It took less than forty-eight hours after exiting the playoffs, for the focus to switch from losing, to how to get better for the Orlando Magic.
Winning an NBA Championship remains the goal in the City Beautiful.
Outside of the disappointment that comes with losing a playoff series, fans still hold on to hope. A hope based upon All-Star center Dwight Howard's showing in the playoffs.
We now know he can carry the team—not just defensively—but on both sides of the ball. His offense still needs work, but even in its present state, not many teams can handle Superman.
General manager Otis Smith enters the off-season at a disadvantage. He made major moves last summer to make his team a true contender. The moves put the Magic about $27 million over the salary cap.
So many high priced players have created repercussions for this off-season. Orlando now has very little room to sign players outright in free-agency. Any big moves will most likely require sign—and—trade deals.
In order to make such deals happen, the Magic will need to find big name players. The big names make matching salaries in the trade easier.
Smith comes in with a big advantage—a team everyone believes to be a contender. This year's free-agency theme for players has become “I want to win”.
Smart money would bet the Magic are closer than all but two or three teams to a title.
If the Magic do make any quality moves, expect to see Marcin Gortat and Rashard Lewis as part of what Orlando gives up. Getting some of the names on this list might mean sacrificing even more.
At this point, that's fine, Orlando possesses most of what it needs to contend: Dwight Howard.
New York Knicks center David Lee might be just what the doctor ordered.
This season he averaged a double—double with 20 points and nearly 12 rebounds per game. Think about those numbers for a minute combined with Howard as an anchor.
Lee played center for the Knicks out of necessity. With the Magic he could go back to his natural position of power forward. He can play in the paint, plus he brings range, with the ability to shoot the jumper from 20 feet.
In addition, Lee understands the level of physicality required to compete in the NBA's Eastern Conference.
Acquiring Lee may be less difficult than acquiring other players. Knicks management openly committed to winning the LeBron James sweepstakes. As a result, Lee will become an early casualty.
At the trade deadline, Lee was ready to be dealt. The Knicks held on to him without giving him any assurances of his status with the team moving forward.
With a goal of signing two max players this summer, improving or maintaining Lee's $7 million salary will not be a priority for the Knicks.
Chris Bosh leads the list of probable secondary max contract players to join the King in the Garden. If Bosh does sign with the Knicks, Lee will definitely be looking for a new place to call home.
The Knicks will need role players to fill in the gaps. Orlando's roster could provide a few key pieces, giving the Magic the financial relief needed to sign Lee.
For Stan Van Gundy, Lee's only drawback could be his lack of three-point range.
The argument for bringing Bosh to Orlando speaks for itself. He's a great power forward, averaging a double-double, at 24 points and 10 rebounds per game this season.
With Bosh the Magic would get some much needed athleticism, something sorely missing from the current roster. Bosh would succeed where Vince Carter failed, giving the Magic a go—to guy with an instinct for getting to the rim.
Bosh, similar to Lee, may be easier to attract to Orlando than other possible additions. Bosh already informed Toronto's management that he plans to earn his living south of the border next season.
In fact, Toronto seems to be imploding. Hedo Turkoglu, a free agent addition from last season, announced he wants out. With Bosh gone, and Hedo dissatisfied, Toronto may be ready to deal.
Orlando could offer Gortat and Lewis in a deal for Bosh. Yes, the Raptors would lose out, but they would gain quality pieces to build upon.
Letting Bosh go to free-agency would leave them without their best player and with no foundation to move forward.
If LeBron James relocates to New York, signing Bosh may become more difficult. Early signs indicate Bosh seems partial to playing with the King.
That said, if Bosh really desires winning a ring more than money, Orlando represents a very viable option.
Amar'e Stoudemire has gone through the paces the last two seasons when it comes to trade rumors.
This past season everyone believed he was all but gone. Then the trade deadline came and passed. Amar'e still wore a Suns jersey.
Just after Game Six of the Western Conference Finals, Stoudemire responded to questions concerning his free-agency status.
“Still not sure what the future holds," replied Stoudemire.
He described his chances of staying in Phoenix as fifty—fifty. Not good odds for Suns fans. I believe Phoenix needs to prepare for separation anxiety, because Stoudemire will be gone.
Coming to Orlando would be a homecoming for the 6' 10” power forward. Unlike Vince Carter, the Magic's other homecoming, Amar'e would arrive with fewer questions about his value.
Stoudemire came to the NBA straight from Cypress Creek High School, located in the Orlando area.
He worked through two major injuries, including the dreaded microfracture surgery on his left knee. His season ended twenty-three games early in 2008-09 because of a detached retina.
His comebacks prove his hunger and drive—something Dwight Howard demands from any future teammates.
Once again, a sign—and—trade involving Lewis and Gortat could give Stoudemire a nice pay raise, while giving the Suns incentive to cut their losses with a deal.
As a player, Orlando would receive a proven power forward, with fifty-two games of playoff experience—many of those games against some of the best teams and players in the league.
He knows how to share the ball with a superstar after spending time with Steve Nash.
The only hesitation could be defense. But Alvin Gentry brought a new defensive attitude to Phoenix, and Stoudemire appeared to have adapted well.
When I mention Nowitzki's name, many will believe I'm delving into the realm of the “ain't gonna happen”.
I beg to differ.
Nowitzki has had enough losing. James' free—agency circus has caused every big name player to rethink the importance of winning a championship. Nowitzki wants to win.
Nowitzki also knows the Mavericks will be well over the projected salary cap with his salary. He also knows his team can't get much better in that situation, no matter what owner Mark Cuban says.
Nowitzki would give Van Gundy clutch shooting, his team's most glaring weakness. Adding 26 points per night against Boston certainly could have changed the Eastern Conference Finals outcome.
Because Howard leads the team, Nowitzki would be burdened with less leadership responsibility. For some reason, I believe that appeals to him. Howard would benefit by having an eleven—year veteran in the locker room.
On the floor, Nowitzki would merit double—team respect, forcing opposing defenses to make decisions. J.J. Redick could potentially settle into his “Steve Kerr” role with the Magic.
Dirk would have to overcome the challenge of learning to play Van Gundy style defense. In the end, Orlando went to the Finals with Hedo, poor defense and all.
Remember that Cuban signed Gortat to play for the Mavericks last off-season. Smith and the Magic decided to match the offer under the terms of unrestricted free-agency.
Brendan Haywood will become a free agent this summer as well. His playoff performance turned few heads. Once again Gortat could be a valuable commodity.
If Cuban decides to trade Nowitzki to prevent total loss, the “Polish Hammer” and Lewis package could help ease the pain.
Now we're talking about luxury shopping. Wade will be the most sought—after free agent next to James.
Nothing needs to be said about what Wade means to any team.
Right now you're thinking, “It will never happen."
I'm telling you it can. I understand it's not the most probable scenario.
Salary cap rules and requirements for compensation matching in trades give this scenario a technical chance to happen.
You know what comes next—the big IF.
If Miami Heat and Wade negotiations totally implode, it could be fire sale time. Yes, we're back to "something is better than nothing" thinking.
If Pat Riley thinks he can't please Wade—and who knows what that would take—he may let the superstar dictate a sign—and—trade to a good team.
This would be contingent on Wade choosing not to play in Chicago or New York.
It relies on one other assumption: James chooses somewhere other than Miami.
Wade knows how to play with a great center. He and Van Gundy have a positive past relationship. Wade, who self-admittedly enjoys living in Miami, would still be reasonably close to South Florida.
Yes, very far—fetched.
But you have to give a fan some room to dream.