30 teams in 36 or so days: Orlando Magic
September 16th, 2007

Players acquired via free agency or trade:

Rashard Lewis (signed and traded from Seattle, six years, $112,753,504)
Adonal Foyle (two year minimum)
Marcin Gortat (two year minimum)


Players acquired via draft:

First round: None
Second round: Miroslav Rakovic (60th overall, unsigned)


Players retained:

Keyon Dooling (opted in), Pat Garrity (opted in)


Players departed:

Travis Diener (signed with Indiana), Grant Hill (signed with Phoenix), Darko Milicic (signed with Memphis), Bo Outlaw (unsigned, may yet return)



In a seven-day period in February 2006, first-year GM Otis Smith made two trades. One saw the expiring contract of Kelvin Cato and a 2007 first-rounder (later parlayed into Rodney Stuckey) dealt to Detroit for Darko Milicic and Carlos Arroyo, and one saw falling star Steve Francis dealt to New York – in a trade only Isiah Thomas could make – for Trevor Ariza and the huge expiring contract of Penny Hardaway.

Within a week, the floundering Magic had been re-invigorated. Since the McGrady/Hill era had failed several years prior, the John Weisbrod era had made the Magic’s fortunes worsen further. Managing to do almost everything wrong, Weisbrod saw fit to end the McGrady in Orlando era by dealing him and Juwan Howard to Houston for Francis, Cato and Cuttino Mobley, a trade which vastly improved Houston but which didn’t do much for Orlando. Daring and skilled enough to somehow make the situation worse, though, Weisbrod subsequently traded Mobley to Sacramento for Doug Christie, a man who played only 21 games with Orlando, scoring 119 points. And that’s not to even mention the Varejao and Gooden for Battie deal with Cleveland that he also rustled up.

Weisbrod then resigned. Which seems fair.

Yet with these two trades in early 2006, Smith had managed to get some serious value for the two remaining pieces from the McGrady to Houston trade. Able to free himself of Francis’s enormous contract and burdensome play (if ever there was such a thing as addition by subtraction, this was it), Smith was setting his team up for big cap space in the summer of ’07 after Hill’s contract also expired, while also picking up two decent youngsters in Milicic and Ariza. And he obtained all that for peripheral pieces that he didn’t want or need.

The situation then got even better almost immediately after these deals. With a 19-34 record after losing on the night of the Francis deal, Orlando won only one of their next seven games, before winning 16 of the following 20. The streak saw the Magic’s younger players come into their own – Dwight Howard continued to be really good at stuff, and Jameer Nelson showed some terrific scoring efficiency. Darko Milicic’s first half-way decent run of playing time in his NBA career gave him the opportunity to show off what skills he had, and he showed himself to be a gifted shot-blocker and talented scorer, even if he couldn’t rebound. Carlos Arroyo’s first half-season as a Magic player made him look like a useful piece for a young up-and-coming team to have, while Hedo Turkoglu and Tony Battie looked like being good veterans to have around for a more concerted playoff push in 2006/07. Were it not for a similarly strong finish by the Chicago Bulls, the Magic’s terrific end of season run would have gotten them to the playoffs (maybe), quite a turnaround from a team that was as many as 20 games under .500. In 2006/07, Grant Hill was set to return, and Magic fans were happy.

It should have been so great. It wasn’t.

The 2006/07 began brightly enough, with Orlando pushing out to a 13-4 lead. But the injury bug soon bit, as it so often does to the Magic. Battie, Hill, Ariza and Keyon Dooling all got injured, and the Magic were left thin. Carlos Arroyo’s brief 2006 flirtation with decency ended quickly, as he regressed back to his what-is-a-playbook-and-where-did-I-put-my-jump-shot self. Nelson and Milicic also regressed: Nelson chucked with considerably less efficiency than the previous season and made few strides with his sub-par running of the offence, and Milicic scuttled about everywhere with a certain air of despondence. Grant Hill got injured, which you’d expect, and his namesake – head coach Brian Hill – did not find answers.

The Magic did make the playoffs, doing so with a sub .500 record, but it wasn’t worth much – they were quickly swept by the Detroit Pistons.

Still, all was not lost. The Magic still had some young pieces that were still waiting to leave the nest, along with one of the best young superstars in the game in Howard. And with Grant Hill’s contract finally expiring, the Magic also had near-max cap room if they chose to use it.

They used it all right. Jesus, did they ever.

It would be very difficult if not impossible to provide a commentary on the Rashard Lewis sign-and-trade while also managing to take an interesting or unique viewpoint, or to say anything that hasn’t already been said. So I won’t. But I will recommend that you look at the figure that he signed for (listed above), and think long and hard about whether he is worth it. And if you come up with any answer other than “no”, keep looking at it until you do. In 2013, a 33-year-old Rashard Lewis is going to be being paid nearly $22.7 million.

The move was made just that much more baffling when looked at in addition to quotes by Otis Smith before the start of the summer, on how he intended to obtain a much-needed scorer for the Magic while also having the resources and cap management to be able to keep the younger talent (namely, Darko Milicic). Smith’s response was that it would involve some “creative financing”. And in a sense, he was true to his word – Roget’s Thesaurus shows that “creative” has a synonym of “original”. And the Rashard Lewis deal was most certainly original, if nothing else.

In obtaining Lewis, the Magic have wildly overpaid, but also lost some talent. Restricted free agents Milicic and Travis Diener were renounced in order to bring in Lewis, and despite the apparent efforts of Smith, Seattle could not be persuaded to take back any salary from Orlando, meaning that all their cap space went on one player.

So now, ask yourselves whether the trio of Hill, Milicic and Diener (who should, without a doubt, have played over Carlos Arroyo all of last season, and who is now nicely lined up for a breakout season) is going to help any more than Rashard Lewis on his own. It’s a tough answer, but either way, the Magic’s player personnel did not improve much. If at all.

It was a situation that could well have been avoided had Tony Battie not been given an extremely presumptuous extension back in March 2006, and had the unnecessary signing of Keith Bogans not taken place. Those two players combined for a $7.64 million cap hit this summer, whereas Milicic and Diener signed for a combined $8 million. Which duo would you rather have?

(Oh, and there was also the Billy Donovan fiasco, but we’ll say no more about that. Embarrassing, but not debilitating.)

In the interests of fairness, I should mention the acquisitions of Adonal Foyle and Marcin Gortat. There, I’ve mentioned them.


Next season:

Given that things didn’t exactly pan out ideally in the free agent market, and without any players from the draft to speak of, a large part of the Magic’s future success rests on the shoulders of new head coach, Stan Van Gundy. And I promise you that this next stanza will include no references to Ron Jeremy.

If he can find a way to improve on Hill’s rotations (and it shouldn’t be that hard. Here’s a starting point – play Redick. He has his flaws, but he’s not Keith Bogans. That’s a big plus), and offensive sets (don’t just force feed Dwight Howard. Get him touches, but don’t go to him every time down. Mix up your plays, and let things flow somewhat. Especially when Jameer Nelson is your point guard), then things will be looking up. It would also be a big help if Van Gundy is somehow able to not alienate himself from the players and to preside over something other than an irreparably sour locker room, things that Brian Hill reportedly could not achieve.

Additionally, a lot depends on the play of Jameer Nelson. After a down year last season, tragedy struck this offseason when his father died in an accidental drowning incident. How this affects Nelson remains to be seen, but will soon be known. There are traditionally two ways to go here: one would be to become demotivated, á lá Michael Sweetney. The other way to be to take that adversity and build upon it to make himself a better player.

The first, of course, is understandable. But the Magic need the second one.

Last season’s mediocre performance suggests that the good run to end the 2005/06 season was nothing more than an aberration. With better coaching and better performance this season, the Magic have the opportunity to show that it was last season that was the anomaly instead. If Orlando gets breakout performances from one or perhaps a couple of young players (specifically looking in the directions of Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick), they could contend for the open Southeast Division title.

Perhaps a more realistic expectation, though, would be for a low playoff seed once again. The Magic’s talent level is not yet comparable to that of the East’s elite teams. Peripheral players Arroyo, Dooling and Garrity combine for roughly $11.4 million of expiring contracts this offseason. The Magic would do well to capitalise on that. For they could use a further big infusion of quality. They didn’t get one this season, yet so badly need one to rejoin the top of the East.

A stopgap season then, if you will.

Posted by at 11:54 PM