Team Name: Orlando Magic
Last Year's Record: 59-23
Key Losses: point guard Rafer Alston (via trade with New Jersey), power forward Tony Battie (via trade with New Jersey), shooting guard Courtney Lee (via trade with New Jersey), point guard Tyronn Lue (via free agency; not re-signed), small forward Jeremy Richardson (via free agency to Aris Thessaloniki), and small forward Hedo Turkoglu (via sign-and-trade with Toronto)
Key Additions: power forward Ryan Anderson (via trade with New Jersey), combo forward Matt Barnes (via fee agency from Phoenix), forward/center Brandon Bass (via free agency from Dallas), shooting guard Vince Carter (via trade with New Jersey), and Jason Williams (via free agency from retirement)
What significant moves were made during the offseason?
Gosh, where to start with this question?
The Magic showed the door to Alston, Lee, and Turkoglu--three-fifths of the Magic's starting lineup in the NBA Finals--in large part to make room for Carter and Bass, the team's most significant short-term additions. Basketball observers appear to be split on the Magic's decision to essentially swap Turkoglu--their go-to scorer in the clutch, and their secondary playmaker--for Carter, who has not enjoyed playoff success or media acclaim in recent years. Nevermind the fact that Turkoglu had one borderline All-Star-caliber season before bottoming out in 2009, or that Carter might one day find himself enshrined in the Hall of Fame; who needs logic or statistics when we can rely on a few nationally televised games and abstract notions like "chemistry"?
We should not overlook the other additions, although Carter understandably looms largest. Bass, an undersized, powerful, bowling-ball of a frontcourt player in the Jason Maxiell mold, does everything Tony Battie did, but better; and, at 24, he may not have reached his peak. I think we tend to overstate Barnes' reputation as a defender just a tad--there's no way he's as talented as Mickael Pietrus on that end--but he's still well above-average, and can handle the ball some offensively. If nothing else, Williams is an upgrade over incumbent backup point guard Anthony Johnson due to his speed and superior court vision, although we suspect his lackluster defense might cause his grip on the position to loosen as the season progresses. Neither player gives the Magic an upgrade over the departed Alston, which sounds worrisome until one realizes that Alston never would have been happy backing up Nelson this year. That the Magic dealt him to a team with a rotation featuring an All-Star (Devin Harris) and an underrated sixth-man (Keyon Dooling) at the position is a small irony.
Anderson? He's the wild card. For all we know, he'll start at power forward during Rashard Lewis' 10-game suspension... then vanish from the rotation completely upon Lewis' return. If he can stop getting his shot swatted inside, and if he can keep his three-point shooting high, he could prove quite the secret weapon for Orlando. I mean that. He didn't turn 21 until the middle of the playoffs, he's 6'10", he can rebound at a rate comparable to the more imposing Bass, and he can shoot the three-ball. There's a lot to like about him. Then again, there's a lot to like about Lewis and Bass as well, and there are only so many minutes (48!) available at power forward. This coaching problem for Stan Van Gundy is one plenty of other helmsmen would love to have.
A lot of coaches would love to have Lee, just 24, on their team, too, given his selfless play and immediate ability to contribute as a rookie. In New Jersey, he'll have more offensive responsibilities, and will often be the best perimeter defender on the floor at any given time. The stage would be set for him to take over the Nets' starting two-guard job for the next decade if it weren't for the presence of second-year man Chris Douglas-Roberts and rookie Terrence Williams to challenge him. I understand that Magic fans are upset to see Lee go, but I can't help but think that we've overrated him--he's only a three-point shooter and fast-break finisher on offense--while simultaneously underrating the younger Anderson, who had a higher Player Efficiency Rating than Lee did last year, albeit at a much different position.
The Magic won't miss Lue or Richardson much, as they only played a combined 222 minutes over 26 games last season. That they replaced their spots at the back end of the rotation with Williams (28 minutes per game in 2007/08, his most recent NBA season) and Anderson (20 minutes per game last season) speaks volumes about Orlando's--please permit me this adjective this one time--silly depth.
What are the team's biggest strengths?
With four recent All-Stars starting, as well as a bench featuring two of the league's best frontcourt reserves, and specialists, depth is absolutely Orlando's forte. Their projected second string of Williams, J.J. Redick, Mickael Pietrus, Bass, and Marcin Gortat could probably give bottom-feeding teams' starting lineups a run for their money. Last year's team was three wins away from a championship: now envision that team with a healthy Nelson replacing Alston, the more efficient Carter using Turkoglu's possessions, and the more dynamic Bass filling in for Battie. Upgrades across the board.
Indeed, as I alluded to earlier, Orlando's offense--which rated a surprisingly mediocre 11th in efficiency a year ago--should be much more potent this year. Carter is much more efficient than Turkoglu, although he's prone to the occasional awful game from time-to-time as well. Nelson likely won't duplicate his amazing shooting from last year (50% from the field, 45% from three-point range), but Carter's improvement over Turkoglu should mitigate any minor drop-off in Nelson's percentages. And with Carter the second option on offense behind Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis' usage rate could decline, which could lead to an increase in efficiency if Nelson and Carter can get him the ball in the right place.
Defense might be another story, as no one has ever revered Carter for his work at that end of the floor. Then again, Lewis had a reputation as a sieve during his days with the Seattle SuperSonics, but developed into an above-average defender at power forward since joining the Magic; Carter, playing for a championship in his hometown, and under the guidance of the defensive ace Van Gundy, and with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year behind him, could see an improvement along the lines of Lewis'. Nonetheless, we expect Orlando's defense to regress slightly this year, which isn't so bad; the Magic lead the league in defensive efficiency a year ago, so a modest decline would still have them in the top 5.
A top-5 offense with a top-5 defense? Holy smokes, what potential this team has! Of course, Boston, Cleveland, the L.A. Lakers, and the San Antonio Spurs can all make similar claims about their respective proficiencies on both side of the ball. We are in for quite the season, aren't we?
What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Saying "none" would be hubris of the highest order. But with a potential to rate in the upper echelon of the league on both sides of the ball, well, it's hard to point to anything really specific with this team. Magic detractors say that Carter will sink the Magic's chemistry, or that the new additions Boston and Cleveland made trump the Magic's. Is other teams having equally good summers a weakness? If so, that might be the Magic's.
Another perceived weakness, one into which I do not put much stock, is that the Magic's best player (Howard) is not a proven leader, and that all championship teams' best players happen to be leaders: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Dwyane Wade hold this distinction. Howard, perhaps due to a recent Sports Illustrated cover story, is not seen as intimidating or particularly serious on the court. But due to Nelson's leadership as co-captain--a duty he shares with Howard--the Magic aren't wanting for guidance. Van Gundy, too, sees himself as a leader.
What are the goals for this team?
The easiest question to answer: it's a championship. No one expected the Magic to be among the last two teams standing last year, especially not after falling into a 2-1 hole to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. After their surprising run to the Finals, GM Otis Smith made several aggressive maneuvers (as outlined above) and team ownership signed off to pay the luxury tax.
They did not go through all this trouble to merely win a playoff series or two this year. The obvious, unambiguous goal is to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy at season's end.
Predicted Record: 63-19.