The tenor of the season changed on the afternoon of December 18. An evening of speculation as news began to break turned into a morning of angst turned into a startling day that saw the team's principle pieces change dramatically.
Rashard Lewis, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat, three key players from the 2009 Finals run? Gone. Vince Carter? Gone.
In one day Otis Smith changed the identity of the team. What was a team that could get gritty and play in the half court on both sides of the floor suddenly had guys who would want to push the pace and (supposedly) put up points. During the regular season, Dwight Howard on his own would insure the Magic would finish with a great regular season record. The measure of the trades would be in the postseason.
And there the trade absolutely failed.
Richardson shot 10.0 points per game while shooting 33.3 percent from the floor in the Magic's first round series loss. In his two previous playoff appearances, he averaged more than 19.0 points per game and shot better than 47 percent. Hedo Turkoglu averaged 9.2 points per game and 3.7 assists per game while shooting 29.4 percent from the floor. Gilbert Arenas, despite some encouraging results in the final three games of the series, scored 8.6 points per game and dished out 2.4 assists per game while shooting 42.9 percent. Aside from the shooting percentage, those were all career playoff lows for the former superstar Arenas.
By looking at their numbers in the postseason, it is pretty clear the trade failed to deliver what Otis Smith bargained.
Even during the regular season, the players failed to live up to their billing, and it put more pressure on Howard to play at a higher MVP level.
Richardson was consistent, but not spectacular. His four-point play to help send the Philadelphia game to overtime in January was a big emotional push for Orlando in the middle of a long season. But Richardson also often disappeared for large stretches of game, often not re-appearing until the final two minutes to play the hero. Richardson averaged only 13.9 points per game with Orlando, shooting 43.3 percent in the process -- down from 19.3 points per game and 47.0 percent from his 25 games in Phoenix. His season average of 15.6 points per game was his lowest since 2003 (his second year in the league) and his 44.7 percent shooting is his lowest since 2008, his lone year in Charlotte.
Turkoglu, brought in perhaps to replicate his success during the 2009 season and the NBA Finals run, barely resembled the player Orlando let go in the summer of 2009. He had his moments -- a triple double and 17-assist effort in January -- but was largely a disappointment. Turkoglu averaged 11.4 points per game, averaged 5.1 assists per game and shot 44.8 percent from the floor. Those numbers were increases from his days in Phoenix, but not by much. Overall, Turkoglu had a worse season than he did in his ill-fated year in Toronto.
Gilbert Arenas was never himself and really Orlando did not want him to be, thus the contradiction of even acquiring him. Arenas did not fit as a ball-dominating guard who scores with the ball in his hands rather than as a spot-up shooter. He was never healthy and never got the chance to find his groove as an attacker because, admittedly, he was so afraid of making mistakes that he made more of them.
Arenas averaged only 13.2 points per 36 minutes, while shooting 34.4 percent from the floor and 27.5 percent from three. He had a 19.3 percent turnover rate, showing just how poorly he took care of the ball.
None of these three players lived up to their billing. In this way, Otis Smith unequivocally lost this gamble, at least in the short term.
Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns had no problem declaring the Suns the winner of their deal with the Magic. And I tend to agree with his reasoning, at least after this season. He writes:
"If we're going to judge the Aaron Brooks trade as a failure because it did not lead to a Phoenix playoff berth, not only does the big December trade look like a Suns win but it looks like an Orlando loss as well after the Magic failed to reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2007. ...
"The Magic made the trade because they felt Richardson was a missing complementary scorer whose output would surpass [Vince] Carter's and while they may have been right in that regard by no means was he a difference maker for Orlando like he was last year as the Suns’ barometer of success. ...
"In any case, the Suns' future looks much brighter with Gortat's long-term deal in place of Turkoglu's albatross of a contract on their books the next few years, and the Suns should be thankful the Magic were willing to take a major risk that thus far has been a failure."
The roster the Magic had before the trade did not seem to have a championship in them. Something was missing from this year. In that sense, I applaud Otis Smith for taking the risk of making a trade. He stuck his neck out pretty far in making these deals on that December afternoon.
But it did not work out. And may have set Orlando far back in its future. In 2010-11, the trades may have cost the Magic more than the 2011 championship.
Photos via DayLife.com.
What Went Right: Dwight Howard