The Orlando Magic went to the Finals and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the 2008-2009 playoffs.
Otis Smith, the Magic's President and general manager, made significant changes in the Magic's roster to get to the Finals. There have also been several roster changes in each of the subsequent years.
Some have worked well, some have not.
Whether or not Smith's iterative process of building a team will yield a championship remains to be seen. However, he has proved that he is not shy about pulling the trigger.
Recently, Smith completed two transactions, one which brought back a player from the Magic's Eastern Conference Championship roster, to build a new team nucleus. The other brought much needed scoring punch to the Magic's bench. The trade is has received mixed reviews.
Critics say Smith gutted his reserve defenders to get more of what they already had. Supporters of the trade believe that the Magic got fresher, younger and more versatile. Either way, Smith made this trade weeks before the trading deadline. He may not be done.
In the one recent trade,
The Magic Acquired:
From the Phoenix Suns in exchange for:
The Magic's 2011 first-round pick and cash considerations.
In addition, the Magic Traded:
To the Washington Wizards in exchange for:
The following are 5 reason the Magic will win the Eastern Conference title because of these trades.
The Wrong Stuff
The prevailing phrase for players whose skills are in decline is "they've lost a step." Vince Carter may have lost two steps. But worse, he appears as though he lost the desire, that drive, to be great.
Now that Carter's skills are in decline and he is no longer "Vincanity," or as TNT analyst Kenny Smith called him "Half Man/Half AMAZING," it's almost as though Carter is bored with basketball now that he can no longer fly.
Carter's replacement, Jason Richardson, was shooting .419 from three point range in Phoenix compared to Carter's .346. Dwight Howard is double teamed every time he touches the ball. High percentage three point shooting is essential for the Magic to maintain proper floor spacing and make defenses pay for sagging into the paint.
Rashard Lewis is a 6'10" forward who was averaging 4.2 RPG, with 0.9 being offensive rebounds, when he left the Magic. The reason his rebounding totals where so low is because Lewis is neither a power forward or a small forward, Lewis is a 6'10" spot-up shooter.
Lewis is not a fundamentally sound post up player so he can't provide the Magic with low post offense. He's also hesitant to drive to the basket, even though defenders must respect his jumper.
At 6'10", Lewis looks like a nightmare match up waiting to happen, only the nightmare is his because small forwards blow by him and big guys push him around. He's sort of a poor man's Dirk Nowitzki. Really poor, destitute in fact.
Of course Lewis himself is not poor and neither is his agent, who is clearly REALLY GOOD at what he does. Lewis is the second highest paid player in the NBA and is scheduled to make $20,514,000 this year.
The puzzle pieces of a championship are not interchangeable. The Magic can get guys 6'3" who are to be spot-up jump shooters. They can't ask 6'3" guys to go get a rebound down low with the trees, or provide solid interior defense.
Unfortunately, the Magic couldn't ask Rashard Lewis to do those things either.
Happy trails Vince and Rashard.
The Magic Got Rid of Their Problems
At first glance, Turkoglu's numbers look frighteningly similar to Rashard Lewis' 2010-2011 numbers with the Magic. They are both 6'10", both long range shooters and both can play either forward position.
A closer look reveals why Hedo is a better fit.
Since Turkoglu came back from his "world tour" of Toronto where he played last year, his native Turkey for the FIBA World Championships and Phoenix where he played for the Suns, his assists per game have risen from 2.3 with Phoenix to five APG. While it may take Turkoglu a while to mesh with the Magics new acquisitions, Turkoglo's role with the Magic remains the same as it was in 2008-2009.
The reason for the rise in Turkoglu's assists is his knowledge of the Magic's system, and chemistry with Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and J.J. Reddick. Turkoglu is the bridge between the perimeter game and the paint because his ability to dribble penetrate at his size creates match up difficulties for opposing defenses.
If defenders help with a big man, that leaves Howard alone at the rim and nobody wants to see that. If they help with a perimeter player Turkoglu simply shoots or passes over them because of his size.
Because Turkoglu is an outside shooting big man like Lewis, and a slasher who penetrates with his dribble like Carter, he is able to facilitate offensive balance. Because one player plays both roles the Magic has the space to field a more classic line up that includes a hard hat-lunch pail type power forward and a pure shooter at the 2 guard position.
The Magic Now Has a Power Fower That Actually Plays at the Rim
At 6'8", Brandon Bass is an undersized power forward. What makes him a good fit for the Magic is that he actually plays power forward, in that he understands that his role is to provide interior defense and rebounding.
He is not trying to be a spot-up shooter. Neither does he labor under the illusion that the offense will ever go through him. If he wants to score, he needs to get an offensive rebound or catch the ball near the basket when his man goes to play help defense on dribble penetration.
Having a 12 to 15 foot jumper is a nice thing to have for a power forward. It can be a useful weapon from time to time. However, there are those who believe that the European style of play has "revolutionized" the power forward position. Suddenly that classic grunt has become a go to guy on the perimeter.
In some quarters power forward has become a glamor position replete with posing three point shooters showing off their follow-through while the little guys are forced to clean up the messes. In the years before Bass came to the Magic, Rashard Lewis was a spot-up, three point shooting power forward, leaving Dwight Howard to man the paint alone.
While Howard's efforts were certainly admirable, manning the paint is a two man job. If you require evidence to support these assertion, ask Dallas how many championship they've won with their three point shooting power forward. Here's a hint, if it's not working with Dirk Nowitzki, the greatest shooting big man in the history of the game, Rashard Lewis has got no chance.
With rare exception, championship teams employed grunts to do the dirty work down low and the men cut from this cloth wear the "grunt" moniker like a badge of honor. The names Dennis Rodman, A.C. Green, Marc Ivaroni, Horace Grant and Otis Thorpe come to mind.
Without men like these, showing up to work with their hard hats, their lunch pails and a willingness to knock the snot out of someone with malice in their hearts, the championship puzzle is incomplete.
I do not put Bass in the category with these great role players just yet and he may not be the Magic's long term solution. The point is that the Magic finally understand the importance of the role, and have the right type of guy to fill it.
Will Gilbert Arenas Hold Up for the Magic
We mere mortals would not require a mathematician armed with a calculator and a slide rule to calculate the odds that we would continue to work in our industry if we choked our boss and everyone in the industry knew about it. We would know beyond doubt that if we physically attacked our customers on TV, we'd be done in that industry for all time.
When you pick up a ball and begin to play because you think it's fun, work at it because you like the attention it gets you and just eight short years later you get a free education, offered sexual favors and are generally treated like a god right up to the point were you sign a contract that pays you millions, your reality is different than the rest of us.
This is why it is so hard for the rest of us to fathom why professional athletes do things that even little Johnny from down the way, who flips burgers at Micky D's knows you can't get away with. Little Johnny knows you can't brandish weapons in the cloak room at Micky D's. Why doesn't Gilbert Arenas know that you can't flourish weapons at your place of business?
Is he a product of a life we simply can't understand? Or is he monumentally stupid, an affliction for which they still have found no cure.
Only in professional sports can you prove beyond doubt that you are either an unabashed moron or a dangerous felon and expect to secure a lucrative position less than a year later.
Even though Latrell Sprewell and Ron Artest have been model citizens after their inexplicable transgressions, there is still cause for concern when a known head case joins a new team. However, if basketball were the only concern Arenas is perfect for the Magic.
He can score 20 off the bench on any given night. He can play the two guard with Jameer Nelson if he's hot or he can spell Nelson at the point. He becomes the sixth player in the Magic's rotation who can create his own shot or make plays for his teammates and the magic picked him up for the NBA equivalent of a Big Mac with fries, and no drink.
Rashard Lewis' skills have been in steady decline, he no longer fits the Magic style of play and Hedo Turkoglu made him expendable. Arenas is a valuable piece of the Magic's championship puzzle, as long he can confine the "shooting" to the court.
The Magic Finally Have the Right Pieces Around Their Draft Choices
The hardest positions to fill in the NBA are the point guard and the center positions, because players in these position require different skills and carry greater responsibilities.
The point guard runs the team, is a coach on the floor, is responsible for getting his teammates involved offensively and handles the ball in pressure situations. The Center is the anchor of the defense, and in many cases the offense runs through the center, if he is highly skilled.
The magic have been fortunate to have drafted highly proficient players that are growing into their roles. The attempts of many other team's to draft these two critical position have not been quite so auspicious. The difficultly for the Magic has been finding the right role players to compliment the anchors of their team and complete the championship puzzle.
The current Magic roster is replete with some unique pieces, yet those pieces still fit that classic formula upon which champion teams have been built since the dawning of the league.The Magic now have players who provide dribble penetration, dribble drive scoring, mid-range shooting, three point shooting, rebounding, scoring punch off the bench and tenacious defense.
However, the most important weapon in the Magic's arsenal is the one they've had all along, their legitimate low post scorer and defender.
With the notable exception the Michael Jordan Bulls, every team in the history of the league that has won with multiple championships within a small window of time has done so with the aid of a low post player that is either in the Hall of Fame or is sure to be enshrined.
The Magic have so many players that can both shoot and make plays that they will be able to score. However, in trading to make their offense so versatile they traded away two very important defensive pieces.
Mickael Pietrus played solid perimeter defense and Marcin Gortat was Dwight Howard's back up. The Magic can solidify their defense with one more acquisition, a sizable big man that can play either the center or the power forward position. Such a player would be able to give Howard a blow or play with Howard while spelling Bass.
No teams is perfect, but the Orlando Magic appears to have almost all the pieces.