Posted on: March 28, 2011 1:25 pm
NEW YORK -- The basketball microscope in New York is focused squarely on the Knicks, who stumble into their second game in six days against Orlando Monday night on a six-game losing streak and in full-blown crisis mode as they try to adjust to the franchise-shaping trade for Carmelo Anthony.
But what of their opponent? The Magic, a perennial championship contender in each of Stan Van Gundy's four seasons as coach, are having an identity crisis of their own. Three months after a pair of similarly impactful trades, Orlando is still trying to relocate its bread and butter.
After sending Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus to Phoenix and Rashard Lewis to Washington in December, the Magic are still top 10 in the league in the major defensive categories -- points allowed (fifth), opponent field-goal percentage (fourth), and opponent three-point percentage (eighth). They remain mired in an astonishing trend at the other end of the floor, averaging 15.5 turnovers per game. During that stretch, the Magic have beaten the Heat but lost to the Lakers, Bulls, and even the Warriors.
What Orlando's identity will be come playoff time remains a mystery to Van Gundy -- and, to some extent, to the other person who should be creating the identity. Dwight Howard came into the season vowing to stop having so much fun and start getting serious, but that promise is up in the air -- especially since his aggressiveness has been taken away since receiving his 16th technical foul March 4 against Chicago.
"Same guy," Howard said recently when asked if he's changed since the one-game suspension he received automatically for the 16th tech. "I get upset about the way guys foul me. But it's not about the way things are called. Somebody fouls and after the foul they continue to foul me, and I get upset at the refs because they allow that. My teammates are trying to do a better job of coming and consoling me so I don’t say anything else."
Van Gundy, too, is trying to do a better job of filtering his opinions since being blasted by commissioner David Stern over a rant in which Van Gundy likened Stern to an evil dictator when asked to plead his case that Howard shouldn't have been suspended. All this means that the two most important figures in Orlando's push to get back to the NBA Finals, Howard and Van Gundy, have been muzzled -- Van Gundy off the court and Howard on it.
"I'm not a dirty player. I'm not a dirty person," Howard said. "I would never try to hurt anybody on the court. That's not who I am. That's not how I play."
How the Magic will play when the playoffs roll around remains a mystery. With Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkolgu all fixtures in Van Gundy's rotation, it's little wonder the Magic are a worse defensive team than they were before the trades. That was expected. But without backup from Gortat, Howard is faced with a dilemma: How can he be the lone enforcer around the basket for a team that badly needs one to make up for perimeter defensive deficiencies while at the same time worrying about flagrants, technicals and the growing (and unfair) perception that he's a dirty player? How can he live up to his preseason "no more Mr. Nice Guy" promise while still carrying his fun-loving demeanor with him from the locker room to the floor?
"I'm still the same person," Howard said. "I just know when to turn it on and turn it off. One thing my teammates said at the beginning of the year is, they don’t want me to just be this mean guy because they look forward to me coming in the locker room and just having a pretty good time. And I know when it's time to get serious. They don’t want me to change who I am for other people.
"Other people I guess wanted to see me get more serious, but I've never played around with basketball," Howard said. "But I just know that fans come to the games to be entertained. I'm not a UFC fighter. I don’t have to go out there and growl every two minutes to show my team. I just have fun and that's what it's all about."
How much fun the Magic have in the playoffs will depend on solving their turnover mystery and regaining some semblance of defensive consistency. Both of those problems are fixable. The bigger dilemma will be getting Howard to play once again with abandon, without concern for whistles or perceptions, and getting the irascible Van Gundy to lose the filter that Stern surgically implanted between his upper and lower lip. For better or worse, the NBA needs the old Dwight and Stan back. More than ever, so do the Magic.
Posted on: December 18, 2010 2:57 pm
Edited on: December 18, 2010 5:32 pm
In a blockbuster trade that changes the complexion of the Eastern Conference, the Magic are getting Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson from the Suns and Gilbert Arenas from the Wizards, league sources confirmed to CBSSports.com.
The Suns send Turkoglu back to Orlando, where he thrived, along with Richardson and Earl Clark for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus. Orlando also sends a 2011 first-round pick and cash to Phoenix and acquires Arenas from Washington for Rashard Lewis, the sources said.
It is a swing-for-the-fences for Orlando, which came under immense pressure to make a big trade while losing five of its last six games and taking an obvious back seat to Boston and Miami in the East. Turkoglu, who struggled in stints with Toronto and Phoenix, returns to Orlando -- where he was a key piece in Magic's run to the 2009 NBA Finals.
Arenas is the bigger name, but the key to the deal could be Richardson, a perimeter sniper who fits the Magic's style and gives them a clutch scorer and big-time shooter to further space the floor for Dwight Howard.
The Rockets tried to get into the mix for Gortat, whom they've coveted for several years, but wouldn't give up Kevin Martin, two people familiar with the situation said.
In addition to making Orlando a more potent offensive team -- and, once again, a matchup nightmare with Turkoglu back in the role that suits him best -- the second part of the deal gives a much needed fresh start to Arenas. The former All-Star gets an improbable chance to resurrect his career away from the place where his status as the face of the Wizards franchise crumbled amid persistent knee injuries and a 50-game suspension for bringing firearms to the Verizon Center locker room last season.
Aside from trying to reload in a way that justifies their $94 million payroll, the Magic also are taking bold steps to placate Howard and dissuade him from entering the 2012 free-agent class. Some members of the Magic organization, including Howard and coach Stan Van Gundy, have had serious reservations about bringing in Arenas since CBSSports.com first reported in October that a deal had been arranged for the mercurial superstar over the summer. That deal was built around Carter going to Washington.
Magic GM Otis Smith, who has a close relationship with Arenas from their days in Golden State, will consummate his months-long effort to extract Arenas from Washington. The Wizards, who have turned the franchise over to No. 1 pick John Wall, are all too willing to oblige -- especially given the $62 million Arenas is owed over the next three seasons.
"It was a challenging situation for Gilbert," Arenas' agent, Dan Fegan, told CBSSports.com. "Ted Leonsis gave him a clean slate and really worked to make this situation work. He did a very decent thing by brokering a trade to Orlando and giving Gilbert a second chance."
That is the price Orlando had to pay to make room for Turkoglu and Richardson, whose presence made Lewis -- whose production has significantly declined -- no longer necessary. While the Magic are taking on significant money with Arenas and Turkolgu, Richardson's $14.4 million contract expires after this season. And Turkoglu eases the burden because he accepted a reduction in guaranteed money in 2013-14, the final year of his contract, as part of the trade that sent him from Toronto to Phoenix.
The dual swaps presumably give Orlando a starting lineup of Howard at center, Brandon Bass at power forward, Turkoglu at small forward, Richardson at shooting guard and -- here's the big question -- either Arenas or Jameer Nelson at point guard. Van Gundy also has the flexibility to play Turkoglu at the four in smaller lineups that might feature Richardson at the three with Nelson and Arenas in the backcourt. While Smith could've waited until the 11th hour on the Feb. 24 trade deadline to complete the Lewis-for-Arenas portion, the upside is that Van Gundy gets more time to figure out how to fit all of these pieces together. With Boston having the most continuity among its stars in the East, and with Miami beginning to make its Big Three work on an 11-game winning streak, time is a valuable commodity to the Magic as they try to retool on the fly.
From the Phoenix perspective, the Suns get a much-needed big man in Gortat, a poor man's version of Richardson in Pietrus, and the essentially expiring contract of Carter, who has only $4 million guaranteed next season. But besides Gortat, the primary haul for Phoenix is a first-round pick and $3 million for cash-strapped owner Robert Sarver -- raising serious questions about whether Steve Nash will want to stay in Phoenix to rebuild.
Posted on: December 17, 2010 2:13 pm
Edited on: December 17, 2010 9:28 pm
Houston and Portland, we have problems.
Two teams that have been tantalizingly close to championship contention in recent years are suddenly in turmoil due to injuries -- franchise-shaping injuries to their franchise players.
Portland had no sooner come to grips with the loss of Greg Oden -- again -- when the gathering storm of controversy between ailing star Brandon Roy and veteran point guard Andre Miller popped up. The Rockets, struggling without point guard Aaron Brooks, now may have to completely rethink their style of play and strategy for the future with word that center Yao Ming could be out for the year with a stress fracture in his ankle.
“They built around Yao and they’re going to have to change who they are and become a more transition-oriented team,” a rival executive said. * No one ever thought the Rockets would commit to Yao beyond this season until they learned whether he’d be able to return to the court and be productive. With the answer to that question now being no, it’s time to scrap the notion that Houston can rely on Yao to ever be the centerpiece of a title-contending team.
Changes are needed in the short run, too. Once Brooks returns -- and that will be soon -- the Rockets will need to forget about Yao and push the pace in a way that fits the talent they have. Kevin Martin is a transition player, and Brooks certainly is. So is recently acquired Terrence Williams, who could be a key part of this new strategy if the change of scenery also changes his attitude.
As for the Blazers, it would appear that their incredible aptitude for overcoming serious and numerous injuries has come to an end. In the past, winning masked the uncomfortable co-existence of Roy and Miller. Now that Portland is struggling, there’s no way to hide the fact that Roy and Miller aren’t a good fit in the backcourt together. Sources already have told CBSSports.com that Blazers officials are considering going young and moving some of their older pieces -- such as Miller, Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla. Miller, with a fully non-guaranteed $7.8 million in 2011-12, has off-the-charts trade value -- especially for a contender in need of a steadying force at point guard.
UPDATE: A person familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com Friday that Roy's recent comments about the difficulty he's having playing with Miller were no accident. "He's an unhappy camper," the person said. "A very unhappy camper. For Brandon to talk like that, he's got to be at his breaking point."
Sources continue to tell me that Orlando, which is concerned about not measuring up to Boston and Miami in the East, would be the perfect fit for Miller. The Magic are not going to accept carrying a $94 million payroll into the playoffs, only to lose in the conference semifinals -- which seems to be their fate as currently constructed. Rashard Lewis’ impact continues to diminish, Vince Carter is little more than a jump-shooter, and Jameer Nelson is too inconsistent to rely on as the floor general of a championship-contending team.
Miller could be the elixir for Orlando. All he does is find open shots for his teammates, and Dwight Howard would be thrilled with Miller’s elite talent as a lob-passer. Howard, who will be part of a blockbuster free-agent class in 2012, has quickly grown frustrated with the Magic’s obvious limitations.
The piece that could get it done is Marcin Gortat, who’s a starting center on any team but one that has Howard. Though Gortat’s contract goes out three more years, it’s at a reasonable rate for a starting center -- topping out at $7.7 million in 2013-14, when Gortat has an early-termination option.
Blazers GM Rich Cho has liked Gortat since his days working as Sam Presti’s right-hand man in Oklahoma City, so such a deal would seem to make sense from all angles. Gortat would give Portland a reasonable insurance policy in case Oden never becomes worthy of his No. 1 overall selection in 2007, and Roy would have the ball in his hands more -- which is something he can’t have when playing alongside Miller. Whether Roy’s knees will hold up under those demands is a valid question, but one Portland may very well need answered one way or another.
UPDATE: According to one source, Roy’s contract is insured against injuries to either knee. There is an outside, secondary policy, the person with knowledge of the policy said, and it also covers one of his ankles. Another person familiar with the details pointed out there are restrictions tied to the length of disability and stipulations related to the timing of a particular injury. Either way, that’s an insurance policy the Blazers never want to have to dust off. Better to put the ball in their franchise player’s hands and see what happens. What have they got to lose?
Nothing, which is the opposite of what we have in the rest of this week’s Post-Ups:
* Executives working the phones during these early days of trade inquiry say the teams that appear most determined to make deals before the Feb. 24 deadline are Portland, Detroit, Minnesota, Memphis and Charlotte. But while execs have seen the usual volume of calls, the urgency to clear cap space and/or dump salary isn’t nearly as high as it was last summer. Leading up to the 2010 deadline, multiple teams were hellbent on clearing cap space for a robust free-agent class. Not only will this summer’s free-agent class pale in comparison, teams also are unsure of how and when free agency will take shape due to labor uncertainty.
* Amid commissioner David Stern’s latest CBA rhetoric, sources say there won’t be any bargaining meetings the rest of the year due to scheduling conflicts and the holidays. As of now, the goal is to gather key participants for a smaller negotiating session in January leading up to an all-important full bargaining session during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles. Union officials will be most disturbed by Stern’s assertion during a trip to Memphis this week that the NBA needs to transition to a hard salary cap in order to restore competitive balance. The players view this as a smokescreen, believing that the league wants a hard cap simply as a mechanism to reduce salaries. Meanwhile, Stern dismissed aspects of the NBPA’s proposal that were geared toward improving competitive balance, saying those changes actually would cost owners more money than the current system. So that’s where we are: nowhere.
* One aspect of the players’ proposal, complete details of which were reported for the first time last week, has gone largely overlooked. The NBPA proposed a broad outline for redistributing draft picks as a way to respond to the owners’ desire to enhance competitive balance. The precise method would be subject to negotiation, but the union envisioned taking draft picks away from the top-tier teams and giving extra picks to the bottom feeders. For example, the top three or top five teams in the draft order would see their first-round picks go to the bottom three or five. So using last year’s lottery order and redistributing the top five teams’ picks, the Wizards would’ve selected first and 26, the Sixers second and 27th, the Nets third and 28th, etc. Not a bad idea, although I wonder if some of those teams would simply be inclined to sell the second of their first-round picks. Either way, it would give struggling teams more assets in their quest to return to playoff contention.
* As the Nuggets continue to weigh their options with Carmelo Anthony, rival GMs and high-profile agents are divided on whether Anthony would even be a good fit for the Knicks if New Jersey wasn’t able to get him to agree to an extension. There’s no doubting the star power Anthony would bring to New York. Would he make the Knicks better? Clearly, he’d give them the closing perimeter scorer they lack, and in that way he’d be a perfect complement to Amar’e Stoudemire. But would Anthony make the Knicks that much better than a defensive- and transition-oriented wing, such as Gerald Wallace or Andre Iguodala? “I don’t think the Knicks win any more or less games if it’s Gerald Wallace vs. Carmelo,” a rival GM said. “They’re already scoring 120 points a game. I think they have enough offense.” Others point out that Anthony is a low-efficiency shooter and a ball-stopper; coach Mike D’Antoni could live with the former but detests the latter. But my point is, if the ball stops with Anthony and its next stop is in the basket, so be it. In some ways, the inside-outside combination of Stoudemire and Anthony -- with a capable point guard, Raymond Felton, divvying up the shots -- would be more dangerous than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But here’s what the Melo-doesn’t-fit crowd will tell you, and I concede this point: The Knicks controlled the pace of Wednesday night’s game against Boston for 47-plus minutes. At the end, when they needed someone to stop Paul Pierce, they had nowhere to turn. Anthony is capable of playing better defense than he’s been asked to in Denver; he showed it in Beijing with Team USA. But it’s worth wondering if a player like Wallace or Iguodala would get you just as much scoring in transition and as the second option on Felton-Stoudemire pick-and-rolls and be capable of defending the other team’s closer on the last possession. Other than the fact that Donnie Walsh never panics, this line of thinking could have a lot to do with why he isn’t crushed by the Nets’ all-out pursuit of Melo. “The Knicks are in a pretty good position to sit back and see where the cap falls,” another executive said. “I don’t think Knicks will give up much to get [Anthony], and I don’t think they have much to give up to begin with.”
Tags: Amar'e Stoudemire, Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Bobcats, Brandon Roy, Carmelo Anthony, CBA, David Stern, draft, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Gerald Wallace, Grizzlies, Jameer Nelson, Joel Przybilla, Knicks, LeBron James, lockout, Magic, Marcin Gortat, Marcus Camby, Nets, Nuggets, Paul Pierce, Pistons, Rashard Lewis, Raymond Felton, Rockets, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Vince Carter, Yao Ming
Posted on: January 28, 2010 11:22 pm
What did we learn from the Magic-Celtics game Thursday night -- a late-January game with little significance in the standings?
We learned that we want some more Magic-Celtics drama in the playoffs. Here's hoping we get some.
There was Jameer Nelson taking out his All-Star snub on Rajon Rondo early in the game, followed by Rondo proving why he's a first-time All-Star with a steal and key basket late in the fourth. There were J.J. Redick and Paul Pierce exchanging 3-pointers, followed by Rashard Lewis bursting past a limping Kevin Garnett for the go-ahead basket with 1.3 seconds left.
This game had it all, the way an Orlando-Boston playoff series would have it all once again. You had the Magic coming back from a 16-point deficit, then defending the final inbounds play so Rondo couldn't get the ball to Allen or Paul Pierce, but instead got it to Rasheed Wallace, whose buzzer-beating 3-point attempt for the win was off.
You had Garnett, clearly not himself, dragging his bum leg around to the tune of six points on 2-for-8 shooting in 33 minutes, and Vince Carter continuing to struggle in his role with 2-for-13 shooting and six points.
My instinct at this early point in the journey? The Magic can and will survive Carter's inconsistency because they're so deep and versatile. Stan Van Gundy has more lineups than Craig Sager has suits. The Celtics are a different story. They're a team built on defense first, and Garnett isn't close to being right. The Magic can get by with Carter having an off shooting night, and they can get by if they jack a few too many threes. They can get by with Jason Williams running the point and with Dwight Howard missing free throws.
The Celtics can't get by without a healthy, impactful Garnett. There would be nothing better than Garnett getting back to some semblance of himself, because the Celtics and Magic in a seven-game playoff series in May would be just about as good as it gets.
They meet again a week from Sunday in Boston, their final head-to-head matchup of the regular season. These two teams can't play each other enough, as far as I'm concerned.
Posted on: August 6, 2009 5:47 pm
Edited on: August 6, 2009 7:13 pm
I tend to believe Rashard Lewis when he says that he tested positive for a banned, testosterone-producing substance as a result of not reading the fine print on his nutritional supplements closely enough.
If Stephon Marbury can eat Vaseline, then anything's possible.
Lewis getting suspended for 10 games without pay for violating the NBA's drug policy isn't Armageddon. This isn't Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, or even Big Papi we're talking about. If you've seen Rashard Lewis lately, Thin Lizzy is more like it.
But what this should be is a cautionary tale for everyone -- including David Stern -- to file away in the memory banks. Every time he's been asked about the NBA's drug testing policy and its stance on performance-enhancing drugs, Stern has scoffed at any notion that the NBA has a steroids problem in any way, shape, or form.
Eerily, the tone he uses in these forums reminds me of the dismissive tone he used in defending the integrity of his referees whenever it was questioned. Then, Tim Donaghy happened.
I'm not saying that the equivalent of roided-up Donaghys are juicing up under the radar in the NBA. Hardly. But it's wrong to assume that only bodybuilding, power lifting, football, baseball, track and field, and swimming have steroid problems. The marketplace for performance-enhancing substances is diverse, and there are hundreds, if not thousands of them readily available that do more than make your biceps blow up like party balloons. There are perfectly legal substances that help muscles with recovery, endurance, and the kind of explosive movements that basketball players use to make a very substantial living. The problem is that nobody knows for sure exactly what is contained in those supplements.
If an aging NBA player who's made millions in his career with his speed, quickness, and agility had a chance to get one more contract by taking something to preserve those abilities, do you think he would do it? If he thought the substances were legal, of course. If he thought they were borderline but that he might get away with it, maybe.
Stern may be right, and the NBA may have the best, most thorough, and most successful drug testing program in the universe. I disagree with my colleague, Mike Freeman, that the Lewis suspension is only the tip of the iceberg. I don't think so at all. But I caution you that the area of performance-enhancing drugs and unregulated or loosely regulated nutritional supplements is not one where overconfidence and arrogance are advisable or even acceptable.
And I offer a piece of advice to every other NBA player taking nutritional supplements. Read the label, and get the stuff cleared with the NBA or the players' association before you ingest it. It's not worth the embarrassment, not to mention the lost pay from the suspension.
Posted on: April 11, 2009 6:54 pm
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Stan Van Gundy is taking a page from the Celtics' playbook. It's more important to get healthy for the playoffs than it is to get a higher seed.
Rashard Lewis will sit Saturday night and again Monday for the Orlando Magic, resting tendinitis in both knees so he's healthy for the playoffs. After Van Gundy had to play Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu 40-plus minutes apiece Friday night in a 105-95 home loss to the Knicks, he's not taking any more chances. Lewis will get one final tuneup for the postseason Wednesday night in the regular season finale against Charlotte.
"I thought trying to get the No. 2 seed was important," Van Gundy said. "Mathematically, it's still possible. But the combination of where we are and what we need to have happen and Rashard's knees, I think the prudent course is to sit him down and to try to get him feeling better. ... We've sort of gotten into fatigue. We're sort of like a punch-drunk fighter right now, just trying to stay on our feet."
In addition to resting Lewis, Van Gundy said he'll start cutting down minutes for Howard and Turkoglu in the final three games. Orlando's first-round matchup is still up in the air among Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit.
"Who we play is realyl of no concern of mine," Van Gundy said. "There's not an easy matchup in there and there's not one we can't win in there. That doesn't concern me, other than from a preparation standpoint and that's why you'd like to see it narrowed down so that we can start focusing in on somebody."