For the Orlando Magic contingent, the NBA Finals will be somewhat less enjoyable than expected. The NBA Finals this year serve as a reminder of disappointment.
Magic general manager Otis Smith described the season as a "failure." As an organization, the bar has been raised.
Ownership, the recipient of a new publicly funded arena, fully expects to raise the city's first NBA Championship banner before the new paint smell fades.
"We set the bar," stated Smith. "And the bar is a championship. Anything less than that, rests on my head."
In three separate interviews since Memorial Day, Smith has maintained a consistent theme—an "eighth of an inch."
Smith believes the Magic need to make up an "eighth of an inch" between themselves and the NBA's best teams.
He has been very open with fans since the end of the season. He has also been very consistent.
In retirement, I fully expect Orlando's general manger to join the poker circuit. Aside from adding a World Series of Poker bracelet to his collection of NBA Championship rings, it would afford him the opportunity to utilize his second to none poker face.
This off-season, Smith seems to be playing a straight hand. He believes the Magic championship hopes exist with this team. Now they must live up to their potential.
Smith answered the most burning questions Magic fans hope can be answered to ensure better success next season.
What went wrong against Boston?
Boston out played the Magic as a team. Otis still believes the Magic could have won the series.
"In a seven game series they were better than we were. I just don't think that...we played to the best of our ability as a unit."
In a nutshell, Smith knows that a three game deficit caused most of the Magic problems.
That said, Smith fully expects this same team, with minor tweaks, to dominate the league again next season.
The Boston series wasn't about match-ups in his mind.
“There's a couple of games in that Boston series where we just didn't show up," said Smith.
What holes need to be filled?
Orlando only has one point guard, with Jason Williams and Anthony Johnson having expiring contracts. Smith described both players as being “long in the tooth."
That's the end of that.
Smith felt that “shot creating” became the sole responsibility of Jameer Nelson. The Magic will look to find one or two guards to help fill the gap.
"We never have enough good ball handlers," said Smith.
Turnovers hurt the Magic throughout the season. The effect of Orlando's occasional sloppy play became magnified against the Celtics. More ball handlers would alleviate pressure on Nelson to keep the ball moving.
Thoughts of Courtney Lee return to the forefront. In need of a good wing player, the Magic let a diamond in the rough get away.
How much will the roster change?
Smith clearly believes the Magic can compete as is. That said, Smith predicts only minor roster adjustments.
"We're not a team that's that far away," Smith said. "We're at the top of our league."
It's a strong statement. Even more interesting when you consider the free-agency possibilities for LeBron James. Smith's belief that the Magic need only an “eighth of an inch” indicates little reverence for LeBron's effect on the team he finally chooses.
"You're missing one or two pieces," said Smith.
Simply put, the Magic will be looking to get better at the wing and point guard position. Somehow, I can still see Smith performing his NBA Jedi magic, and adding a true power forward.
Will the team keep J.J. Redick?
My rock solid pick for NBA free-agency, J.J. Redick stays in Orlando.
The organization values Redick.
Smith indicated as such, "We'll do what we can to keep him."
Any team would.
His work effort, competitiveness and basketball IQ, make him an important asset.
Redick stated his decision to stay or leave relied on “winning” more than money. Any big salary increase for Redick, probably comes from a bad team.
The recent demise of Hedo Turkoglu will help Orlando keep J.J. in pinstripes.
J.J. stays and starts getting 28 minutes per night next season.
What are the Magic's draft plans?
Smith gets two picks in this season's draft, and will use the picks to "focus is on improving our team."
Smith did a great job finding Courtney Lee two years ago. Orlando has the 29th pick in the first round, and the 59th pick in the second.
Orlando hopes to get better via the draft—but if they can't, expect a deal.
Smith inferred he almost prefers the thirty-first pick, which would allow him to avoid the rookie salary scale.
Orlando's approach—make the team better—could mean that Smith trades the picks, getting more seasoned talent in return. Also expect the Magic to be busy scouting during the NBA summer league.
To Smith, the draft works just like trades or free-agency. He'll do with the draft picks, what ever he thinks will best help the team—including trading them away if need be.
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