What went wrong in Orlando

In the 2004 NBA draft the Orlando Magic selected Dwight Howard with their top pick. He became one of their top performers and has become a mainstay in the All Star game and in the past several years has inserted his name into the MVP discussion while securing the Defensive Player of Year. The Magic were able to make to the finals in 2009 but came up short. Since then the team has tried to remain competitive while pushing to get to the next level.

With hindsight as our guide, we will analyze the transactions that the front office has done to strengthen the team and how this has led to Dwight Howard’s request for a trade to a handful of teams.

We will start in 2006 because this is when Otis Smith became the main person in the front office making basketball decisions. Under his tenure, while Dwight was still growing into his enormous talent the team made several moves that were aimed at improving the team. Here are some of the highlights.

2006 /07

  • Drafted J.J. Redick

2007/08

  • Hired Stan Van Gundy to coach team
  • Signed Rashard Lewis as a free agent ($110 million over 6 years)
  • Traded Trevor Ariza

2008/09

  • Drafted Courtney Lee
  • Traded for Rafer Alston

2009/10

  • Traded Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and Courtney Lee for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson
  • Hedo Turkoglu signed a contract with the Raptors
  • Signed free agents Jason Williams, Brandon Bass, Matt Barnes

2010/11

  • Signed free agents Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon
  • Traded Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael  Pietrus to Phoenix for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richarson and Earl Clark
  • Traded Rashard Lewis to Washington DC for Gilbert Arenas

 2011/12

  • Signed Glen Davis to free agent contract
  • Lost Brandon Bass

Winning moves: drafting J.J. Redick, Courtney Lee, signing Brandon Bass and Glen Davis

Losing moves: not drafting impact players 2009 through 2012, trading for Vince Carter only to flip him into Jason Richarson. Signing Rashard Lewis to a 6 year $110 million deal, then flipping him into Gilbert Arenas. Losing Trevor Ariza as a free agent.

Mixed moves: losing Hedo Turkoglu. If they would have just resigned him to a fair deal then they wouldn’t have had to blow up the whole team by the Vince Carter trade, and the Jason Richardson trade.

As evident from the list above the Magic have made a several transactions in the past few years to keep the team in running for a title. While I applaud their aggressiveness and their boldness, I feel that several of the moves were done to cover up previous mistakes.

They missed on their draft prospects – In 2009 the team had a game plan in place to grow as an organization and to improve. After they fell short in the finals they went “all in” and deviated from their plan, and the current roster still reflects those bold moves. Prior to their title run in 2009, they had drafted two young players – J.J. Redick and Courtney Lee. While neither of them super stars both of them are strong players and bring a lot of skill and smarts to the court. They were contributing to the team. This is not evident yet in the recent draft picks the team has made.

They shouldn’t have traded for Vince – The Magic had a nice roster in 2009. They needed to make a few minor adjustments – like having a bit more size inside, maybe a better option at point guard, a few players that could do the hustle plays and bring energy. Instead of adjusting here and there, Otis Smith changed the team by bringing in Vince Carter. Granted he is a talented player, but he never seemed to fit the system, and his best days were already behind him. It seemed desperate. Later, in another bold move Carter was traded to Phoenix for Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu.

They shouldn’t have traded Ariza – The funny thing is the Ariza was the one playing against them in the finals and he had been on the Magic a few years prior. When they let Turkoglu walk as a free agent after the 2009 finals, they could have had an Ariza to fill the spot but instead he was a free agent who signed with the Rockets. His skill of hustle and energy would have really helped the Magic.

They shouldn’t have signed Rashard Lewis to that much money – I think Rashard was a really smart pick up at the time. He brought the shooting ability to the power forward position that they needed, but they were essentially negotiating against themselves and they didn’t need to do that much money. Something along $70 to $80 million over 6 years would have been much better. This move may have been the most impactful of the group because as time has gone on, the Arenas move and the Richardson move were done with salary cap on the mind. If they played it smarter in the first place they may have had a better chance to keep the team going to the finals in 2010 and beyond.

As it stands now, the Magic an elite talent in Dwight Howard. He is in the top five of active players in the league. They started off with a great way to build around him and to play to his abilities and win. When they came up short in the finals, the team went for broke with some aggressive trades that in the end really hindered the team to sign players that could really make a difference. There is a lot to like about Orlando – great arena, warm weather, good taxes, good fans, but the team did not have a strong presence in what it really needed – a sustainable plan to keep the talent level high around Howard while keeping a good grip on the cap so they can keep the team among the elite in the eastern conference.

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