Tonight, the Orlando Magic will visit the Houston Rockets in Hidalgo, Texas to open their preseason schedule. In light of the first tip-off, I thought it might be useful to go over some issues facing the team as it enters its 22nd season, and first in he new Amway Center.
Who's fighting to make the team?
Veteran big man Malik Allen and rookie small forward Stanley Robinson are the only players with non-guaranteed contracts to join Orlando for training camp and the preseason. Both of their deals are worth the league minimum relative to their years of service. While no guarantee date on Allen's contract is available, we do know that Robinson's will become guaranteed if not waived before December 10th, meaning he will have plenty of time to prove he belongs. We covered Robinson in greater depth before training camp started.
Though Allen only has one skill at this point--he's a solid mid-range jump-shooter--he seems like a good bet to make the team. John Denton, the in-house beat writer, says Allen's chances are "very good." Additionally, Allen's familiarity with coach Stan Van Gundy, having played for him for one-plus seasons with the Miami Heat, works in his favor, as does the fact that the Magic need a third center while rookie Daniel Orton rehabilitates the muscles around his left knee.
Given Robinson's generous guarantee date, and all the factors helping Allen, I'm inclined to believe both players will make the opening-day roster. Whether they'll last the season is less clear.
Who's under contract?
The Magic have 13 players with guaranteed deals. We can visualize them, by position, here:
What positional battles are worth watching?
The only uncertainty in the starting lineup is who will get the nod at small forward. Quentin Richardson and Mickael Pietrus are the two most likely candidates, and we weighed their merits in this post.
Backup power forward is far more interesting. The news that Rashard Lewis will spend more time at small forward this season opens the door for Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass. While it's hard to put much stock in preseason playing rotations--the coaching staff will determine them in advance, regardless of game situation--what those guys show off in the weeks leading up to the regular-season should give a good indicator of who has a leg up.
When third-string point guard Jason Williams is fully rehabilitated from left knee surgery, he could challenge Chris Duhon for the backup job. But that battle can't start for another several weeks at the earliest, if it happens at all.
What else should I watch out for?
Vince Carter had a disappointing first season in Orlando, his hometown team, and faces uncertainty about his future, as this year is his last fully guaranteed one on his current contract. Van Gundy, GM Otis Smith, and Carter's teammates have stressed the importance of Carter regaining the form that's made him an All-Star eight times in his career, which specifically means they want him to drive more often and stay aggressive; it's the style of play Van Gundy and co-captain Jameer Nelson refer to as "attack mode." They don't want Vince Carter to blend in; they want Vince Carter to be Vince Carter.
The Magic will count on Carter to generate offense when opposing defenses manage to bottle up Dwight Howard inside. That much hasn't changed. What the Magic are hoping is that Carter'll settle for jumpers less often. It doesn't seem likely--his accuracy at the rim has declined in each of the last four seasons, as has the frequency with which he's gotten there--but it doesn't seem impossible, either.
Last Monday, the Magic held a team meeting that lasted approximately 3.5 hours. Carter's offense is a subject that came up quite a bit. We'll see if his taken it to heart this preseason.
Who's Orlando playing, and when?
Click here to view the team's complete preseason schedule.