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Around the Association: The Offseason

OrlandoMagic.com's Josh Cohen offers his perspective of the NBA offseason throughout the summer. In this edition, Cohen and Dan Savage have their own draft using NBA Draft prospects, analyzes the best teams in Magic history, evaluates Michael Jordan's status among the greatest players ever and raves about Pau Gasol. NBA Stars on Trading Block
A DRAFT AMONG DRAFT PROSPECTS

Fellow OrlandoMagic.com writer Dan Savage and I decided to hold a hypothetical draft using this season's NBA Draft prospects. The purpose was to get a hint at what teams would look like if only the class of 2010 were playing. Here were our draft rules:

ē Selections were made in a snake format
ē Our teams are designed to be the building block of our franchises
ē This was NOT a fantasy draft (real-time only)

Check out our draft decisions and determine who you think has the better team. The number in parenthesis indicates when the player was drafted.

Savage
PG: John Wall, Kentucky (1)
SG: Xavier Henry, Kansas (9)
C: Cole Aldrich, Kansas (8)
PF: Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech (4)
SF: Wesley Johnson, Syracuse (5)
R: Ed Davis, North Carolina (12)
R: Hassan Whiteside, Marshall (13)
R: Avery Bradley, Texas (16)

Cohen
PG: Sherron Collins, Kansas (10)
SG: Evan Turner, Ohio State (2)
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky (3)
PF: Greg Monroe, Georgetown (6)
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest (7)
R: Patrick Patterson, Kentucky (11)
R: Gordon Hayward, Butler (14)
R: Samardo Samuels, Louisville (15)

Savage & Cohen's 2010 Mock Draft
COMPARING BEST ALL TIME MAGIC TEAMS

It would be easy to suggest that the two best Orlando Magic teams of all time are the two that advanced to the NBA Finals (1994-95 & 2008-09). But, I honestly believe the two most supreme Magic teams in franchise history are the two that lost in the Eastern Conference Finals (1995-96 & 2009-10).

I started analyzing and dissecting the 94-95 and 95-96 teams, and unquestionably, the 95-96 team had more consistency and balance from their starting lineup. The rosters for each squad were nearly identical with the exception of a few of the final reserves.

However, Shaquille OíNeal played in 25 fewer games in the second season and Penny Hardaway, Dennis Scott and Horace Grant increased their scoring averages. If OíNeal did not miss time with injury, itís possible Orlando would have won 70 games.

It still managed to rack up more regular season victories than the year before (60 compared to 57) and until the conference finals when they had to contend with arguably the greatest team in NBA history (Michael Jordanís 72-win Bulls), the Magic were more dominant in the playoffs. Orlando swept Detroit in the First Round and coasted past Atlanta in the conference semifinals in five games.

Similarly, the 09-10 team featured much more stability and uniformity than the previous season. Jameer Nelson was healthier for a larger portion of the year; Matt Barnes was a tremendous defensive upgrade; J.J. Redick showed significant improvement and there was much more depth at each position. They became just the fourth team in the 21st century to sweep the first two rounds of the playoffs and set 3-point shooting records during the regular season.

The main point of this whole analysis is to always recognize the competition each season. If Kevin Garnett was not injured last year and if Rajon Rondo was as brilliant as he was this season, would the Magic have advanced past the conference semifinals in 2009? It's an intriguing thought to ponder.
MJ GREATEST PLAYER EVER?

When I worked at the NBA.com Newsdesk from 2006-2009, my colleagues and I would engage in many intense and animated basketball debates. We would argue about, for example, who the greatest NBA team of all time is and whether Scottie Pippen deserved to be regarded as one of the best small forwards of all time.

But perhaps the most impassioned dispute was about Michael Jordan and whether he is definitely, undisputedly, positively, categorically the greatest player in NBA history. Some Jordan enthusiasts argued that there is no doubt he is above everyone else, including other renowned legends Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Julius Erving.

I, on the other hand, claimed and still fervently believe there is absolutely no way to undeniably conclude that MJ is the greatest. He is, incontrovertibly, ONE of the best all time. But, it just isnít reasonable to terminate the conversation and say Jordan is clearly No. 1.

Relating this discussion to a point I make in the ďBest Magic TeamsĒ box, what if Jordan was in his prime during the 1980ís when he would have had to contend with Birdís Celtics and Johnsonís Lakers?

What if No. 23 had to contend with Shaq & Kobeís Lakers or Russell & Cousyís Celtics? While we are at it, what if MJ had to hope Luc Longley and Bill Wennington had an answer for Duncan & Robinsonís Spurs?

I hate to be the one to criticize the NBA of the 1990ís because it was absolutely an awesome time to watch pro basketball, but I am a believer that the talent of the 1980ís and the 2000ís was and is better. If Jordan played today, he would be competing against Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. During the 90ís, MJís fiercest competition at his position was arguably John Starks and Jeff Hornacek. That is a big difference.

It is just too difficult to compare players from different generations.
GASOL DESERVES MORE PRAISE

Pau Gasol and former Bulls star Scottie Pippen may ultimately become best friends. They are developing a commonality that not even peanut butter and jelly or Bob Wiley and his goldfish Gil (yes that is from the classic movie What About Bob?) share.

During the Chicago Bullsí championship reign in the 1990ís, Pippen, at best, was regarded as Michael Jordanís sidekick and Robin to his Batman. Itís becoming the perception NBA spectators have of Gasol, who despite playing at an all time level, is seen as Kobe Bryantís assistant.

After an All-Star regular season, Gasol has been extraordinary for the Lakers in the playoffs and now the NBA Finals. The Spanish star erupted for 23 points and 14 rebounds in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics, 25 points in Game 2 and had another big double-double in Game 3. If this trend continues, donít be shocked if Gasol, not Bryant, earns MVP of The Finals.

But, when all is set and done, I guarantee that Gasol will be remembered as Kobeís sidekick Ė not as a top five power forward of all time which he may ultimately deserve.

Pau showcases some of the smoothest, most effortless moves in the NBA. He is an extraordinary passer, has a soft touch around the rim and can bury a 15-foot jumper with ease. Before being traded to L.A., Gasol was the Memphis Grizzliesí savior. He led Memphis to three straight postseason appearances.

With Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett on the backend of their illustrious careers, it may be reasonable to conclude that Gasol is todayís best power forward. Some others that deserve to be in the discussion include Amaríe Stoudemire, Chris Bosh and Dirk Nowitzki.

But, if I can have one power forward today, I would take Gasol. Before he arrived in L.A., Bryant was on the verge of being traded and the Lakers were talking about the possibility of rebuilding for the future. Instead, the Lakers are two wins away from notching their 17th title and fifth of the century.
Do you think Michael Jordan is positively, unquestionably the greatest player of all time in NBA history?
Do you think Michael Jordan is positively, unquestionably the greatest player of all time in NBA history?
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