Cohen Courtside: Magic at Wizards (2/29/12)



By Josh Cohen
February 29, 2012


In Cohen Courtside, Josh Cohen examines the state of the Orlando Magic after games this season. He will tackle sidebar storylines and focus on topics that stretch far beyond the box score. There will also be some analysis on league-wide subjects.

SO MUCH INTRIGUE AROUND THE MAGIC


“It’s 50-50.”

That’s Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith's message to fans regarding whether Dwight Howard will remain in Orlando long term or part ways either via a deal at the March 15 trade deadline or when he can become an unrestricted free agent over the summer.

This is unprecedented, really.

When LeBron James was in the final year of his deal in Cleveland, for instance, there essentially was no discussions of the Cavaliers considering trading their once adored star. While everyone knew big market franchises like New York, Chicago and Miami were freeing salary cap space for a run at the two-time NBA MVP, it just seemed illogical at the time for the Cavs to dare flirt with any potential deals.

Last season, Denver almost had no choice but to trade Carmelo Anthony considering the Knicks were waiting patiently with a ton of cap room to sign the New York native the following summer. It was very apparent that Melo had no desire to remain with the Nuggets -- forcing Denver to deal him to the team he would have signed with regardless just a few months later.

This time around with Howard and the Magic, it’s virtually impractical to predict what will transpire. Any scenario seems possible – from Dwight staying in Orlando for the rest of the season to him signing an extension with the only franchise he has ever played for to the Magic deciding to deal him prior to the deadline to Howard signing with a new team in free agency to the six-time NBA All-Star not exercising his player option and staying in Orlando for at least another season.

As expected following a memorable All-Star Weekend, tweets are relentlessly being processed about all kinds of speculation. There is all sorts of buzz circulating around the Internet, ranging from Orlando making attempts to acquire a sidekick superstar to team with Howard to potential deals that involve the Magic’s supreme center.

It’s particularly fascinating that while the primary spotlight on the Magic is centered on Howard and his indecisive future, Orlando’s performance on the court in these next two weeks may almost mechanically determine the franchise’s decisions.

Irrespective of the 3,428 rumors involving Howard and the Magic that you will read and hear over the next two weeks, if the Magic are winning and in position to challenge any other elite team in the NBA, it may persuade Smith to not break up a good thing.

On Wednesday in the first game since the All-Star break, the Magic once again didn’t let all of the side distractions and annoyances from the national media disrupt their flow.

They showed tremendous resolve to defeat the lowly Washington Wizards. And while judging a team based on how they perform against an opponent that doesn’t pose much of a threat even under low-pressure circumstances, convincing victories are never a given in the NBA.

You can insinuate that fresh legs following a six-day hiatus allowed Orlando to flourish, but it seems more reasonable to conclude that outstanding preparation and excellent execution down the stretch propelled the Magic to their ninth consecutive triumph over the Wizards.

Orlando is 23-13 – tied for third place in the Eastern Conference. Only Miami and Chicago have better records.

It would, moreover, seem plausible that if the Magic are sitting comfortably in third place by March 15 – or better yet surge past either the Heat or Bulls in the standings – then more of the focus will be on Orlando’s increased chances of contending for a title rather than Howard and all the uncertainties.

In contrast to last season when Orlando was deprived of a potent supporting cast, this year the Magic seem to have far more options and all-around effectiveness.

We all are aware of the drastic improvements from both Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick. They combined for 38 points on Wednesday and have each become more versatile. Anderson also grabbed 15 rebounds, including 10 on the defensive end which Head Coach Stan Van Gundy has told him to place greater emphasis on.

And maybe more encouraging for Magic fans, Jason Richardson has crawled out of an early season struggle and is looking more like the player we saw last season after Orlando acquired him mid-season. In 11 games in February, J-Rich scored in double figures eight times.

It’s the same for Glen Davis, who posted 12 points off the bench in the nation’s capital and converted on a few critical baskets in the fourth quarter.

In all, seven Magic players scored in double figures on Wednesday and 15 3-pointers were made. This box score fact is normally a reason to celebrate if you are a fan of the team.

Thursday’s contest at Amway Center against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who possess a league-best 28-7 record, will be a significant test to further measure the Magic.

As a result of all the commotion and diversions encircling the Magic, nonetheless, these next two weeks will be captivating. There is so much unparalleled anticipation and regardless of what happens with Howard, the intrigue is what makes us all appreciate and enjoy what we simply don’t know and can’t predict.

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