Things are getting real on the lockout front. Several players, including Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick and Brandon Bass, were at Amway Center for the first time since June for voluntary workouts. Team personnel can actually mention players by name in interviews and conversations with the media. Late Thursday, the players voted to reform the union, which means the owners can get with the players association to hammer out the fine details of the new collective bargaining agreement.
The league is marching along toward the planned opening of training camps on December 9.
UPDATE: The first day of games has also been announced. The Magic will travel to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder on Christmas Day at 8 p.m. Howard Beck of The New York Times reports the league will unveil the full 66-game schedule on Tuesday night during a special on NBATV. Orlando also announced it will play Miami in two preseason games. The first will be Sunday, December 18 in Miami at 6 p.m. and the second will be Wednesday, December 21 in Orlando at 7 p.m.
Otis Smith has a lot of work to do. The attention has been put on what is going to happen with Dwight Howard. Numerous teams have been linked to the free agent-to be and more will be until Howard says something with any definiteness (don't worry, he won't). But there is also the little matter of free agency to handle.
I have written before that Jason Richardson is the first issue the Magic have to address. Orlando has some depth issues at shooting guard and have to figure out if they can or if they will re-sign Jason Richardson. Otis Smith told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel he would like to re-sign Richardson. Orlando holds his Bird rights (I believe) which gives them an advantage in re-signing him. But other teams might financially be able to offer Richardson more.
So that leaves a gap at shooting guard for the Magic to solve. J.J. Redick would be the sitting starter. And while we all appreciate his effort and shooting ability, I do not believe anyone believes he can be paired successfully along with Jameer Nelson or Gilbert Arenas to guard the top shooting guards in the league on a night-to-night basis. He might just be best as a bench player. Nothing wrong with that... except when you have to press him into starting duty.
That leaves only second round pick DeAndre Liggins on the roster at shooting guard. And, as Bradford Doolittle informed us in how Strat-O-Matic projected rookies for sim season, Liggins did not play very much in the sim season.
For sure, the Magic have this immediate need to address.
The Orlando does need to find a backup center somewhere. With the cramped season coming up, the Magic cannot survive relying on Dwight Howard to play 40-plus minutes per game. Plain and simple, Howard needs some help and some rest. The inability to give him a break is reason enough for him to seek greener pastures.
OK, so who is ready for the kicker? Since the Magic are a tax-paying team (and will remain so unless they use the amnesty clause on Gilbert Arenas), they have only a $3 million taxpayer mid-level exception to spend (if the proposed CBA gets ratified as this memo illustrates). Goodie.
Orlando has a lot of options out there to explore in this truncated free agency period. Assuming that Dwight Howard is in the future plans ... yes, let's assume that for now ... the Magic have these two needs to fill before the season starts. And one thing is certain, they cannot miss like they did in the Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson signings -- or the trades from last December.
So who is out there?
The Orlando Sentinel had a list of free agents it trotted out as suggestions back in September. On that list were players like Jeff Foster from Indiana or Kris Humphries from New Jersey for the center spot and players like Tracy McGrady, Tayshaun Prince and Shane Battier for the open wing spot. Likely Battier, who has received interest from the Celtics, Heat and other teams with so more money to spend, is outside of Orlando's price range. Prince likely would be too. Orlando would be low on the totem pole to bid on any amnestied players too.
Outside Foster and Humphries the center pool is not that deep with historically quality players. Are you really interested in acquiring Aaron Gray, Kwame Brown or Jamaal Magloire? Even if it iis for just 10-12 minutes per game, none of those names get you excited... or seem to take the pressure off of Dwight Howard the way you would like.
The Magic have a lot of needs and not a lot of money to spend. Likely trades are going to be the way the Magic fill needs, unless they really want to risk hitting big in the veteran's minimum pool.
The best options for adding new players likely will come from trades as numerous sources, including the Orlando Sentinel, seem to suggest. This may not be the monumental moves that are being bandied about, but they might be the only way to really improve the roster.
Orlando has been linked to Glen Davis numerous times, and a sign and trade with the Celtics might be possible (remember Davis was one of the players Howard had on that reported wish list before the lockout).
The free agency period is going to be critical for the Magic. Really every move the team makes from this point on is going to be critical with the Dwight Howard mystery looming over the entire season. There is a lot of pressure to get things right.
While there are future concerns dominating the headlines right now, Orlando's more immediate concerns could solve those problems. The Magic, if they keep the roster as currently constructed, have to fill these two needs quickly to field a complete team that can compete for a high playoff seed -- notice, I did not say championship.