No matter what Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith or anybody else says, the possibility of Dwight Howard leaving the Orlando Magic for another city next summer remains a probable scenario after the Magic lost in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks, a team they absolutely destroyed last season. Unless Kirk Hinrich is ten times better than Mike Bibby (which he is not) or Larry Drew is a miracle worker (which he is not), something is wrong with the Magic.
So what happened? Why did this Magic team go from a Championship contender to just a playoffs pretender? Who can be held accountable for this?
Now in the NBA, it's never the players' fault, no matter how bad they played. Besides, they had the looks they wanted, the shots just didn't fall.
So let's look at Smith. After the Magic made their first NBA Finals appearance in over a decade, Smith first traded promising two-guard Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston, amongst others to the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter and others. He then failed to retain Hedo Turkoglu and later signed Marcin Gortat to a contract worth $34 million over five years ($6.8 million a year). While none of these seem like good decisions in retrospect, the only bad decision now seemed to be acquiring Carter in the first place which made it difficult for Turkoglu to stay, both in a financial standpoint and in a basketball standpoint.
Smith, of course, attempted to make amends for the mistake by acquiring Turkoglu back, along with Jason Richardson, in exchange for Carter and Gortat. Despite Gortat putting up 13 points and 9 rebounds per game with Phoenix, I like this trade as Richardson is an upgrade over Carter and having Hedo back provide Stan Van Gundy with a player he can play 30 minutes and have no complaints over.
What I thought Smith did wrong with this was that he did not sign a back-up center to fill the void left by Gortat.
Now, Gortat only played 16 minutes per game this season with the Magic and as the Magic like to play small at times with Ryan Anderson at the 5, they didn't need a Andrew Bynum or even a Marcin Gortat.
But they needed somebody.
Somebody who has size. Somebody who can spell Howard for at least 8 minutes per game. Somebody preferably athletic. Chris Johnson, now with the Portland Trail Blazers, would have been a good fit but I would have taken anybody over 6-10 and can rebound.
Instead, no one was signed and unless Smith was thinking that rookie Daniel Orton, who by the way averaged 3.4 points in his only year at Kentucky, would have made a miraculous recovery from his season-ending injury, something is wrong.
Of course, Orton did not suit up and instead, 6-10 Malik Allen got the minutes not because he is any better than Chris Duhon, Earl Clark or any of the other guys not in the rotation, but because he is 6-10.
What could possibly go wrong if Howard became fatigued or was in foul trouble?
Smith's worst trade, however, is still to come. The trade of Rashard Lewis for Gilbert Arenas.
Now, this would all work out if Arenas is still Agent Zero. As a matter of fact, I would probably be talking about how great Otis Smith is right now and Magic could still be in the playoffs, with a chance to beat the Chicago Bulls.
Unfortunately, he is not. He had one good game in the playoffs and I can count the number of good games he had in the regular season with Orlando with my fingers.
At times, he was the second, even third guard off the bench, behind Quentin Richardson and J.J Redick.
Now, the last ex-All Star combo guard who did not work out in a Magic uniform was Steve Francis, and I can't help but notice the similarity between the two. Both require the ball in their hands and score at an inefficient rate. Sure, at times they do come up big, but most times they don't.
The difference? While Smith was able to trade Francis, Arenas is virtually untradeable.
Now, you might ask what is the difference between Lewis' contract and Arenas' contract given that they are both just as bad?
And the answer is: the extra year.
Now what difference does an extra year make? Now, Howard's contract contains a player option for him to leave next summer. However, if he does decide to remain with the Magic until the end of his contract, he would be a free agent in the summer of 2013. Lewis' contract just happens to expire then as well.
Now, instead of potentially doing a sign-and-trade with Lewis' expiring contract in the 2012-2013 season or just letting it expire and rebuild the team with hopefully Howard in the center, they are stuck with Arenas until the 2013-2014 season before any team consider to trade for his contract, which would be an expiring then.
So even if Howard chooses not to leave early, the Magic have their hands tied behind their back.
They can only hope that Orton average more than 3.4 points per game, Arenas become Agent Zero again and Turkoglu return to his most improved player-form.