Cohen: Overrated or Underrated

By Josh Cohen
October 3, 2012

ORLANDO -- Let's play another game. It's called Overrated or Underrated. I document three statements and I analyze whether the notion is overrated or underrated. After reading through each assessment, weigh in on your opinion by clicking on each VOTE button.

National critics continue to suggest the Magic didn’t get enough value in the Dwight Howard trade.

OVERRATED: First and foremost, the primary purpose of the deal – considering the Magic were essentially forced to trade Howard because of Dwight’s refusal to commit long term – was to gain flexibility.

As a result of not acquiring any players with large, long-term contracts in the deal, the Magic created a prospect to seize sufficient salary cap space over the next couple of years. This will permit Orlando to make a serious push for any impending star free agents that may be available in the upcoming few summers.

Remember, history implies that when the Magic have ample cap space, they succeed. Orlando, for instance, landed Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill in 2000 and nearly also sequestered Tim Duncan away from San Antonio. Several years later, the Magic snatched Rashard Lewis, who helped guide Orlando to the NBA Finals in 2009.

The trade also delivered a balanced mix of talent to Central Florida. Arron Afflalo is one of the more underrated guards in the league, Al Harrington is a proven veteran with indispensable wisdom and experience and both Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic are two highly touted young talents. Some scouts, in fact, believe Harkless could eventually evolve into an NBA All-Star.

In addition, because they did not attain a “borderline” star in return for Howard, the Magic did not automatically slide into a common wedge. Many teams who clearly are not championship contenders stockpile on enough “good” talent to be mediocre. They exceed the salary cap just to make a legitimate playoff push, but typically are eliminated in the First Round.

This, in effect, results in getting stuck in the middle of the pack with very little room to evolve. These teams are over the salary cap – meaning they can’t make a run at prized free agents – and they aren’t in position to obtain the best prospects because they don’t get to pick high enough in the draft.

Some critics have repeatedly suggested it would have been more advantageous for the Magic to acquire Andrew Bynum straight up for Howard.

There would have been two glaring problems with this rebuffed deal.

For one, Bynum has a dangerous history of troubled knees and according to the latest reports; he will miss all of the preseason as a precaution after undergoing surgery over the summer.

Second, Bynum is in the final year of his contract – which would have meant the Magic would have had to experience another season of drama and ambiguity.

It’s very possible that when the dust settles, it could be verified that among all four teams involved in this past summer’s big blockbuster, the Magic were the team that got the best of the deal.

If Howard decides to leave L.A. after this season, if injuries deny Bynum from reaching his potential and if the subtraction of some offensive firepower in Denver all ensues, Orlando may be the ones in far greater position to thrive long term.

There are too many teams ahead of the Magic for them to make a serious playoff push this season.

OVERRATED: It really feels as each day passes, there are more Eastern Conference teams with less of a guarantee to advance to the playoffs.

Miami and Boston are the cream of the crop; Indiana remains rather potent considering its core is the same as last season and New York and Brooklyn are each loaded with enough talent to practically be a lock for a postseason spot.

As for the rest of the conference: Anything is possible.

For one, Chicago is in some trouble. Aside from Derrick Rose’s indefinite recovery from his injury last April, the Bulls also lost Kyle Korver, Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer in the offseason.

Everyone is raving about Philadelphia. However, overall it is less balanced and certainly less athletic than last season. The Sixers are dependent on Bynum’s health and performance. Otherwise, the subtraction of Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Elton Brand will certainly damage their stock.

Washington’s John Wall will not be back until at least early December. That makes things very complicated in the nation’s capital.

Atlanta will likely take a step back considering it traded Joe Johnson and there is still no resolution with Josh Smith, who very well could be traded by the deadline.

Milwaukee has a fantastic backcourt with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, but a relatively fragile frontline could hinder its chances of sneaking into the playoffs.

The remainder of the conference is all rebuilding: Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto.

In effect, punch a ticket for the Heat, Celtics, Pacers, Knicks and Nets. That implies there are three open spots available. Most will suggest the Bulls and Sixers are playoff bound, but upon further review, that’s not necessarily set in stone.

Even if both Chicago and Philadelphia qualified, that would still leave one playoff berth open. If you ask me, Orlando can certainly compete with Atlanta, Washington, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto.

Jameer Nelson’s performance suffered last season as a result of the Dwight Howard saga. 

UNDERRATED: He won’t ever completely admit to it, but Nelson was very impacted last year by the all the drama and distraction.

In many ways, Nelson was the inadvertent target of Howard’s wishes. Dwight wanted to team up with Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Monta Ellis – some of Nelson’s biggest rivals.

It’s impossible for a player to not feel tainted when a teammate essentially claims he isn’t good enough to journey with. And while Howard and Nelson have always been great friends, Dwight’s back-and-forth indecision threatened Nelson’s confidence.

Statistics prove the point. Nelson’s performance suffered last season. His points per game shrunk, his shooting percentage was the lowest of his career and it was noticeable at times that his head wasn’t in the game.

But it was also apparent that Jameer looked far more comfortable and relaxed after Howard’s season-ending back injury. Nelson displayed excellence in Orlando’s First Round playoff series against Indiana, averaging 15.6 points and 6.6 assists.

More than ever, Nelson has a lot to prove. He would love nothing more than to show all of his detractors that he is still a top point guard and can lead a team to success without Howard.

With Jacque Vaughn, a former point guard with championship experience, in place to help Jameer grow, many inside the organization believes this will be Nelson’s best season of his career.

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