Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Unmagical Magic Show

     For the entire season, the focus on the Orlando Magic hasn't been about the team's record, but instead on the future of their center Dwight Howard. The superstar continued to mull decisions left and right until he finally signed a waiver last month that got rid of his early termination option, and allows him to stay in Orlando throughout next season. However, the drama hasn't ended as many would have thought. It has gotten even worse, and conflicting reports from analysts and the rest of the paparazzi have only confused basketball fans more than they already were. Instead of getting resolved, the situation has taken a turn for the worst. The three main figures of this dispute in the franchise are Dwight Howard, head coach Stan Van Gundy, and general manager Otis Smith. Although the bulk of the attention is directed toward Howard and Van Gundy, I believe the culprit behind this conflict is neither of them, rather it is the faulty of Smith that has caused this entire extravaganza.

Otis Smith (left) is the biggest piece of this puzzle, as
he will be the one who will call the shots that forces
Howard (right) to decide whether he wants to stay
long-term in Orlando.
     Once Dwight Howard decided to stay with the Orlando Magic after his rookie contract expired, the team knew it would become a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference. Its superstar had taken them to heights they had only reached when their former first pick, Shaquille O'Neal, had taken them. With solid players around Howard including Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson, Orlando made a run to the 2008-2009 NBA Finals, only to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers. Since then, the team has been successful during the regular season, winning more than 50 games in each of the past two seasons, but have had disappointing results in the playoffs. Howard has insisted that he loves Orlando and he would love to bring a championship there, and his expectations are worthy because of that recent trip to the NBA Finals, but management has not made many significant moves to improve the team. Smith has been saying he is trying to improve the team, but he has not. He has bought in overpaid former all stars who are now past their prime, and playing for a new team now anyways. He had let go of Turkoglu, much to the dismay of Howard, and although Smith has bought the Turkish athlete back to the team through a trade with Phoenix, Turkoglu is already past his prime. He traded Rashard Lewis to the Wizards for Gilbert Arenas. This move was a non-fit for both teams, and the Magic suffered harsh cap salary damage. Arenas was not the point guard they envisioned him to be in Van Gundy's system, and his tenure on the Magic could be considered a failure. The only move that has benefited this team was the trade with the New Jersey Nets a couple of years ago, where the Magic received Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson, while giving up the young shooter Courtney Lee, as well as bench players Rafer Alston and Tony Battie. Anderson has developed tremendously in the Magic's system, and has become a legitimate starter in this league, but he is not good enough to be arguably the second option on a team. The problem with this franchise is that they bring in players who were once All Stars, who can still produce, but not at the level they need to be if they want to win a championship. This team has gotten progressively older, and it needs to bring in some young talent, or a superstar. Because of all the older, overpaid players on the roster, the Magic don't have many assets besides Ryan Anderson, whom Smith refuses to trade away. Howard has been controlling and pressuring at times, but the belief that you need two superstars to thrive in this league is true.

     Now onto the "resentment" between Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy. Multiple reports have said the two have feuded for not only this season, but also in seasons past. If you look at the records, I think Van Gundy is a very capable coach in this league, but he doesn't seem to carry that kind of flare or influence that will shut Dwight Howard up. Howard is simply unhappy because he hasn't won a championship and is constantly starting drama. I don't think he truly dislikes Van Gundy, and I believe the two will try to work through the current dilemma, but both of them know they need better players around Howard to get this team to the promised land, and they're just having a hard time dealing with the reality that they don't have those players who can get them there. This is why it all comes back to Otis Smith, because he is the one who makes the moves, and he has failed to make one great trade since he has been in Orlando. I think both of them should be kept in Orlando if the team's main goal is to win a championship, because I think they can do it, but they need better players around Howard if they want to do it.

     So what should Otis Smith do? Owner Rich DeVos is 87 years old and wants to see his team hang up a banner before he passes. If Smith wants to live up to his owner's and Howard's wishes, he has to get a superstar to play alongside Howard, because it's the only way Howard will stay after next season. So what is the best move? I don't know if I can say Rajon Rondo is a superstar but he is a young all star who is signed long-term, and I think he could mesh well with Dwight Howard and the Magic's system. If you can swing a deal involving Anderson, Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, and a first round pick for Rondo, I think it'd be a fair deal for the Magic. Smith needs to accept the realization that his superstar will move if he doesn't greatly improve the team. The Magic are also in a hole because their biggest asset, Anderson, is a free agent this year. If he signs with another team, the Magic will be in an even bigger hole. This year's free agent class is not the best, so bringing back Anderson might be the best move the Magic can make. There are also other free agents I believe the team should look at including Steve Nash, Michael Beasley, and Landry Fields. This year at the trade deadline, the Magic stood pat and did not make any trades. I believe Smith wants Howard to stay, but he is using poor judgement in trades and is not making enough good efforts to improve his team, and that's why I think he is the reason why there has been such enormous conflict in Orlando.

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