Orlando Magic Seek To Build on Dwight Howard's Shoulders, NBA Finals Experience
The Magic made serious waves the night before the draft by trading Courtney Lee, Tony Battie, and their interim point guard, Rafer Alston, for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson.
Naturally, most of the hoopla revolved around Carter, a perennial All-star and 20-plus ppg scorer. In Carter, the Magic hope they have upgraded from Hedo Turkoglu.
Little fuss was made over Ryan Anderson, but from the preseason games, it has become clear he has the tools to be a significant part of the rotation. Whether he will or not remains to be seen, but Anderson has the outside shot and ability to rebound that should allow him to thrive in Orlando's system.
Many Magic fans are upset that the team traded promising star Courtney Lee, but what most don't realize is that Ryan Anderson was the player the Magic wanted in the 2008 draft, but he went the pick before Orlando's first round selection, leaving the Magic to select Lee.
Dwight Howard compared Anderson to former Magic player Pat Garrity, but to most experts, it is clear that Anderson's upside is significantly higher than Garrity's peak play. Perhaps Dwight was just paying homage to Garrity, but Anderson would have to view that as a bit of an insult, since he is already doing things that Garrity never could.
All that aside, the success of the Magic hinges on their four stars: Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, and Dwight Howard. Nelson, Carter, and Lewis are all great three-point threats and look to benefit from the double teams that Howard will command in the post.
The Magic became the first team in NBA Finals history to shoot more than one-third of their shots from behind the arc, and with the way it carried them through the playoffs, it is doubtful this strategy will change.
It's somewhat dangerous to live and die by the three-point shot, but the Magic's defense, anchored by Howard, is strong, and when they fall behind by 10 points or more, they have little problem coming back by getting stops and stroking the three-point shot.
Last year Nelson's season-ending injury in a game against Dallas caused the Magic to have to deal for Alston. He is gone now, and that's probably a good thing, since it is dubious that he could have remained happy as a second string point guard (and yet he will have to do just that playing behind Devin Harris in New Jersey).
The Magic felt they had to add some depth at point guard and signed NBA veteran Jason Williams, aka "White Chocolate." He sat out the '08-'09 season, but seeks to come back strong and back up Jameer Nelson at the point. That leaves Anthony Johnson as the odd man out, but if Jason Williams falters, then AJ could see significant minutes again.
He's a quality backup point guard capable of running the offense but lacks the shooting ability of J-Will and also is a lot less flashy. Flashiness doesn't necessarily make Williams any better, but it does help sell tickets (not that the Magic will have any problem doing that, with a record-high number of season ticket holders this season).
In addition to adding Carter, Anderson, and Jason Williams, the Magic used their mid-level exception to sign power forward Brandon Bass and small forward Matt Barnes. Bass, aged 24, figures to be a piece of the long term future of the Magic. He didn't get the minutes in Dallas since he was backing up Dirk Nowitzki, but he showed flashes of the player he could be.
He brings toughness and a great mid-range jumper that will take some pressure off Howard. Also, he will allow Rashard Lewis to play more minutes at his natural position (small forward).
Meanwhile, Barnes is a strong defender and can also shoot the three. He figures to fight Pietrus for the small forward slot in the starting lineup. Either way, Barnes or Pietrus will provide defense and three point shooting off the bench, which is arguably the best in the NBA.
Another smart move was resigning Polish center Marcin Gortat. Otis Smith shocked Dallas, and the rest of the NBA, by matching the offer sheet and giving Gortat a $32 M contract over five seasons.
That's a lot of money to pay for a backup that will see a max of 16 minutes a game backing up Howard and seeing spot minutes at the PF slot, but Charles Barkley called Gortat a "top 10 center" in the league and the Magic recognize his worth as a potential trade chip.
He'll probably be around for the duration of this season since his trade value is only half his current contract, but Gortat could be dealt for an upgrade at small forward after this season, or for a couple first round picks.
With the additions mentioned and the continued play of Orlando's three all-stars from last season (Nelson, Howard, Lewis), the Magic will again contend for the NBA title.
Perhaps with a healthy Nelson the Magic could have beat the Lakers in the finals, or at least showed a better performance than getting beat in five games, but there is no reason to doubt that the Magic win the East again.
Sure, Boston and Cleveland have made improvements, too, but the Magic beat both of them in the '09 Playoffs. Many Boston fans will argue that the Celts were missing all-star Kevin Garnett, but the Magic were missing an all-star, too (Jameer)!
It looks to be a great season and Magic fans are salivating at the depth that the Magic assembled this off-season. But the weight of the team rests upon the broad shoulders of Howard, who must continue to improve his free throw shooting so he can be relied on late in games.
If he does that, the Magic will be even more difficult to beat...and we can only hope that is the case.
All these pieces coupled with the continued improvement of the franchise player, Dwight, should equate to another great season.
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