Five Steps The Orlando Magic Must Take This Off-Season to Be Contenders

Josh ThurmanContributor IJune 21, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 14:  Rafer Alston #1 of the Orlando Magic walks across the court in Game Five of the 2009 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers on June 14, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida. The Lakers won 99-86.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

With the 2008-2009 NBA season finishing last weekend for the Orlando Magic, it is now time for the franchise to start looking ahead to next season.

Orlando has developed into an NBA threat over the last few seasons, but the Magic still have work to do as a franchise if they want to win an NBA title.

To think that three years ago, this team was not even in the playoffs, and now they are coming off a season where they made the NBA Finals, shows the progress this organization has made.

Orlando has had to make a lot of right decisions to get to this point. With a legitimate shot at the NBA title next season, Orlando needs to do the same this off-season if they want to turn that shot into reality.

The Magic will not have an easy road this off-season though; they currently do not have a draft pick in next week's NBA Draft.

They don't have a lot of money available for free agency, either, with most of their salary locked into Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, and Rashard Lewis.

Even with the off-season challenges that face this Magic franchise, Orlando knows making the right decisions could get them the NBA championship next season.

So what does Orlando need to do this off-season to give them their best opportunity of winning a championship? They have five things that they need to accomplish to give themselves a better chance at winning the championship next season.

5. Dwight Howard needs to develop an offensive game.

There is no secret that Dwight Howard is the franchise for the Orlando Magic. The 23-year-old phenom is a beast on the defensive end of the court.

For the second straight year he led the NBA in rebounds, and for the first time in his career he led the NBA in blocked shots en route to his first NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award.

However, all of his success on the defensive side has not yet transitioned into an offensive game.

Howard relies too much on dunks, and the occasional hook shot, for most of his points.

Howard needs to work on expanding his offensive game, he could try to develop the small jump shot that Tim Duncan has, or he needs to be more physical in the post.

The lob from Turkoglu, or pulling down offensive boards for dunks, is not enough for Dwight to dominate the offensive game.

Howard has a great mentor in Patrick Ewing, who can help him develop into a better offensive player. For Orlando to have a real chance, they need Dwight to become an all-around player.

4. The Magic players have to become smarter, and they must hit their free-throws.

It's no secret that Orlando, at times, can be the dumbest team in the NBA. It's one reason why they are so hard to read as a team.

The Magic have lots of talent, but they currently lack the basketball IQ to win a championship.

This team can be turnover-happy way too much, and it was a major downfall for them in the NBA Finals.

To win an NBA championship, you have to be somewhat lucky, especially with injuries, but you can't continue to make bad decisions on the court and expect to keep coming out on top.

Turning the ball over is one of Orlando's weakest links.

Another thing: this franchise needs its players to become better free-throw shooters.

Everyone who follows the Magic knows about Dwight Howard's struggles from the line, but when it mattered most, he was not the only one missing the freebies.

Missed free-throws cost Orlando Game 2 and Game 4 of the NBA Finals, and ultimately may have cost them a championship.

Championship caliber teams don't miss free-throws, especially in clutch moments. This is one area they need to focus on the most as a team.

Most importantly, this off-season's success will come down to the front office, and they have the three biggest tasks to complete for the franchise this off-season.

3. Orlando needs to re-sign Marcin Gortat

Marcin Gortat is a restricted free-agent this off-season, and will not be an easy asset to keep in Orlando.

Gortat has proved to other NBA franchises this past season that he could be a starting center in the NBA.

Other NBA organizations will be looking to offer Gortat more money than Orlando can match in hopes of getting the "Polish Hammer" this off-season, but the Magic need him for when Dwight is on the bench.

Gortat is the depth that Orlando needs at center, and Tony Battie is better at the power forward position, and would be a step back, if he becomes Howard's back-up.

Keeping Gortat is not going to be easy, but it is something Orlando needs to do.

2. Orlando must trade Rafer Alston.

If Orlando wants a true shot at winning the title next season, then they will have to deal point guard Rafer Alston before next season starts.

Alston currently has one year left on his deal, which will make him more attractive to other teams.

Losing Alston will be somewhat disappointing, but he wants to be a starter, and as we saw in the NBA Finals, rotating him and Jameer Nelson will not work.

They bring two different types of game onto the basketball court, and their teammates can't adjust to their playing styles within the same game.

Nelson is an all-star and Alston is a journeyman, and although the Magic wouldn't have had the success this season without Alston, this is still Jameer's team from the point guard position.

Trading Alston would free up over $5 million for Orlando, and since they have no draft picks, trading him for a pick would make the most sense, and then they could develop their own talent.

As good as Alston was for the Magic, if they want their team chemistry to be where it needs to be, he has to go.

Now we have looked at four things the Orlando Magic need to do this off-season with only one to go.

So what is their number one priority? Well, it's pretty obvious.

1. Orlando must re-sign Hedo Turkoglu.

Hedo Turkoglu has now been with the Orlando Magic for five seasons. In that time, he has developed into one of the better players in the NBA.

In the 2007-2008 season, Turkoglu won the Most Improved Player of the Year Award.

He has become Orlando's "Mr. Fourth Quarter," and is the self-proclaimed "Turkish Michael Jordan."

At 6' 10", Hedo plays the small forward position, but he can also play the point for Orlando and make decisions.

He is the best player on the Magic at creating a shot for himself, whether it is driving the lane, or a fade away jump shot.

Hedo can hit the three ball that Orlando relies on, and he consistently takes, and makes the big shots at the end of games for the Magic.

Turkoglu has opted out of his final year in his current contract, and re-signing Hedo would likely put Orlando in the luxury tax for next season.

However, Turkoglu said he would be willing to take a small hometown discount to stay in Orlando, and with a new arena opening up for the Magic in the 2010-2011 season, Orlando could afford to pay the luxury tax.

Turkoglu is irreplaceable on this team, and provides so many match-up problems for the opposition.

If Orlando wants an NBA championship, then re-signing Turkoglu is not a consideration; it is a must!

Orlando is coming off its most successful season in franchise history, but if they want to take that last step, and win a championship, these are five crucial steps the Magic must take this off-season.


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