The summer of 2012 has the potential to be the most important summer in Orlando Magic history.
Along with possibly losing Dwight Howard, the team has almost no flexibility to go out and sign a marquee free agent due to limited cap room.
Of course, that leaves Orlando in a bad position: how can they do the necessary maneuvering with their current roster to avoid losing Howard and getting nothing in return?
Here are seven questions the Magic need to answer during the 2011 offseason:
1) Should Gilbert Arenas start?
In his prime, Gilbert Arenas was arguably the deadliest scorer in the NBA and became one of the league’s highest paid players.
However, suspensions and knee problems have derailed his career and made his contract one of the league’s worst. When Orlando acquired him for Rashard Lewis’s equally dreadful contract, they expected the Hibachi to heat up. Instead, Arenas was inconsistent in limited time.
The burning question is whether Orlando should start him or bring him off the bench?
Last season in Orlando was the first since Arenas’ rookie year in which he did not play at least 31.5 minutes a game, and his production showed that. In fact, Arenas’ best game was when he started against Charlotte, played 45 minutes and dropped 25.
In a more important role, maybe Magic fans can see a rebirth in Agent Zero.
2) What is J.J. Redick’s role?
Is Redick going to start, like many have speculated?
If he starts, will he split time with Arenas, Quentin Richardson and rookie DeAndre Liggins?
Redick has been brilliant coming off the bench, but can he stay healthy and be a consistent shooter for an entire season?
If Redick can stay healthy, he can be a capable starter for Orlando.
3) What will happen with Jason Richardson’s expiring contract?
Jason Richardson’s $14.4 million salary will be coming off the books.
Orlando could certainly try to re-sign Richardson, who was arguably their second-best player last season.
However, that would create a logjam at the already overflowing two guard position.
That money needs to go towards acquiring pieces in free agency.
4) What to do with DeAndre Liggins and Justin Harper?
If Redick starts, Liggins can be a valuable asset off the bench.
His style of play is perfect for Stan Van Gundy’s system: he is a devastating defender and can make threes.
Justin Harper is even more intriguing. His ability to stretch the floor, along with his size, compares favorably to a young Rashard Lewis (before he hypnotized Otis Smith into giving him $21 million a year).
The problem is Van Gundy’s reluctance to play rookies. If Liggins and Harper get time, they can be important pieces to the Magic’s success in 2011-12.
5) Can Hedo Turkoglu bounce back?
One of the most crucial issues with Orlando involves their point forward, Hedo Turkoglu.
Turkoglu’s shooting, playmaking and ability to handle the ball made him invaluable to Orlando during their 2009 playoff run. Ever since then, he became a fat slob in Toronto and looked lost in Phoenix.
Last season, Turkoglu was traded back to Orlando, however, he was not the same player. He seemed to struggle for long periods of time, but hopefully, another season in Orlando with this current collection of talent can help Turkoglu become the star he was in 2009.
6) Can Orlando get Dwight Howard help?
Let’s face it, if Otis Smith can’t acquire someone who can make an impact, Dwight Howard is gone.
With all of the awful contracts on his plate, Smith’s job will be very difficult. Does Orlando unload Jameer Nelson, Brandon Bass, Earl Clark, Ryan Anderson, Harper, Liggins and Redick in moves to potentially get someone?
If Smith can’t do something, he will need to answer the most important question…
7) Will Orlando need to trade Dwight Howard?
Howard has expressed a desire to stay in Orlando. But when your best teammate is Jameer Nelson, what incentive do you have to stay?
Howard wants to play for a winner. Orlando is not a winner right now. Once they are free of Arenas’ and Turkoglu’s contracts, they can do something in free agency. However, that won’t be possible for another few years.
Orlando fans may have to accept the fact our most beloved basketball player may not be with us in 2012.
So what can Orlando do?
Of all potential deals for Howard that have been speculated, the one that Orlando would benefit from the most would involve sending Howard to the Lakers for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. But the Magic have other options.
Can they get Brook Lopez and other young talent from New Jersey? Can the fabled Dwight for LeBron trade actually come true?
Look, like every Orlando fan, I want Dwight to play in Orlando for his entire career. But the fact remains, he is wasting away in Orlando like LeBron did in Cleveland. Unlike Cleveland, Orlando can put itself in good shape for the future.
And while it pains me to say it, if Dwight Howard is going to leave Orlando, maybe it’s best to get something in return.