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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Magic Roll the Dice, Go for Broke

In two separate transactions with the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards, the Orlando Magic shipped out Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat in exchange for Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark. The Magic advanced to the NBA Finals in 2009 but after essentially swapping Turkoglu for Carter they lost to the Boston Celtics in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals and they currently have just the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference; it is not surprising that the Magic decided to dramatically alter the roster surrounding MVP level performer Dwight Howard but it is far from clear that the Magic have improved their chances to win a championship .

Neither the Suns nor the Wizards will be factors in the championship chase this season, so let's focus on what these moves mean for the Magic. Carter and Lewis started for the Magic at shooting guard and power forward respectively, while Gortat is arguably the best backup center in the NBA and Pietrus is an excellent wing defender who also shoots very well from three point range, connecting at a career-high (and team-high) .391 rate from long distance this season. Neither Carter nor Lewis have been as effective or efficient this season as the Magic had hoped they would be but Arenas and Turkoglu are hardly setting the world on fire: Arenas is gunning away (17.3 ppg on .394 field goal shooting) for a losing team, while Turkoglu (9.5 ppg, his lowest output since 2003-04) has looked apathetic (and pathetic) since scoring a big free agent contract. Richardson is easily the most productive player from this group (team-high 19.3 ppg for the Suns this season, shooting .470 from the field and .419 from three point range) but the big picture problem is that Orlando will either have to play small ball (Howard is the only legitimate power player currently on the Magic roster)--not likely a winning plan versus Boston's army of bigs or against Miami's All-Star trio--or else package Richardson in a deal to add some bigs to play alongside and/or back up Howard.

The popular myth about Orlando's 2009 Finals run is that Turkoglu was the key player (other than Howard) because he made plays for others and took over in the fourth quarter but Turkoglu's importance has been exaggerated; if you either looked at the numbers and/or actually watched the games then you know that it was Rashard Lewis, not Turkoglu, who proved to be a matchup nightmare for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. Even if you believe that Turkoglu was vitally important back then, there is every reason to think that Turkoglu has peaked--his age, the arc of his career and the way that his performance dropped after he got paid all indicate that his best days are behind him.

Arenas is vastly overrated as a clutch performer; even when Arenas was in his prime a few years ago I did not consider him to be an elite player and I confidently predicted that he would never lead a team past the second round of the playoffs. Arenas had some good games in Washington's first round loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2006 playoffs--which was four years and several injuries ago--but he also had some very inefficient games during that series: in three of those six games he shot .417 or worse from the field (not to mention his Karl Malone-esque choke job at the free throw line to close out game six of that series) and his career playoff field goal percentage is just .411. The theory/idea that he is going to create shots for himself and/or his teammates against elite teams during the crucible of playoff competition is unproven to say the least--he certainly will create shots for himself but it is doubtful that most of those shots will be good shots. Arenas' shot selection and matador defense will provide much fodder for Coach Stan Van Gundy's "Wired" segments during national TV telecasts!

Arenas is not a pure point guard nor is he a better player than Richardson at this stage of their careers so it will be very interesting to see how Coach Van Gundy constructs his starting lineup and overall rotation. In theory, Howard, Turkoglu, Quentin Richardson, Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson should start with Arenas providing scoring punch off of the bench but that starting lineup is not only small up front but it is defensively challenged at multiple positions. It is also far from certain that Arenas will accept and/or be productive in a reserve role (he has started 453 of his 486 career regular season games).

It looks like the best case scenario is that the Magic turn into Phoenix Suns East--bombing away from three point range in the regular season only to get pushed aside by the Celtics or out "run and gunned" by the Heat in the playoffs--while the worst case scenario is that Turkoglu's complacency, Arenas' questionable attitude and the team's general lack of defensive focus results in the Magic fading completely from championship contention. A third scenario would be for the Magic to package Jason Richardson in a deal to obtain some bigs, enabling Coach Van Gundy to use a more orthodox starting lineup with a traditional power forward; if the Magic pull that off and if Arenas turns out to be a reasonably productive starting shooting guard then the Magic could potentially have enough size and scoring punch to deal with the Heat in the playoffs but they still would not match up well with the Celtics.

I don't blame Orlando's Otis Smith for proverbially "pushing his chips to the center of the table" and trying to win it all while Dwight Howard is in his prime (and before Howard potentially becomes a free agent) but I am very skeptical that these moves improved the Magic's championship chances.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:17 PM

10 comments

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10 Comments:

At Saturday, December 18, 2010 11:23:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

@David
This is by far one of the worst trades I've seen. Why would you bring Arenas to a team that really doesn't need his services? To win the East you need size, both at the wing positions and front court positions. At this point in his career, Arenas is not a better player than Jameer Nelson, heck i don't even think in his prime he was better than Nelson. Why didn't Otis Smith try to trade for Denver's Anthony? Heck why would you trade Rashard Lewis when you just traded for Turkgolu?



on Arenas: It's amazing how you say that Arenas was an overrated player and you say Iverson was a great player. Arenas in his prime was Iverson : neither a PG or a SG, shoots the ball a lot, shoots a terrible percentage, horrible defender. ..

 
At Sunday, December 19, 2010 1:34:00 AM, Anonymous Jeremy said...

I agree with analysis that this doesn't in any way bring Orlando closer to challenging Boston or Miami.

I do however blame Otis Smith for "going all in" with overpaid players (excluding Rich) who are past their prime because he gave up essentially 2 out the 4 productive young players (the other being Bass & Reddick) on the roster. Its panic moves like these which make resigning with Orlando potentially seem like an shakey proposition to Howard. Players (and their agents) are smart enough to recognize the difference between having "big names" vs rising talent that can win titles. I don't want to imply that older players cannot win as clearly Boston proves otherwise but Arenas, Turk & JRich are not the big three.

I'm not sure what moves Orlando should have made but these were clearly not the right ones.

At the very least he could have waited to see if other players would have become available

 
At Sunday, December 19, 2010 1:44:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I agree with your analysis. This does not look like a good deal at all for the Magic. They will basically be fielding Howard and a bunch of guys who can't guard anyone. And as you said, size is a major issue. If they want to go big, I suppose they can start Howard, Bass and Turkoglu. But in any case, they have very little depth up front. To top it off, Arenas is washed-up and was never a practitioner of winning basketball in the first place.

 
At Sunday, December 19, 2010 9:08:00 AM, Anonymous Joel said...

David, I believe Brandon Bass will now be Orlando's starting PF. He's outplayed Lewis all season and is more of an orthodox inside player (although he can hit midrange jumper).

If Turkoglu has any value left at this point it should be in Orlando. His clutch play was definitely overrated but he's a better passer/facilitator than anyone else on the Magic's roster, and that includes Nelson. He had a good understanding with Howard and give them more versatility on the pick-and-roll since he can be the screener or the ballhandler.

Richardson is a clear upgrade on Carter at this point, especially as a spot-up shooter.

I'm with you on Arenas. His shot selection, defense, and general mindset were always major issues during his abbreviated heyday, let alone now. I also think he's redundant on a team with Nelson, Richardson, and Turkoglu, not to mention numerous other guards (Redick, Quentin Richardson, Duhon, Williams) in reserve. From what I've read Otis Smith is a close friend of Arenas though, so maybe that explains a lot.

Looking at the big picture I see a team that has potentially improved offensively through J-Rich's shooting, Turkoglu's playmaking, and Arenas as a high-scoring 6th Man. On the other hand, they've gotten worse defensively and their depth at the post positions has gone from a strength to a weakness. I don't think they could have won a title with the roster they had before but I don't think these moves change the equation a great deal either.

 
At Monday, December 20, 2010 3:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

This is not the worst trade that I have ever seen or even close to it. What about the Celtics getting McHale and Parish for (essentially) nothing? What about Ted Stepien trading away so many number one picks that the NBA had to actually step in, bar him from making any deals and write a rule that prohibits any team from trading first round picks in consecutive seasons? There are other examples but you get my point; I am not convinced that the Magic made good moves but I don't think that their moves were historically bad, either.

The reason that the Magic gave up Lewis is that in any trade the contracts have to match up dollar for dollar, so the Magic essentially gave up their overpaid former All-Star for Washington's overpaid former All-Star; each team surely thinks that it fleeced the other by peddling damaged and/or overrated goods.

Iverson won a regular season MVP (even though the honor should actually have gone to Shaq that year) and, more importantly, carried a defensive-minded but offensively challenged team to the NBA Finals. What other 6-0 guard has done that? I'd take Iverson in his prime over Arenas in his prime any day of the week; Iverson was much more durable and he played much harder. Iverson also proved that he could dominate in the postseason, something that Arenas has yet to do.

 
At Monday, December 20, 2010 4:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jeremy:

The Magic are in the uncomfortable position with Howard that the Cavs were recently in with LeBron James. In general, basic terms, the three choices are:

1) Patiently build a team with young players--but if that team does not contend quickly enough then Howard might leave as a free agent to join forces with an established All-Star.

2) Stand pat with a team that has proven that it can win 50-60 games but may not be quite good enough to win a title.

3) Shake things up with the idea that the bold moves will either lead to a championship or at least convince Howard that management is willing to do whatever it takes to win a title.

The Cavs chose option three but they did not win and LeBron ultimately left. The Magic have similarly chosen option three and it will be interesting to see how things turn out both on the court and also when Howard becomes a free agent.

I am not sure that the Magic could or should have waited if they truly believed that their roster was not capable of winning a title; if they were intent on immediately shaking up their team by getting rid of Lewis and Carter these deals may have been the only way to do so because of the nature of the contracts that are involved.

 
At Monday, December 20, 2010 4:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharp

Your analysis is on point, Dave, as I'm used to seeing.

I was in attendance during the Wizards' most recent visit to Sacramento, and thus had a chance to watch Arenas play in person very recently. Of the numerous times Gil got the ball through the course of the game, you could count the number of times he didn't wind up attempting a field goal with the fingers on one hand. There are few certainties in life, but that Gilbert Arenas likes to shoot the basketball is definitely one of them.

There is no way in hell that Arenas should be starting for Orlando. He has never excelled at running an offense, and the Magic already have a good floor general in Jameer Nelson. Arenas' tendencies make him best suited to be a scorer off the bench, a la Ben Gordon, Jason Terry and Jamal Crawford in recent seasons. If Allen Iverson had embraced such a role, he'd still be in the NBA right now.

What I really don't like about this deal is that it made the Magic's front court depth/size, already a weakness, an even bigger issue. They've only gotten away with starting Lewis at the 4 spot for the past few years because Howard has evolved into such a prolific shot blocker/rebounder, and they had the league's best backup in Gortat. Now this is a team which has to seriously be considering starting Hedo Turkoglu at the PF spot, which is a joke. Dwight would be in foul trouble every single night.

Bass definitely should be getting the starting job now, though. Turkoglu belongs at the 3, with JRich at the 2 spot. These trades aren't the end of the world, but they constitute one hell of a gamble. It all hinges on whether or not Arenas works out, really.

 
At Monday, December 20, 2010 4:04:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

If the Magic could have kept Gortat and not brought in Arenas then I would like their roster a lot better but that may not have been feasible for a variety of reasons; once the Magic decided to blow things up this may have been the only way to immediately do it, particularly if they are planning to turn around and deal J Rich to replenish their supply of bigs.

 
At Monday, December 20, 2010 4:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joel:

It is certainly possible that Bass will start but he is a bit undersized (from a height standpoint, not a weight/strength standpoint) so the Magic will either field an undersized team with less three point potency than their old roster had (with Lewis at pf) or they will really have some serious problems matching up defensively; actually, the Magic are going to have some bad defensive matchups no matter who they start, because at this point the only above average defensive player in the rotation is Howard.

Also, if Bass starts then Turkoglu will either be coming off of the bench or playing small forward, neither of which seems optimal; if the idea of bringing back Turkoglu is to use him in screen/roll sets with Howard then the Magic have to put Turkoglu in the starting lineup and I just cannot see him playing small forward for extended stretches.

We agree that Jason Richardson is an upgrade over Vince Carter (at this stage of their careers) but JRich may have to be packaged in another deal so that the Magic have enough frontcourt size.

I have serious doubts about Arenas being willing/able to produce in a sixth man role.

I understand why Otis Smith felt like the Magic were not going to win with the lineup that they previously had but I am far from convinced that these trades helped the franchise in either the short or the long term; if the Magic don't win the title this year then they have saddled themselves with some bad contracts that will be hard to move (Lewis' contract is bad but Arenas' is toxic).

 
At Monday, December 20, 2010 4:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sharp:

Arenas has the skill set to be a potent scorer off of the bench but he has never played that role and I do not know if he has the right mentality to do so. Nelson is not a great playmaker but he is much better suited to playing pg than Arenas is.

Although the Magic used Turkoglu at the three during his first stint with the team this roster is different; the "old" team basically consisted of Howard plus four wings who could shoot threes but if Turkoglu plays the three with Bass playing the four then the Magic will be undersized defensively but also not have quite the perimeter scoring punch they had back when Lewis was shooting well from three point range. Turkoglu is older, bigger and slower now, so I am assuming that he will be playing the four. It will be interesting to see what Van Gundy does; he may have to experiment a bit to find the right combination.

 

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