The Orlando Magic have lost three straight games for just the third time in Stan Van Gundy's tenure as head coach, and given how poorly they've played at both ends in each outing, it's fair to wonder a few things: first, if the team can win a championship as presently constructed. TNT broadcasters Mike Fratello and Steve Kerr discussed this topic at impressive depth and length during Orlando's disappointing 97-83 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers last night, and I actually found myself starting to agree with Kerr when he asserted that a devastating injury would need to befall the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat for Orlando to escape the Eastern Conference this season. I argued against this point a few months ago, as you may recall.
The second question extends logically from the first: is Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith even inclined to make a change this early in the season? Smith's reputation as a patient personnel man precedes him, and he's nothing if not supportive of the team he's helped build. Yet with the losses mounting, it's fair to wonder if Orlando's recent play has him beginning to think about working the phones, looking for help where he can get it.
I've come up with some trade targets Orlando might consider. None of these guys is a superstar who can vault the Magic over the top, which may disappoint some of you; I won't discuss Gilbert Arenas, Carmelo Anthony, or Danny Granger here. But I think it's certainly feasible that the Magic's supporting cast around franchise center Dwight Howard needs an upgrade, and that the right role-player, or "glue guy," can help them almost as much as an All-Star. With that said, if Smith swung for the fences, so to speak, by landing a player with such a pedigree, I wouldn't be surprised. As I reported exclusively last week, the Magic have inquired about Arenas and potentially Andray Blatche from the Washington Wizards, likely offering a package centered around shooting guard Vince Carter. Smith and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis separately denied these talks, which is understandable, but I stand behind that reporting.
Without any further preamble, here are five role-players the Magic might look into adding if the season continues to slip away. Bear in mind that I've based these picks without consulting any sources; I'm not reporting the Magic have discussed any of these players, internally or otherwise. They're mere suggestions on my part. Please treat them as such. Also note that all stats are through Wednesday night and come from basketball-reference.com. Additionally, all contract data comes from ShamSports.
O.J. Mayo, SG, Memphis Grizzlies
Contract status: This season and next guaranteed for $10 million; on a rookie scale deal, he'd enter restricted free agency in the summer of 2012 under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement
2010/11 Stats: 12 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2 assists; 39.8 percent from the field, 37.1 percent from three-point range
Mayo has a smooth, refined offensive game a lot of old-school fans can appreciate. In his three-year career, he's averaged 17.2 points in 37 minutes per game, connecting on 44.3 percent of his field goals, 38.2 percent of his three-pointers, and 84.1 percent of his foul shots. He doesn't do much else--3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game is all, really--but he's so quietly effective as a scorer it hardly matters. Unfortunately for Mayo, the Memphis Grizzlies don't seem terribly interested in making a long-term commitment to him. Coach Lionel Hollins benched him earlier this year for arriving late to a practice, and his performance has dipped sharply as a result: he's shooting 40 percent from the floor and scoring only 8 points in 23.4 minutes as a reserve.
In Orlando, he'd also come off the bench, but I don't think he'd feel as much resentment because he'd join the team with a pretty defined role, as opposed to where he is now, having to grapple with an abrupt change on the fly. He can handle the second unit's scoring load on a nightly basis, I believe.
Memphis doesn't need much help up front, as it boasts Marc Gasol at center and Zach Randolph at power forward, arguably the league's best high-low combination. They'll likely make a long-term commitment to Gasol this summer, which would seem to put Randolph on the outs. Brandon Bass and J.J. Redick could prove to be a tempting package, particularly if the Grizzlies cut ties with Randolph at season's end.
HoopsHype.com editor Jorge Sierra may have said it best via Twitter: "OJ Mayo is too good to be coming off the bench. Some good NBA teams could use him at the two guard spot," he wrote. Though clearly I'd still keep Mayo on the bench in Orlando.
Andre Miller, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
Contract status: This season and next remaining at $15 million, but next season's salary of $7.8 million is fully unguaranteed
2010/11 Stats: 13.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists; 45.8 percent from the field, 6.3 percent from three-point range
I can't take credit for this idea, as CBS Sports' Ken Berger floated it Wednesday in his Post-Ups column, in which he reported the Blazers may look to deal some of their veterans if their season doesn't turn around soon. Berger says "Orlando would be the perfect landing spot for Miller depending on what the Magic would be willing to send back," and it's hard to disagree. The game has never seen a better lob passer, for one, but his skill-set aligns almost perfectly with what the Magic require from their backup point guard. Though the 34-year-old isn't a deep threat--he owns a career mark of 20.6 percent on three-pointers, on just 0.7 attempts per game--few players take more decisive command of an offense or read defenses better.
Chris Duhon's struggles to execute the Magic's playbook, coupled with Jason Williams' demonstrably diminishing skills, make backup point guard a glaring area of need for Orlando. Miller's career average of 7.2 assists per game indicates he can run an offense. Plus, as a walk-it-up point guard, he'd fit right in with the Magic's slow, deliberate attack in the half court. He needs the ball in his hands in order to really thrive--he's not a guy who's going to punish defenses for playing off him, that's for sure--but that wouldn't be a problem with Orlando's second unit, which usually consists of Bass and three other players who are at their best when others create for them. Count his post-up skills, at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, as another plus.
In criticizing his team's defense against Portland, Van Gundy had some compliments for Miller, about which you can read at Wendell Maxey's excellent Beyond The Beat, an Oregon-centric sports blog with knockout Blazers coverage.
Troy Murphy, PF, New Jersey Nets
Contract status: expiring deal worth $11.9 million
2009/10 Stats: 14.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists; 47.2 percent from the field, 38.4 percent from three-point range
Murphy might be the league's best buy-low candidate. His hometown Nets acquired him in a four-team deal this summer to bolster their power forward depth, but a back injury held him out of training camp and the early portion of the schedule, during which time rookie Derrick Favors and veteran Kris Humphries impressed with their consistent production. With New Jersey's playoff chances fading fast, it's time coach Avery Johnson fast-tracks the youth movement (hat tip: NetsDaily) by giving Favors and Humphries an increased role, which would further marginalize Murphy. He's appeared in just 10 games as it is, averaging 3.8 points and 3.8 rebounds, and shooting 31.1 percent from the floor.
And while questions about his back linger--those issues never really go away--there's no doubt that Murphy's skill could really help this Magic team. At 6-foot-11 and 245 pounds, he can play either power position, with the bonus of having a lethal three-point shot: he owns a career 39.8 percent mark from beyond the arc, including a monster 45 percent showing two years ago as an Indiana Pacer. Moreover, he averages a rebound every 3.4 minutes despite spending most of his time on the perimeter.
Imagine the Magic's offense with Murphy camped out on the weak side, waiting for a kickout on every possession. It's like having Rashard Lewis' three-point stroke, with the added threat of an inside finish as well. Murphy can really play.
And while there's a tendency in general, I think, to regard jump-shooting big men as soft, Murphy's proven over the last several seasons he has what it takes to hang with the league's elite teams. His numbers in 15 combined games against the Celtics and L.A. Lakers since 2007/08? Try 14.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 57.2 percent True Shooting, including five performances of at least 15 points and 10 rebounds. It's not hard to imagine Murphy's rebounding and floor-spacing helping a contending team hoist a trophy this season, and Orlando's as great a fit as any for him.
Tayshaun Prince, SF, Detroit Pistons
Contract status: expiring deal worth $11.1 million
2010/11 Stats: 14 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists; 49 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three-point range
Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel trotted out this idea last week, so I can't claim this idea as my own either. He touts Prince's playoff resume (12.5 points and 5.6 boards per game in 118 postseason appearances), defensive skills, and underrated offense as the draws for Orlando. Though Prince's game has long impressed me, I don't really see the appeal now. He shoots inefficiently (52.5 percent True Shooting this year), has lost his impressive rebounding touch, and has a high asking price due to his contract. What I do like about Prince is his ability to initiate an offense, a much-needed skill for Orlando given how it's stagnated lately. Prince can also throw in some tricky, left-handed flips under defensive pressure, so, um, there's that.
Schmitz thinks the Magic count get Prince with an offer featuring backup center Marcin Gortat and third-string power forward Ryan Anderson. Detroit certainly needs to re-stock its bigs, as it lacks anyone who can score from those positions, so from that standpoint the Magic are logical trade partners. The Pistons could throw in veteran center Ben Wallace, who starred for the Magic on their 1999/2000 "Heart and Hustle" squad, to "eat up Gortat's meager minutes behind Howard," Schmitz says.
In spite of all that, I don't think the minimal upgrade from Mickael Pietrus and Quentin Richardson to Prince at small forward justifies losing Gortat or Anderson.
Louis Williams, PG, Philadelphia 76ers
Contract status: This season and the next two remaining at $15.5 million; the final one, at $5.35 million, is a player option
2010/11 Stats: 12.2 points, 1.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists; 36.6 percent from the field, 38 percent from three-point range
Williams is another attractive fit for a lot of reasons, chiefly because he plays a similar game to incumbent Magic starter Jameer Nelson. A skilled pick-and-roll operator who averaged a career-best 4.2 assists last season, Williams can also call his own number and score from just about anywhere. He's a guy whose shot defenses must honor, a trait the Magic's backup point guard hasn't had since Keyon Dooling's days in Orlando blue. For his career, he's scored nearly a point every two minutes, and this season, he's set a career best with 19.6 points per 36 minutes. As a bonus, Williams can play off the ball at shooting guard in certain lineups without losing much effectiveness. Oh, and he draws fouls.
Williams' issues come at the the defensive end, where he's often overwhelmed or outworked. At 24, though, he still has plenty of time to correct them, and with the right guidance and scheme, he could shift from liability to asset.