The Daily Puppy

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Works: The Orlando Magic's Balancing Act

Is Orlando Flexible or Flawed?

The Mavericks beat the Heat over the weekend; there was an element of "I told you so" to this win, as Dallas didn't even get the chance to make a pitch to LeBron James over the summer.

As Art Garcia writes, Mark Cuban's pitch to Maverick Carter (in hopes of making a pitch) included this now-prophetic line: "No team had ever blown up a team of all their core, then added a couple of free agents and won." Well, at least that's how Cuban tells it today.

Then today, the Orlando Sentinel reports that the Magic wouldn't be averse to trading well, anyone but Dwight Howard, despite being one of the best teams in the league:
The Magic still are open to making a deal for either Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul ... Even Gilbert Arenas would be in the discussion if he wasn't owed gadzillions. Maybe Monta Ellis.

The Magic are no fools: They want to win a title and they know they need either a big-time scorer or playmaker to get past the Celtics or Heat, and then the Lakers. They would even be willing to take a step back this season to restock if it meant they could land either Anthony or Paul.
The blockquote is long, but the gist important: Mark Cuban predicted that no team built out of free agency -- a core-less entity -- would never wrap its hands around that great treasure over the horizon. At the same time, somehow, the Magic are (supposedly) looking not only to add another major piece, but to part with anyone on their payroll to do so. In effect, they're acknowledging that to make it over that hump, their core needs a serious upgrade. To such a degree that this core itself is called into question.

Putting it like that seems so melodramatic, and comparing the Magic to the Heat is outright ridiculous. Orlando has the perennial Defensive Player of the Year in the middle, a system that seems to work, a coach whose basketball mind is matched only by his scrappy ardor, and a seemingly bottomless vat of good-not-great rotation players. It's a formula of sorts, albeit one that will only take them so far. The Magic are not unlike the Social Security donut hole: Howard, in the middle, can't be touched, and the floating generalities of the team are no less essential. Somehow, though, what got left out was key second star.

That doesn't mean, though, that the Magic would be willing to blow it all up. Howard is the franchise. Van Gundy and his bag of tricks -- oh, and that commitment to defense he has managed to instill in folks like J.J. Redick -- has paid dividends. But it was at its best with Hedo Turkoglu in the line-up, a play-maker and clutch scorer who made Howard's strengths stronger and filled in the empty spaces left in the line-up.

Vince Carter, as underrated a passer as he is, and as frenetic a scorer as he once was, just doesn't fit that bill. Discussing the Rashard Lewis contract is illegal in 49 states, and I don't know what the 50th is.

There really shouldn't be a fine line between building a temple from out of nothing, and lowering just one more pillar into place. And yet the underlying logic is the same: not only is outside help needed, but it presumes that nothing within is all that sacred. It would be one thing if the Magic simply wanted to get better. But when you realize the price that they are willing to pay, the peculiar logic of this team comes into focus. The outright maturity of one step back, two forward -- at a point when most teams would be focused on a fleeting championship window -- is as bizarre as it is admirable.

It's then that you have to ask: Are the Heat really that crazy, or have the Magic somehow been pulling off the greatest balancing act of all time? And, of course, are they always just a few inches away from utter collapse? (BS)

Waiting for ... Donatas?

Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix tweeted some interesting notes on Friday, citing NBA execs who expected that the Nuggets (in the middle of the Western Conference pack, as expected) would still trade Carmelo Anthony to the New Jersey Nets this season for a package centered on Derrick Favors and draft picks ... but that Denver would wait until closer to the deadline so that it can be assured 'Melo wouldn't improve the Nets so much that the team's 2011 draft pick would stink.

Depending on your level of savvy, or the level of savvy you attribute to the league's GMs, this is either brilliantly subversive or the biggest waste of time SLASH needless gamble in the history of civil barter.

Favors is the big cheese here. Denver makes the trade because it believes it would otherwise lose Anthony in free agency, and because Favors looks like one of the best young big men in the game. There's a reason Denver is talking to New Jersey beyond Carmelo's New York state of mind -- it's because of Favors!

You know how many other first-round picks are out there? Twenty-eight, if you don't count Jersey's or Denver's. But the Nuggets aren't talking to those teams -- they are talking to the Nets. Because of Favors. The picks are nice, and required. But they are not the main attraction. It's like turning down a filet mignon dinner because, if you wait a little bit longer, you'll get mashed Yukon Golds instead of Russets. It's a dumb, needless risk.

Trading stars for pick packages is always risky. You know what became of the picks the Lakers sent to Memphis for Pau Gasol? Greivis Vasquez and Darrell Arthur. But the key for Memphis was cap relief (which somehow became Zach Randolph) and Marc Gasol. The picks were not the main event.

When the Timberwolves traded Kevin Garnett to Boston, the pick they got back turned into Wayne Ellington. (Minnesota also got back its own 2009 first-round pick, which became Jonny Flynn and which Kevin McHale had previously traded to Boston in the enormously unsuccessful Wally Szczerbiak-Mark Blount trade of 2006.) Did the Wolves focus on how good Boston's first-round pick would be? No, because they were too busy counting their Al Jeffersons and smiling a lot.

The point is: if you're trading 'Melo to New Jersey, you're trading 'Melo for Derrick Favors. That's how it will be remembered. Not for the Greivis Vasquezes or Wayne Ellingtons: for the Derrick Favors. He's good enough, or at least promising enough to make it look like a good deal. The Nuggets should judge its merits accordingly.

This isn't to say the little things don't matter -- that's why I suggest this could be seen as brilliantly subversive. Unfortunately, there's too much at stake here -- like, say, the Nets deciding Favors is just a little too good to be traded -- for gamemanship.

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