Maybe we are counting our chickens before the eggs hatch. Maybe we are cursing ourselves to eternal damnation for tempting fate ont he 2011-12 season. But, hey, it is September. And we want to keep everything on schedule. That is the reasoning for Jeff Clark of Celtics Blog to round up the gang once again and start previewing the NBA season. This is my second year as part of the blog preview and since we don't know what the hell is going to happen in the offseason, this is sort of your offseason primer too.
So on to our preview of the Orlando Magic:
1. What your team's biggest needs this offseason?
Where to begin? The disappointing first round exit is still dancing around in our heads and the wait to get the Magic back to a championship level is killing us. A lot needs to happen between now and the beginning of the season to Orlando to that level.
Unfortunately, the team has little-to-no room to work under the salary cap and will largely be relying on players currently on the roster to make improvements to push the Magic to the next level. We saw in spurts that there is greatness in this team... whether Orlando can sustain that for an entire season and postseason is going to determine whether Orlando accomplishes its goal to win a championship.
And, as long as Dwight Howard is on the team, that is really the only acceptable goal and result of the season (I am willing to temper expectations and hope for a return to the Eastern Conference Finals and something resembling a championship team).
To get back to that level the Magic need a few things.
Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu have to play up to their contracts. There is no getting around it. The deals in December to take on copious amounts of salary in the form of Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu backfired as neither of them performed at the level Magic fans expected. It is reasonable to expect more from them as they are both on escalating contracts moving forward.
Orlando desperately needs a scoring punch from the outside. Someone who can take the ball one on one and score at will. That was what Vince Carter was supposed to be. And it feels like the Magic are still looking for that. Bringing back Turkoglu was supposed to help him regain some of his spark while Gilbert Arenas rounded back to health and provided an elite scorer from the perimeter.
Neither Arenas nor Turkoglu were that. Thus the massive failure in the Playoffs as Atlanta found a way to neutralize the perimeter attack and let Dwight Howard do his thing. The Magic need to find someone who can create their own offense from the perimeter to return to that championship level. How they are going to get that is anybody's guess.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths and weaknesses (so far)?
The Magic's biggest strength is Dwight Howard. No doubt about it. Howard is the crux of everything on this roster from offense to defense to every thing in between. This is a team full of mediocre (at best) defenders and you stick them around Dwight Howard and they become a top defensive team in the league. It is really amazing.
The problem is everything is reliant on Howard. Ever-y-thing. If, heave forbid, Howard went through the first injury in his career or, more likely, he faces foul trouble, the Magic have no one to even adequately come in and give him a break on the bench. Howard is lucky when he does not have to play 40 minutes in any game (if that).
The Magic have done a great job accentuating Howard's strengths. Really to the point that he hides everything else. Now, Orlando needs to actually start complementing him with pieces like they did in 2009 and 2010. That is going to take some guys stepping up and returning to All-Star form.
But more than that, the Magic need to rediscover some depth. In 2009 and especially in 2010, the Magic could easily go nine or 10 players deep into their bench. Last year, Orlando went maybe seven or an uncomfortable eight. Ryan Anderson was solid and so was J.J. Redick. Gilbert Arenas was a huge question mark. Then the signings of Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson failed miserably.
The Magic need to hit on every signing from here on out to get back to the championship level. They missed too much last season. Right now, Orlando needs to get the right guys in and increase the amount of talent on the roster. It just is not there right now.
Howard is just good enough to hide it.
3. If there is no season in 2011, how does your team set up in 2012?
... ... ...
Can I plead the fifth?
The Magic have a ton of salary tied up in long-term deals that are going nowhere. Gilbert Arenas has an early termination option for 2012 and if there is one person he would give up nearly $50 million in salary for, it is Otis Smith. I did not think so either.
Chris Duhon. Quentin Richardson. Hedo Turkoglu. Gilbert Arenas. That would account for a good chunk of the $52.4 million the Magic have committed for the 2012-13 season already. And really only J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson have lived up to their deals or will at that time. And they are maybes on that front.
Otis Smith has the Magic in a hole, because you will notice the one name not included in the list of players under contract in 2012. There is no getting around it, the Magic are in a bad situation to resign their superstar. Nobody knows what the collective bargaining agreement will allow the Magic to do, but they could realistically be out of cash to resign their own superstar. Let alone bring in a second star to entice him to stay.
So... the outlook is not so good.
4. If you could make one change to the NBA's new CBA, what would it be?
There has to be some forgiveness for mistakes in the new collective bargaining agreement. It has become increasingly clear that teams -- poorly managed or not -- are stuck with bad contracts that they are not getting their worth for. It has plagued too many teams and set them back so much.
It is not that teams should not be penalized for making bad decisions -- they should. But they need to be able to get out of bad deals quickly. I would make sure there is some way for teams to get out of these bad contracts and still have flexibility to sign new players and bring in new players. No team should have to suffer through the salary cap hell that the Magic had to go through with Grant Hill and what the Knicks had to go through for the last decade.
Even if it comes down to making a rule that allows teams to cut players with little or no penalty early in the contracts (a buyer's remorse clause) with escalating penalties the later you go in the contract's life. I don't know how the economics would work. But teams need a way to get out of bad contracts with little or no penalty. Sure, teams would abuse this to go after big stars, but that is what the Magic need right now, at least.
5. What are the chances the Magic trade Dwight Howard midseason?
This is the question. No doubt about it. I don't like talking about it. Magic fans don't like talking about it. But this is what everyone is wondering.
A lot of it is going to depend on how the Magic do in the regular season. If Orlando races out to a hot start and establishes itself among the East's elite again, no doubt Howard stays the whole year. If the team struggles and is fighting for one of those middle seeds in the Playoffs, then Otis Smith will have to ask himself a serious question about Howard's future.
Personally, I do not think the Magic want to be the franchise that trades Dwight Howard. If he is going to leave, he is going to leave. There is nothing the franchise can do about that. But his inclination is to stay if it is the best place for him to win. Unlike Shaquille O'Neal, I think he imagines himself in Orlando for a very long time. O'Neal always seemed destined for L.A. (and he said as much).
But if Howard comes to the Magic with his decision in the middle of the season and tells the team he intends to leave in the summer, Orlando has to trade him and get what value they can. The Magic cannot afford another Steve Francis-for-Tracy McGrady swap type of deal. They have to get real value for Howard.
I am still at 50/50 that Howard will stay or leave when the time comes in July 2012. It is going to be a constant struggle this season for Orlando and its fans. It is the storyline and the question we all want to know. Unfortunately right now, nobody knows. And that uncertainty is killing us right now.
Be sure to check out the other preview on the Magic from Eddy Rivera of MagicBasketball.net.
Photos via DayLife.com.