We do not yet know when Otis Smith's job will start. The lockout is preventing us from making any meaningful predictions about what exactly Orlando will do -- or try to do -- to get back to a championship level.
The direst predictions see a complete rebuild that will send Dwight Howard (along with one of the team's undesirable contracts) out of town for a collection of young, unproven but potential star players. The more optimistic of us see Smith trying minor tweaks as he tries to revamp a roster that never seemed to click in half a season together. As Howard urged everyone, the team was good but needed time to gel.
You can agree or disagree with that assessment. What is important during this downtime is that Otis Smith understand all his options and what moves or strategies might be available to him. He may not know the rules to the free agency game quite yet, but there are certain moves he has to, at least, seriously consider both to make the Magic a championship team once again and to remain attractive to Dwight Howard (and in this sense, maybe taking a step back in the right direction would be enough).
The one plan the national media seems fixated with is the complete rebuild. Ryan Corazza of ESPN Insider took a stab at laying out a strategy for the Magic to rebuild quickly in the wake of trading Dwight Howard. His strategy consists of trading Howard to the Lakers (without suggesting any other potential deals Orlando could make) for Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. He then suggests the team work to include Gilbert Arenas and Chris Duhon in the deal to shed some of the team's bad salaries.
He then suggests Orlando needs to spend what cap space they may or may not have to get serviceable, relatively cheap players to fill in roles around the new core featuring Bynum, Odom and Jameer Nelson.
"While a starting lineup of Bynum, Odom, [Hedo] Turkoglu, [DeShawn] Stevenson and Nelson might not have elite-of-the-elite talent, Bynum and Odom are capable of making the All-Star team," Corazza ultimately concludes. "And it's a squad that certainly has playoffs chops, perhaps one that could remain among the top four or five in the Eastern Conference depending on future incarnations of the improved Knicks, aging Celtics and potentially Josh Smith-less Hawks."
The rebuilding path is certainly there. Otis Smith would be foolish not to explore trade opportunities involving Dwight Howard and if there is a deal he feels would work for his team (or Howard has all but told him he would leave), Smith should seriously consider pulling the trigger.
But that is not where Orlando wants to be. Howard is one of the best players in the league and changes games by his mere presence. It is difficult to imagine freely giving him up.
The strategy for Otis Smith should not be to rebuild, but rather to reload. That is what Smith did after the 2009 Finals run when it became apparent the Magic would not retain Hedo Turkoglu. That is what he (recklessly) did in December in trying to shake things up again in December 2010.
Smith has never been afraid to make big, splashy moves. And it may take a creative (and/or risky) move to reload the Magic.
What steps and strategies should Orlando consider? Again, all these steps are easier said than done. And they are intentionally vague because of the current collective bargaining agreement.
Get More Bang for Your Buck from Arenas, Turkoglu
No doubt the biggest disappointment from the December trades were its two biggest pieces. Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu failed to live up to their contracts and thus exist as gigantic black holes on Orlando's salary books. Arenas averaged 8.0 points per game coming off the bench. He certainly did not live up to the $17.7 million salary he garnered last season. And with potentially three more years at an escalating amount, the Magic simply need more from Arenas.
The same can be said about Turkoglu. He averaged only 11.4 points per game while shooting 44.8 percent from the floor. Orlando would like to see a little more efficiency from him and an increase in scoring. But for $10.2 million (nearly $4 million more than the team paid for him per year during his first stint with the team), Orlando wants more.
Whether or not the NBA adds an amnesty clause allowing teams to shed one or more undesirable contracts or a rollback clause decreasing a certain amount of player salaries in the new collective bargaining agreement, the Magic need more from these two or need some value from the hole they fill in the salary cap.
Arenas makes more than Dwight Howard right now and it stands to reason that the team should expect him to produce at or near Howard. Right now, it feels like the Magic would take anything that is the same neighborhood. Turkoglu too could stand to produce a little more for what he makes yearly.
Making matters worse is that they are both under contract for three more years -- Arenas with an early termination option after next season and Turkoglu with an early termination option after 2013.
One of the first things the Magic must do is figure out how and whether these two players fit into the long term plans and explore any trade opportunities that might involve them. One of them certainly has to go out if Dwight Howard does too, in hopes that it increases cap flexibility to go after a big-name free agent in the near future.
Smith should consider doing this even if it means sacrificing depth. Orlando's depth is gone already thanks to the mass of trades in December that sent the team's more valuable chips out of town. Ryan Anderson is very attractive, and with Justin Harper on the team and apparently coming back at the lockout's conclusion, Anderson is someone the team could likely afford to move.
Addressing Arenas and Turkoglu's contracts and getting production from two players eating that much of the cap is integral to the reloading the Magic hope to do.
Find Value in the Bargain Bin
No matter what Orlando's next step is, it has to hit big on bargains. That means Justin Harper and DeAndre Liggins, two second-round draft picks, have to be contributors to the team. It means any free agent signings the Magic make have to be cheap, and have to be hits. The margin for error feels that small.
It is hard to say who Orlando can go after without a collective bargaining agreement in place. Unfortunately, no matter what, it seems that Jason Richardson is going to be outside the Magic's price range. That will make it very difficult for Orlando to find a starting shooting guard.
Corazzo's idea of signing DeShawn Stevenson is not a horrible one. He helped Dallas win a championship last year and has improved as a 3-point shooter -- making 37.8 percent of his 3-point attempts last year -- since his time in Orlando. With Howard in the post, Stevenson should have more time to set up his shot and make 3-pointers. And his defense on the perimeter would be a benefit with Mickael Pietrus gone and the team lacking a real lock-down perimeter defender.
Who else might be available? That is difficult to tell right now.
But as the Heat proved last year (somewhat unsuccessfully), you can piece a roster together with minimum-value veterans and be pretty darn good. If Zydrunas Ilgauskas is available and the Magic need someone to fill in 10 minutes per game at center, you could do a lot worse (and a lot better... but we are talking bargains here).
The Magic have to be creative and find guys that are willing to come in, play hard and do it for not a lot of money. That is just where the Magic are with the salary cap. We are searching the bottom of the barrell, hoping to find a match. It is going to be a tricky road to reload.
Again, it is hard to put a specific plan in place. We don't have rules for the collective bargaining agreement and thus rules for free agency and transactions. Orlando has to have a plan to attack free agency and reload rather than rebuild. These two steps are very much part of this process.
Photos via DayLife.com.