Denton: Starting Lineup Announced For Tonight

By John Denton
December 20, 2010


ATLANTA – The Orlando Magic’s starting lineup Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks – and likely for the foreseeable future – will feature something old (Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and Brandon Bass), something new (Jason Richardson) and a player familiar wearing Magic blue (Hedo Turkoglu).

Stan Van Gundy’s new lineup means that the Magic will bring guard Gilbert Arenas off the bench in his first game with the team. It’s a role that Arenas became familiar with while playing in Washington and said he would welcome a similar spot in Orlando to ease the team’s logjam of talent.

``Well somebody had to come off the bench and I didn’t want it to be Jameer because he’s our guy, he’s been here and he knows how to run our offense,’’ Van Gundy said. ``And to me with the matchups (against the Hawks) are easier with Jason at (shooting guard) and Hedo at (small forward). And Gil will come off and play at both spots. I don’t even know if that’s permanent because we haven’t practiced or played.’’

All four of the Magic’s new players – reserve center Earl Clark, Turkoglu, Arenas and Richardson – were cleared to play late Monday afternoon after going through physicals with the team in Atlanta. The Magic cancelled their normal morning shoot-around because the four players weren’t yet cleared to drill on the court.

The group did get to go through a film session at a ballroom in the Magic’s hotel in downtown Atlanta. And because the Magic play the Dallas Mavericks at Amway Center on Tuesday night, the Orlando’s new players won’t get to go through their first practice until Wednesday. Days after back-to-backs are normally off days in the NBA, but Van Gundy might make an exception this time because of the roster upheaval.

``What is strange is playing guys that you haven’t even been in a gym with. We did it (former point guard) Rafer (Alston) a couple of years ago, but that was one guy and this is multiple guys,’’ Van Gundy said. ``To me, we might as well get the process going. There’s no sense sitting them down and waiting it out.

``We are going to have to pick it up on the fly and I’m sure we are going to make a myriad of mistakes,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``I think I’m going to have to exhibit a good deal more patience than I’ve shown in my career. I told them (on Sunday) that I would be patient with them and I wouldn’t expect them to be great until 7 o’clock (Monday) night. But in reality I’ll have to be more patient than that. What you are looking at is what you might expect from a team playing on Oct. 1.’’

Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith made two blockbuster trades on Saturday to dramatically bolster Orlando’s scoring and athleticism. He dealt Rashard Lewis to Washington for Arenas. Then, he sent Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat to Phoenix for Turkolgu, Richardson and Clark.

Turkoglu’s familiarity with the Magic’s offensive system should come in handy during this time of transition. The 6-foot-10 forward spent five seasons in Orlando from 2004-09, helping the Magic reach the 2009 NBA Finals. He enjoyed his finest season in the NBA in Orlando in 2007-08, averaging 19.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

Turkoglu has struggled since leaving Orlando for more money in Toronto in 2009, and spent the past two seasons with the Raptors and the Suns. But the Magic are hopeful that his play will flourish again because they plan to put the ball into his hands to make plays both for himself and others.

``Orlando has been the best place for me in my career player-wise and it’s where I’ve reached the highest level in my 11 years,’’ Turkoglu said before Monday’s game. ``(In Toronto and Phoenix) I just wasn’t used with what I am best at. I feel like the way they tried to use me I did OK. I tried to not compare it to Orlando. But I know now that I will be used where my strengths are.’’

Richardson, 29, was in the midst of a stellar season in Phoenix, and he gives the Magic some serious offensive punch at the shooting guard position. He averaged 19.3 points this season while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 41.9 percent from the 3-point range. He scored 29 points last week against Minnesota and had big games earlier this season against Denver (39 points on Nov. 28) and the Los Angeles Lakers (35 points on Nov. 14).

``It’s a great opportunity for me coming in here right now and playing with Dwight Howard, the most dominant guy in the league right now,’’ Richardson said. ``Me and Gilbert have been knowing each other forever and now being back on the same team 10 years later is crazy.’’

Arenas played both the shooting guard and point guard spots in Washington and he’ll do the same with the Magic. He’ll split time at point guard with Nelson, but will also be used to create offense from the wings. Richardson, an underrated defender, can also play small forward, while Turkoglu has spent time before at power forward – giving Van Gundy enormous flexibility with his roster and lineups.

Arenas started 14 games and came off the bench seven times this season for Washington. He was clearly better as a starter, averaging 18.8 points and 6.4 assists in 37.7 minutes as a starter compared to 14.3 points and 3.9 assists in 28.6 minutes as a reserve.

Even after three seasons of struggles with his twice-repaired knee and a 50-game suspension last season, Arenas has shown his explosiveness as a scorer. He has eight 20-point games and two 30-point games this season, one of which came against the Magic on Nov. 27 when he poured in 31 points.

Arenas said on Saturday night that he would be fine with playing as a reserve and said he had no concerns as to being able to fit into the rotation with Nelson.

``Jason Richardson is playing great right now and Turkoglu is playing great. I see them two starting at the (shooting guard) and (small forward),’’ Arenas said. ``And since I’ve been coming off the bench this season, I’m really accustomed with coming off. I was coming off the bench for Washington, so I’m used to it.’’

Van Gundy has already made two things clear to his new players: Howard is the team’s top offensive option in the inside-out based offense and Nelson is the entrenched starter at point guard. Van Gundy is most worried about how the Magic can improve their defense in the wake of so much newness to the system than he is players fitting into the rotation.

``Gilbert is a player who has to have the ball in his hands. But clearly he is going to have to play with Jameer at times,’’ Van Gundy said. ``They both have to be (on the floor) 32-plus minutes a game. So that leaves them in the 16-18 minute range where they are playing together. … Of the four guys one of them has to come off the bench, but Jameer will not be that guy.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.