It is tough to preview free agency right now. Typically at this time of year, everything would be figured out and we would be previewing, you know, actual games with training camp a mere two weeks away.
The lockout has completely changed all of that. The two sides are not near an agreement and the league canceled the first two weeks of the preseason and postponed training camp. We are getting very close to the point where regular season games will be canceled if an agreement is not reached.
We all know that once that agreement is reached, things will move very quickly. There will only be a short time for general managers to organize themselves and move forward in free agency.
Otis Smith better be ready as he certainly has a lot of work to do to get the Magic back to competing for a championship.
However, whatever work Smith has done so far might be futile. The Magic still have the second highest payroll in the league and the free agent landscape is not quite set. It is very difficult to handicap what exactly the Magic can do. What amnesty provision (if any) will be in the collective bargaining agreement allowing Orlando more cap flexibility? Will there be a hard salary cap, severely limiting what the Magic can do, or will the soft cap remain with the various exceptions many teams have used, abused and wasted? Will there be salary rollbacks?
These are all questions general managers are patiently waiting for answers to begin the building for the 2012 season.
With that in mind, it is getting close to the time that free agency will take place if the season is to start on time. And it is close to time to figure out who exactly the Magic are going to target. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel began taking on that task, naming five mid-level guys the Magic can go after.
Either way, the Magic have some very specific needs that they need to address, as I mentioned briefly in my preview for this upcoming(?) season.
The big thing is getting some help with a consistent perimeter scorer. It seems that ever since Tracy McGrady left (yes, he is a free agent, but he is not on this list... not until we get a little more desperate, at least), the Magic have been looking for an elite, or semi-elite, perimeter scorer who can create his own offense. The problem the Magic have had offensive is not knowing who to turn to create offense when Howard is not in the game or otherwise unavailable because of foul trouble or free throw fears.
This was the role Vince Carter was supposed to fill but he simply could not for whatever reason. The problem with last year's team was that you never knew what you would get from Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson or Jameer Nelson on any given night. And none of those three could consistently create offense for themselves on a night-to-night basis. Certainly not in the Playoffs.
More likely than not, this player is not available to the Magic in the free agency market. And it will take some tricky trading to acquire this player.
Because of its cap limitations, Orlando is limited to the mid-level players on Schmitz's list and filling the other two needs that the team has. Of course, at this point we have no idea if the Magic can actually go after these players because the salary cap's rules have not been set. Assuming things remain the same (which they won't), Orlando likely only has the mid-level exception available to sign new players.
But the second and third needs the Magic have, likely can be addressed by that amount.
Orlando needs to get some help for Dwight Howard on the defensive end. He can do everything. But, as we learned in the postseason, Howard cannot stop crazy Jamal Crawford 3-pointers off the backboard. OK, maybe nobody can. But when Orlando let Matt Barnes leave and then traded Mickael Pietrus, the team lost a lock-down perimeter defender. At least someone who could hang (as much as you can) with the elite players in the league. There is no star perimeter defender and that has put more pressure on Howard to clean things up.
The Magic are likely going to be scrounging for that defensive presence after Quentin Richardson failed to deliver. There is also going to need to be some discussion on how the team will replace Jason Richardson.
Schmitz has been a big supporter of Orlando going after Detroit veteran forward Tayshaun Prince for some time now. The only problem with Prince, as Schmitz notes, is that he is a small forward and would force Turkoglu either to play more power forward or to come off the bench. Neither of those things seem likely. So while Prince would help the Magic spread the floor and play defense -- not to mention add some championship experience to the rotation -- with the way the team is constructed he does not quite fit. That is, unless the Magic can waive Turkoglu under an amnesty provision. Then he fits perfectly.
Shane Battier is the other hard-nosed defensive player that Schmitz suggests. Battier is going to get a decently high price you imagine, but he may sacrifice that for a chance to win a championship... or a chance to stay in Memphis. Again, we just do not know what Orlando will be able to offer or whether they can get in the race for Battier's services.
An interesting name Schmitz suggests is Jason Kapono. Kapono would fit into the offense nicely as a complementary spot-up shooter. He does not add much more than that. But seeing as he spent most of last year on the injured list, he could be gotten very cheaply. Orlando will be searching the bargain bin for potential signings. I honestly would not be surprised if a guy like Kapono is the type of player the Magic get to fill this need (I will again suggest Tracy McGrady as an option for this "bargain bin" type player, but that is a post for another day).
More likely than not, then, it seems the Magic will spend the majority of its focus on free agency in finding an adequate backup for Howard. All these needs are about taking pressure off of Howard. Nothing would take more pressure off of Howard than having a defensive-minded center who can come in and give him 15 minutes off per game (or better yet, play alongside him for five minutes). In other words, the Magic need a cheaper Marcin Gortat.
Schmitz suggests Jeff Foster, the hard-working center from Indiana, and Kris Humphries as potential grabs. Foster would have the right attitude to come in and play for the Magic. He is all about rebounding and defense and would be perfect as a backup for Howard. He can even step out and hit a little jumper so if the Magic need to play big, Foster can be there. He would endear himself to Magic fans quickly and would also be someone that can attack the offensive glass (something the Magic struggle with too, although that is partly strategy).
Schmitz adds that the defensive-minded Jason Collins and Joel Pryzbilla as potential low-wage signings too. Both of those guys are pure defensive players and would not add much offensively.
You can see already that once the lockout is lifted, the Magic will have limited options. Part of that is just how much money Orlando has committed already. The team has to be hoping that the new collective bargaining agreement will give it some relief there.
The options for the Magic are very limited to fill these needs that have to be met -- whether within the roster or from outside the roster -- for the Magic to get back to a championship level.
Photos via DayLife.com.