Sleight of Hand: Orlando’s Extreme Makeover Makes The Magic Relevant Again

Posted: December 18, 2010 in NBA
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See this article with photos on Bleacher Report

Coming into the season, the Orlando Magic were widely regarded as one of the elite teams in the league, and a definite title contender. Well, a quarter of the way through the schedule, and it appears that, despite Dwight Howard’s consistent dominance, the Magic were falling off the pace set by Boston, Miami and Chicago in the Eastern Conference. Things have gotten particularly rough of late, culminating in losses in five out of six games, mostly on the road, to Milwaukee, Atlanta, Portland, Utah and Denver. The only win in this span was to the lowly Clippers. If anyone had any illusions that Orlando, as presently constructed, had any chance of hoisting the trophy, they no longer do.

Enter Magic GM Otis Smith and a roster makeover that could rival those made by Boston and Miami in recent years. With today’s two reported trades, the Magic will rid themselves of shrinking violets Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis, as well as perpetual Stan Van Gundy doghouse resident Mikael Petrius and unhappy backup center Marcin Gortat. In their place comes Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas and the return of Hedu Turkoglu. Welcome back, Orlando!

When Orlando let Turkoglu walk two seasons ago, replacing him with the artist formerly known as Vin-sanity, the Magic lost more than simply a one-time Most Improved Player. Virtually overnight, they became a more traditional team, parting company with the matchup nightmares that they rode all the way to the NBA Finals, not to mention Turkoglu’s well-documented late-game heroics in favor of being the latest team to confuse Carter with an actual NBA star. For his part, Hedu has had a difficult time finding a home in Toronto and Phoenix. A return to the Magic could be just what he needs. Some players are fantastic in any system, some players need a system built around them and some players excel within a set system. Turkoglu is clearly one of the latter.

Arenas has shown flashes of his former brilliance this season, but he’s clearly the odd man out in Washington. The Wizards are rookie John Wall’s team and, however explosive Arenas may still be, his game overlaps Wall’s entirely too much. Rashard Lewis is a better fit for the Wizards, bringing some length to go along with the outside shooting. Now, if he can only stay motivated.

As for Phoenix, this may be the beginning of a major overhaul of their own. It’s pretty clear that the Suns’ days among the Western Conference elite are at an end. Moving Richardson and Turkoglu could be just the beginning, and quite possibly a prelude to a once-unthinkable trade of franchise icon Steve Nash. Gortat does give them a solid inside banger to pair with Robin Lopez in the future, and Petrius can be a valuable reserve, but the Suns picked up Carter more for his expiring contract than his play. That’s not a very satisfying return for giving up your own top scorer and a player as versatile as Turkoglu.

The Magic are the real winners here. Arenas, Richardson and Turkoglu all bring excellent outside shooting and an ability to stretch the floor like they haven’t been capable of since Hedu’s departure. Add in the fact that all three acquisitions tend to shine in big moments, and it makes for a major upgrade over Carter and Lewis. With the new guys and Jameer Nelson on the perimeter, the lane will open up even more for Dwight Howard and that simply has to scare everyone. If you double Howard, who gets left open? Arenas? Richardson? Nelson? Turkoglu? Add in the fact that both Arenas and Turkoglu are excellent passers (far better than Carter and Lewis), and the Magic are suddenly very much like the team the won the East two years ago. Quick, precise ball movement finding the open man and drilling three after three will become Orlando’s bread and butter.

If there is one drawback to the trades, it’s the loss of Gortat. This leaves the Magic thin in the middle. Barring another acquisition, Ryan Anderson will likely back up Howard at center, and Brandon Bass is the only other guy on the team who can play effectively in the paint. But with the reams of perimeter scoring they now possess (don’t forget, Orlando still employs J.J. Reddick, Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon, as well) will that really matter? Teams throwing a plodding, big-man heavy lineup out there against Orlando will get shredded from outside. Match up with the smaller, quicker guards, and Howard will have a field day at the rim.

The new Magic roster reminds me a bit of the two-time champion Houston Rockets of Hakeem Olajuwon, only with more well-rounded talent. It remains to be seen how well these guys will mesh, but the Magic, in my eyes, are far better suited for a deep playoff run now than they were just yesterday. Christmas may not be until next week, but Otis Smith has already given Magic fans everywhere a few new presents under the tree.

  1. Chris Ross says:

    I was just shocked to see this big blockbuster trade go through and it just makes the NBA season that much more exciting. Hedo Turkoglu going back to the magic with Gilbert along with J-Rich. The Magic really needed a shakeup and I think it will be good for them. Actually, I think it works out pretty decently for all the teams. They seemed to have gotten what they wanted, or gotten rid of what they didn’t want for that matter lol.

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