Denton Opens Up Mailbag

By John Denton
November 8, 2012

ORLANDO – You’ve got questions about the Orlando Magic and I’ve got answers in this latest edition of the Magic Mailbag.

Winners of the first two home games, the Magic dropped the next two games on the road in Chicago and Minnesota. That home/road dynamic could present an interesting scenario when the Magic play the re-tooled Brooklyn Nets in a rare home-and-home on Friday night (in Orlando) and Sunday afternoon (in Brooklyn).

Already, there have been plenty of highs and lows early in this NBA season. The Magic have had to deal with the loss of starters Jameer Nelson (strained hamstring) and Hedo Turkoglu (broken hand), but they’ve also gotten to witness the debuts of rookies Andrew Nicholson, Maurice Harkless, DeQuan Jones and Kyle O’Quinn. Magic fans must remember that this season is about player development as much as anything, so head coach Jacque Vaughn will continue to sprinkle in the rookies amongst the veteran players as the marathon season progresses.

Without further ado, let’s get to the questions from fans. You, too, can submit a question for the Magic Mailbag via e-mail to jdenton@orlandomagic.com or on Twitter @JohnDenton555. Away we go with the questions and answers:

QUESTION: What should the timetable be for assessing the Magic’s current roster before we potentially make a trade? -- @MRGuidice

ANSWER: When I was asked before the season to predict a victory total for the Magic this season, I stressed that this was the most difficult year ever to do that because of the uncertainty with the roster.

If the Magic ultimately get Al Harrington back and keep the roster together as constructed, I truly believe the team can make a push at a playoff slot in the East and win between 36 and 42 games. But if GM Rob Hennigan and Assistant GM Scott Perry make the decision to move some of the veteran players for future draft picks or promising youngsters, obviously the win total could come in drastically lower than 36 victories.

I think the Magic will use several checkpoints along the way before ultimately deciding which direction to head with the roster. Say, maybe the Magic are 12-8 after 20 games, the team might keep the squad intact and try to make a playoff run. And if it’s 8-12, the Magic brass might see what a core player will bring in return from a contending team looking for one more reliable veteran.

Time will ultimately tell whether or not this Magic roster is together for the entire season.

QUESTION: When will Jameer Nelson return to the court? And when will Al Harrington be ready for action? -- @dezdiamante

ANSWER: Nelson missed his third consecutive game Wednesday night in Minnesota because of a strained hamstring that he suffered in the opening win against Denver. Nelson saw a doctor on Monday before leaving for the roadtrip and he was advised to rest his leg in order to allow it to fully heal.

Nelson told me on Wednesday that he plans to test the leg in Friday morning’s shootaround and he could play that night against Deron Williams and the Nets. Because the Magic are extremely fearful of the injury lingering for weeks, I believe Nelson could be held out until the Sunday game in Brooklyn or next week before returning.

Here’s what Nelson had to say on Wednesday night: ``I’m just trying to be smart about it. They didn’t really give me a timetable and they just told me to sit the (Chicago and Minnesota games) out to let it rest. Not saying that I couldn’t play, but I don’t want it to linger all year. To avoid that, I just want to let it heal all that I can. I’m not putting any pressure on anybody to let me play and they’re not putting pressure on me, but I do want to get back out there. I’ll continue to do some rehab and see how I feel when I wake up on Friday. I’m just going to be honest about it.’’

QUESTION: Do you think we can win consistently on the road? What young player has impressed you so far this season? -- @MrSwey22

ANSWER: I think the effort and grit put forth Tuesday night in Chicago is more of an accurate gauge of how the Magic will compete on the road than Thursday’s ugly game in Minnesota.

Despite falling behind early by eight points and facing an angry Chicago team that gave away a home game to New Orleans three nights earlier, the Magic matched the Bulls step for step all night. Orlando led after each of the first three quarters and fought hard on both ends of the floor.

And even after Chicago made seven straight jumpers to start the fourth quarter, Orlando was within four points of the lead with a minute to play. If only Arron Afflalo had taken that 3-point shot – instead of Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis – the Magic might have put even more heat on the Bulls. Still, it was a game to be proud of. I think there was some spillover from the Chicago loss into the defeat in Minnesota. That’s to be expected from veterans who are playing heavy minutes and rookie contributors still in their first month of play in the NBA. So while this Magic team might be up and down at times on the road, I still think there are plenty of positives to take out of the first two-game jaunt even though the Magic dropped both games.

QUESTION: Does Magic rookie Maurice Harkless get the start at small forward now after making his NBA debut Wednesday night? -- @Brooksy88

QUESTION: How do you think Coach Vaughn handles Mo Harkless as the season continues? Can you see him starting? -- @dlandon13

QUESTION: Which rookie on the roster can contribute the most? -- @ThatGuyJoel

ANSWER: I grouped together these three questions because they all involve the Magic’s intriguing rookie small forward. Harkless, whom the Magic acquired from Philadelphia in August, has become somewhat of a phenomenon on my Twitter timeline with fans flooding me each day with questions about the athletic rookie.

Harkless, who missed all of training camp and the preseason as he recovered from surgery to repair a sports hernia, finally made his NBA debut on Wednesday in Minnesota. There was the good (five rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots) and the bad (two of six shooting and four fouls) in 22 minutes on the floor.

Harkless’ offensive game is still incredibly raw and that’s one reason he’s usually one of the last players to leave the practice floor as he works to improve his ball-handling and jump shooting. But already his nose for the ball and knack for being in the right place at the right time – something that Hennigan noticed as he scouted Harkless as a college player at St. John’s – is downright uncanny. Combine his basketball smarts with his tremendous length and athleticism and it’s easy to see why so many Magic fans are excited about Harkless’ potential.

As for Harkless potentially starting, Vaughn has said repeatedly he is only going to put the rookie in positions where he can be successful. Fans must remember that Harkless played only one season of college basketball, he’s only 19 years old and his body and game are still maturing. In time, Harkless could start and Turkoglu could be gracefully moved to a reserve role. But for the time being, I see Harkless playing controlled minutes and being put in reserve spots where he can succeed.

QUESTION: Do you think that J.J. Redick will be traded? He’s a fan favorite and a productive sixth man, but I know that his contract with the Magic is expiring. Your thoughts? #KeepJJ -- @Justin_Vuong

ANSWER: Judging by the cheers from fans inside the Amway Center, Redick is the fan favorite in Orlando now. And he’s certainly deserving of those cheers what with the way he’s tirelessly worked to strengthen his body and sharpen his game. Redick plays the game the right way – he either shoots it or passes it to a teammate and detests pounding his dribble over and over.

I think Redick embodies everything that the Magic are looking for in a leader. He works at his craft, he is meticulous about his preparation, he mentors the younger players (Andrew Nicholson is his latest project) and he is steadily improving on the court.

I know that Hennigan and Vaughn have tremendous respect for the professionalism and progress of Redick. Of course, if the franchise was blown away by a trade offer, they would have to consider it because of what it would mean for the long-term health of the club.

But I believe that Redick has a chance to stay with the Magic for the long-term. He wants to be in Orlando, he likes being a mentor for the younger players and he likes his role in Vaughn’s share-the-ball offensive system. The hope here is that Redick has a great season, re-signs with the Magic this summer and finishes his career where it began seven seasons ago. I’m sure the thousands of Magic fans who cheer Redick on a nightly basis feel the same way.

QUESTION: When I see Arron Afflalo play, I see a younger Andre Iguodala. Do you agree? -- @Mweigh1214

ANSWER: It’s funny that you mention Iguodala because that is the player who Denver traded for in August when Afflalo was shipped to the Magic. If the Nuggets think that Iguodala is an upgrade over Afflalo, they are in for a huge disappointment this season. Afflalo is the rare breed of shooting guard who thrives on both ends of the floor. He is an aggressive defender and also a player capable of scoring 20 points a night on the offensive end. He was delighted by the trade to Orlando because it offers his a greater chance to expand his game. He’s increased his scoring average each of his five seasons in the NBA, and I see no reason why Afflalo can’t average 18 points a game this season for the Magic.

As for comparisons for Afflalo, there are times when I think he resembles a young Grant Hill – pre-ankle injuries, of course. When Afflalo tore up the floor with the ball last week, shook a Phoenix defender and scored while absorbing contact, it looked much like Hill during his All-Star days.

Because of his mild-mannered nature, Afflalo has somewhat flown below the radar early in his NBA career. But this could finally be the season when NBA fans in Orlando and across the league see just how talented the two-way guard truly is.

QUESTION: What’s up with the inconsistent play? Two blowout wins and then back-to-back low-scoring losses on the road? Is it just a matter of the Magic’s inexperience or what? -- @AndrewClarke112

ANSWER: Scoring 93 points against the Bulls in Chicago is nothing to dismiss. Tom Thibodeau is the premier defensive coach in the NBA and a frontline of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng is always hard to push around. The Magic outrebounded that group much of Tuesday night and stood toe-to-toe with the rugged Bulls all game.

Wednesday’s game in Minnesota was messy, but that’s somewhat to be expected from a team going through its first back-to-back set of games of the season. The veterans were pushed to big minutes in Chicago, prompting Vaughn to turn to young players such as Nicholson and Harkless early in the game on Wednesday. The result was actually somewhat predictable.

Young players seeing their first action and veterans logging big minutes are going to have their ups and downs during the NBA’s marathon season. The important factor will be how the Magic respond on Friday night from Wednesday’s loss. The hope is that Nelson will soon return and the shooting touch of ``Big Baby’’ Davis will return as well by Friday night. The two games against Brooklyn could give an early indication of how the Magic will respond following tough defeats.

QUESTION: Do you miss covering the Magic for Florida Today? – EJMagic24

ANSWER: Working at Florida Today from October of 1997 to July of 2009 provided me with so many great opportunities. It taught me the ropes of covering the NBA, it allowed me to see the world (I covered the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and covered NBA preseason games in China) and I got to witness some big-time events (two NBA Finals, four Super Bowls and seven NBA All-Star Games). So I will forever be grateful for what Florida Today did for my career.

But when some of the leaders at that paper inexplicably decided that the NBA was no longer a priority, I knew my future would ultimately take me elsewhere. While I was disappointed to leave some very good people who work the Space Coast’s paper, I was flattered by the opportunities presented to me. I was offered jobs by ESPNBoston.com, ESPNDallas.com, UCFAthletics.com and OrlandoMagic.com, proving that I truly am a blessed man.

Magic CEO Alex Martins and Senior VP Joel Glass shared a vision to expand the content on orlandomagic.com to give fans more insight into the team. I was fortunate enough to land that job and have done my best over the last four years to provide fans with feature stories, game analysis and profiles about the team’s work in the Central Florida community.

Working with the Magic has been a godsend for me. There’s not a better owner in the NBA to work for than Rich DeVos and the organization always does everything in a first-class manner. Magic fans can rest assured that the franchise is doing everything possible to try to be champions on the court and in the community. I am a lucky man to be a part of such a dedicated organization.

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at jdenton@orlandomagic.com or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.


 

 




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