Savage Sits Down With Otis Smith

By Dan Savage
April 7, 2011

With the playoffs rapidly approaching, I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith to ask him a number of questions focused around Orlando's postseason outlook, Gilbert Arenas' progress, Dwight Howard's future and more. Here is the entire conversation:

Savage: With just three games left in the regular season, how do you feel about this team heading into the playoffs?

Smith: "They’re still learning, growing and getting better. We have to get guys back healthy; that’s the thing right now. So we have to get guys back healthy and we’ll be a little bit better. Sometimes things are out of your control and that would be one of them."

Savage: Outside of Dwight Howard what do you see as this team’s biggest strength?

Smith: "Jameer Nelson. I don’t know, you have 1 and then 1a. If he’s playing well and the big fella is playing well then we are a pretty tough team to beat, because he gets everybody else involved and gets all the rest of them shots. So those guys both have to play at a high level."

Savage: What’s this team’s biggest weakness?

Smith: Probably our inconsistencies. We just haven’t been consistent and a lot of that you can probably put on me for making trades during the course of the season. Injuries have played into that of late. And because we’ve been so injured our bench has been inconsistent too.

Savage: You can make a case that Jameer Nelson’s play is often a barometer for the Magic’s success. How imperative is it with this team that he have a productive postseason?

Smith: "Yeah, it’s very imperative that he has a big postseason and that Dwight has a big postseason and Turk has to be Turk. Really when it comes down to it for us, our team goes as Jameer goes. When Jameer is going and getting everybody else involved, we’re pretty good. You could say that about a center, but it’s a difficult spot, because he doesn’t have the ball as often and he doesn’t necessarily have to make plays for other people. But Jameer is actually a pretty good key for us."

Savage: In our talks you’ve often mentioned a timeline you’ve had for Dwight Howard’s development. With the amazing campaign he’s put together this season, has he even exceeded your expectations?

Smith: "No, it has nothing to do with the physical. Once everybody realizes that basketball is not all physical. There’s some physical part to it, but there’s also some mental part of it and he’s still got a long ways to go to understanding the mental part of the game. What teams are trying to do to him mentally to take him out of his game, which takes us out of our game. From officiating calls to things like that, that’s where his growth is going to have to come. And it’s nowhere where it needs to be. I told him before if I’m the opposing team, I would do the exact same thing. I know if I get him out of rhythm, it gets our team out of rhythm."

Savage: It’s seems anywhere I go now, the first question I get in regards to the Magic is will Dwight Howard sign an extension here after 2012, should he choose to opt out. In your view, what one thing will keep him in Orlando?

Smith: "He’s going to have to make a decision based on him. I don’t think there’s anything that you can say will (definitely) keep him here. This is Orlando, this is home, this is where at that time he’ll have been for the last eight years and everything is built pretty much around him. But I say that and it’s a new day for professional athletes, particularly basketball, it’s a little different. So I don’t think we can do anything differently as it relates to Dwight Howard."

Savage: Is it a coincidence that Gilbert Arenas starts against the Bobcats and he has perhaps his best game as a member of the Orlando Magic?

Smith: “Well he had some time off and that helped. I thought he was aggressive last night, which he hasn’t been before. You can say starting probably helped his head too. It was a little bit of everything.”

Savage: No one here probably knows Gilbert Arenas better than you, so if you had a crystal ball what will this postseason and next season be like for him?

Smith: "Well next season will be better, a lot better, because a lot of things will be at play. As far as the postseason that will depend on how he pictures his body going into it; his mental state. As far as playing, he’s a performer. When it’s time to show, he’s going to show."

Savage: The next question comes from a topic on our message boards. If you could take back any player who has been traded away, left via free agency, etc. and add them to this current team without giving anyone up, who would it be?

Smith: “Well we’ve already done that, we got Turk back. That’s it. It’s already happened.”

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