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Author Topic: The Slippery Slope of the Orlando Magic  (Read 1810 times)
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« on: February 02, 2012, 10:38:20 am »
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This won’t be your typical obituary.

We’re not going to tell you how horrible a death the Magic are experiencing. Orlando’s collapse has been startling, but it’s hard to imagine them playing anywhere nearly as badly as this in the future, and in this East, they still rank as a maybe-second-but-probably-first-round team that is ready to implode at any second. This is about July of 2012 (or whenever Dwight finds himself wherever), not about now, and will be addressed then.

We’re not going to be discussing Stan Van Gundy. No point in that. No collapse can undo the smooth serenity that was brought upon our minds and souls as we heard that 1-inside-4-outside machine hum, or the magnificent dominance behind a defensive juggernaut that was as much fat-mustachioed-coach as it was physical-specimen-superstar.

We’re not going to be discussing Otis Smith. Poor, foolish, naïve little Otis Smith. “Gilbert can do it! We’re friends!”, “Big Baby can do it! Him and Dwight are friends!”, “Hedo can do it! Him and pizza are friends!”. I will defend the de facto Hedo for Vince trade until the day I die – 2009 Hedo was a mediocre player who just happened to work at a flukishly high capacity when the cameras were on for a two month stretch, while 2009 Vince was a legitimate all-star player everywhere on the floor – but it just so happened that he was also Vince Carter. And that was the best Otis move of them all. Frightening.

We’re not going to be discussing Dwight’s leadership, whatever that hyperbolic 10 letter bundle even means. Not because it isn’t the story. When the best defensive player in the entire league stops trying on defense, it’s a story. When the second best player in the league seems follows the exact path of the best player in the league even though it made him the biggest villain in modern sports, it’s a story. When your franchise player takes a good hard look at his friends being blown out by one of the worst teams in the league, shakes his head, and pulls off Eric Cartman’s “screw you guys, I’m going home” – it’s a story. It’s just not my story.

No, the end of a Magic era that was but a few breaks away from being a true dynasty isn’t about the main characters. At least not for now. Because even though it’s Dwight’s own whims that will ultimately send him away from central Florida, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this team just isn’t good enough to do actual damage. Even with the big fella still roaming the corridors of the Amway Center. The supporting cast that did so much for that 09 Finals run and that dominant 09-10 campaign (I still hate that we didn’t get a Cavs-Magic rematch that year. They really were the two best teams) should, on paper, be stronger than ever, yet has unceremoniously dissipated as time went by.

“Should, on paper, be stronger than ever”?

Typically, when contenders die, they die old and feeble, bereft of alternatives. A 34 year old shooting guard there, a 35 year old backup center here, with no replacement in sight other than the 38 buyout candidate. We saw it in Cleveland, where LeBron James was surrounded by a prime Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao to go with an assortment of over-the-hill veterans, and one Shaquille O’Neal, who at that point may have well been the actual hill. We’re seeing it now in Boston, with the Jeff Green youth infusion sadly being denied by factors far more important than basketball, leaving Rajon Rondo to shoulder the entire burden of internal development unless Avery Bradley decides he’s going to be good.

Orlando has gotten internal development. Limited volumes of such, to be sure, but amounts unheard of for the dying giant that Orlando is in today’s landscape. Ryan Anderson has internally developed into something that is either an all-star or the best role player ever, playing the Rashard Lewis role at a level that Rashard Lewis never even approached. J.J. Redick, after exhausting years of hard work and refusal to accept his fate as an NBA non-factor, overcame last year’s injury problems and is working at the capacity of a very good NBA starter. Even Von Wafer has been less Von Wafer than usual, doing a good job creating shots and making them at a solid rate.

If you add these two and a half improving youngsters to what used to be a solid array of role players and semi-stars, this should be a far better Magic team than last season. Maybe not Chicago or Miami level, but as close as it gets out East.

Of course, that’s contingent on the non-youngsters as well. And that’s where, umm, sad.

Jason Richardson made his name as a volume scorer, an elite outside shooter, and one of the best rebounding guards in basketball. Well, after his move to Orlando saw him lose 2 of those 3, he got a 4 year $24 million (sorry, some Otis Smith talk will inevitably get in here), he stopped making threes as well. The result is 9.9 points on 48.5% true shooting, and a rebound rate lower than the likes of Jannero Pargo. It boggles the mind, but to the naked eye, it seems as if a 31 year old who is less than 2 years away from being a major playoff factor is now virtually useless as a basketball player. Looks like Kevin Pelton was right after all.

Meanwhile, Jameer Nelson has pulled off a disappearing act so startling that even Richardson doesn’t know where to find him. As someone who has loved Meer since he was an undersized youngster trying to convince his coach that he was definitely much better than Carlos Arroyo, this is a sore subject, so we’ll let Nate Drexler handle this one as we try and fail not to cry while looking at photos of meerkats, drinking heavily, and listening to Air Supply.

Glen Davis, supposed to be an infusion of youth and hustle and defense, is instead a large clot of blubber clogging the arteries through which crisp passes and threes used to flow. Hedo shows occasional flashes of the abilities that mistakenly gave him this contract, to go with the constant blinding light that is the abilities that got him traded twice since. Quentin Richardson hasn’t been seen since he fought with Kevin Garnett in the playoffs and KG killed him. And I refuse to write any words about Chris Duhon other than “ugh”. Sadly, there aren’t enough “ugh”s in the world.

This shouldn’t have happened. Age is a bad thing, but Nelson is 29, Richardson 31, and Hedo 32. They shouldn’t be peaking, but they definitely shouldn’t be grave-bound. The Magic should have complemented their scarce but effective youth with an impressive array of former 2nd tier stars and strong management of the assets that they used to have (again, I know we said no Otis). But as the “other guys” slowly burn out, so does the flame that once burned in Orlando during late Mays and early Junes.

And that’s why, when Dwight does leave in whatever capacity, the Magic are completely, totally done. When you take a supporting cast that’s crumbling like Nazis looking into the Ark of the Covenant, and pull the stabilizing pillar that holds it all together, you’re left with a capped out mess consisting of a fantastic, young stretch 4 who can’t create for himself and a decent starting shooting guard, and a whole lot of pain. If everything goes perfectly, Andrew Bynum/Healthy Brook Lopez/Giant Pile Of Nothingness will turn out to be a good enough first option to keep them just out of decent lottery position for the foreseeable future. But if things turn out for the worst, it’s going to be a whole lot of Earl Clark.

I may have switched “perfectly” and “worst” up over there. Take your pick. Just know that Dwight has made his. The way this saga is going down has hardly been ideal, but it’s tough to blame him.

http://www.hardwoodparoxysm.com/2012/02/the-slippery-slope-of-the-orlando-magic/
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