creative around deadline time, they could pull off the moves they need to stock up on draft picks and end up getting a better lottery pick with some extra late-season losses.
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