Magic Mailbag: Denton Answers Questions

By John Denton
May 6, 2011


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.

ORLANDO – Admit it, Magic fans, this just doesn’t feel right at all. It’s not even Mother’s Day, and the basketballs have been put away and the bright lights inside the dazzling new Amway Center have been dimmed until next season.

Where, you have to wonder, did it all go wrong for a Magic franchise and fanbase that have grown used to playing basketball well into the spring? Two years ago, it was the stirring run through April and May to the NBA Finals in June. Last season, the Magic coasted through the first two rounds before running into what looks to be the final stand from the aging Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

So this is what Magic fans are left to chew on: How did Orlando lose to a Hawks team that it whipped by 101 points in the most lopsided sweep in NBA history just a year earlier? How did the Magic lose to a Hawks team that entered the playoffs by losing six games in a row and 14 of 21 down the stretch? Again, the Hawks?!?!?!?!?!?

We all know now that it happened because the Magic couldn’t find dependable second, third and fourth options. It happened because Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford were playing with incredible confidence and they were the best two perimeter players in the league. It happened because the Magic never found their stroke from the 3-point line and career underachiever Marvin Williams awoke in Game 6 and found his. And it happened because (gulp!) the Hawks were the better team in the series.

Unlike Magic teams in the past that went on the road and won big games and was never prone to bad streaks, this squad was all over the board after the blockbuster trades on Dec. 18. Bad losses late in the regular season pointed to signs of trouble, but there was always a belief that the Magic had Dwight Howard and enough talent around him to get it together in the playoffs.

So the loss to the Hawks is certainly a sobering one for the Magic and their fans to deal with this spring. You have plenty of questions, and hopefully I have some answers for you to some of the burning issues facing the Magic this summer? For this week, the questions are mine, but we’ll use yours starting next week.

Without further ado, away we go:

  • Should seeing the Hawks have success against the Bulls make Magic fans feel better or worse?

    A little better, but just a little. Unlike last season when the Hawks clearly quit on former coach Mike Woodson and were a fraud of a team, they are for absolutely for real now. In Al Horford, Johnson and Crawford they have three players who can go for 25 points on any night. And by virtue of picking near the top of the NBA Draft all of those years, they have talented bit players in Josh Smith, Jeff Teague and Marvin Williams. Throw in all of their size, Larry Drew’s cerebral coaching style and a distinct homecourt advantage (the most shocking thing of all) and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hawks are in the Eastern Conference Finals in a couple of weeks.

    Let’s face it: The Hawks were better than the Magic all season – they won three of four in the regular season and four of six in the playoffs. With that said, if Howard would have gotten any help in Game 1, if Jason Richardson had been available for Game 4 when the Magic missed 21 of 23 3-point shots and if Orlando had been able to corral a rebound at the end of Game 6, the series could have easily shifted in the Magic’s favor. But that’s not the way it works, so give the Hawks their due.

  • How will the first-round loss affect Dwight Howard’s future in Orlando?

    The Magic’s superstar center was none too happy about the loss, especially with it coming against the team from his childhood hometown of Atlanta. He pinned the loss on the Magic not playing hard enough, but I often think that’s a defense mechanism for athletes who don’t want to say the other team simply played better. Professional athletes just aren’t wired that way and to get to where they are they always have to believe they are better.

    Howard is already bristling at the talk of his pending free agency after next season, but fans are eager to know how a playoff disappointment like this affects his thinking. As far as Howard’s future is concerned, there are two things I know for certain about the all-star center: He loves Orlando dearly and values being the unquestioned star of the city; and he is consumed with winning a championship.

    The Magic’s best bet to keep Howard long term is to build a championship caliber team around him. This isn’t about being in a bigger market, having wandering eyes of L.A. or not being respected in Orlando. (After all, he was second in the MVP race, was the East’s leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game and he’s headed for a fifth straight All-NBA appearance).

    Howard’s game is blossoming almost daily, and that in itself almost guarantees Orlando 50 wins, so it’s not like the Magic have to totally blow up the roster. Adding one more star player alongside Howard – something that likely can’t happen until the summer of 2012 – is the best way to keep the NBA’s best center in Central Florida for years to come.

    Build a supporting cast around Howard that can help him win it all, and he’ll likely grow old (as in 30 years old) in Central Florida.

  • What can the Magic do this summer to revamp the roster?

    With the league’s second-highest payroll, the Magic’s ability to revamp their team will be severely restricted this summer.

    Ideally, the Magic would like to knock out multiple problems areas with one move this offseason if possible. The hope would be to upgrade at power forward and that player also could likely back up Howard at center. (An available player such as Clippers big man Chris Kaman comes to mind). Head coach Stan Van Gundy would also like a resolution at the point guard position where Jameer Nelson is the starter, Gilbert Arenas is the primary backup and Chris Duhon is the emergency third point guard. Arenas balked at the structure of the Magic’s offense, but Smith is hoping that very same structure can help Arenas resurrect his career. In many ways, Arenas’ ability to revive his career this offseason could be a defining moment for the Magic.

    The Magic could potentially offer Ryan Anderson or Brandon Bass in trades because of their value around the league. Anderson is considered a tremendous bargain considering his blossoming improvement on the offensive end and his $2.2 million contract for next season, while Bass is a solid NBA power forward and affordable at $4 million next season. If the Magic are going to swing a deal of substance, they would likely have to include a starter. Quentin Richardson and Duhon, both unhappy with their reserve roles, would likely welcome trades, but don’t have great value. Nelson is admired around the league for his toughness and playmaking in pick-and-roll plays. He is a favorite of GM Otis Smith’s, but he seems the player most likely to be shopped if the Magic feel they need an offseason overhaul.

  • What’s to make of Atlanta VP of Public Relations Arthur Triche playfully leaving two tickets to Game 1 of the Hawks-Bulls series for Jameer Nelson?

    For those of you who don’t know the back story, here goes: At the conclusion of the Magic-Bulls nationally televised regular season game on April 10, Nelson greeted Chicago point guard Derrick Rose and told him, ``I’ll see you in the second round.’’

    ABC’s cameras picked up the line, and the Hawks apparently used the sleight as motivation when they faced the Magic in the first round of the playoffs. Let’s be real here: The Hawks won for a lot of reasons, but Nelson’s throw-away line was not one of them.

    Said Nelson: ``What am I supposed to say? See you next summer because we’re going to lose in the first round?’’

    Triche tweeted out that he was leaving two tickets for Nelson in Chicago, and ESPN got plenty of mileage out of the ploy by showing the video of Triche holding the ticket envelope with Nelson’s name on it.

    Good for a laugh? Yes. Bad form? Indeed. As the old saying goes, when you win or do something great, act like you’ve been there before. But in the case of the Hawks, you can understand why success might be unchartered waters for the franchise.

  • Does Stan Van Gundy need to change a Magic offense that relies so heavily on 3-point shooting?

    For everyone to suddenly rip the Magic’s style of play because of the loss to the Hawks is almost laughable. Have they suddenly forgotten the success that style led to in 2009 when the Magic made it to The Finals and in 2010 when Orlando reached the Eastern Conference Finals?

    Van Gundy’s ``style’’ is more a product of the personnel on the roster than some set way that he insists on playing. With Howard drawing double teams on the block and attention when he darts down the lane on pick-and-roll plays, it’s bound to create open shots on the perimeter. It’s a formula that the San Antonio Spurs used with Tim Duncan and a cast of shooters to win four titles.

    And with Rashard Lewis at power forward for 3 ½ seasons and Anderson playing there most of this past season, the Magic often had no choice but to employ the one-in, four-out plays.

    But an emerging trend in the NBA of collecting multiple 7-footers might force the Magic to change their personnel and ultimately change their style of play. Teams like the Lakers (Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum), Celtics (Kevin Garnett and Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal), Thunder (Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka), Grizzlies (Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol), Bulls (Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah) and even the Mavericks (Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood) have had playoff success by using two big players to protect the rim and pound opponents inside.

    The exception, of course, is the rival Miami Heat, who are overwhelming teams with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and to a lesser extent Chris Bosh on the perimeter and a collection of castoffs in the paint.

    Van Gundy would prefer that the Magic get bigger next season in order to become better defensively and tougher on the boards. But in the past, he’s been extremely hesitant to use players who have little to offer offensively – regardless of how good they are defensively – so there might have to be some give and take there as it relates to getting bigger with the lineup in crunch time.

  • 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.