I had a funny conversation with a fellow Magic fan shortly before last season. Reviewing our offseason transactions, we both came to the exact same conclusion: the Magic were stacked. Re-signing Gortat, bringing in Vince Carter and Brandon Bass, a promising young big in Ryan Anderson, Championship-tested veteran Jason Williams. Compared to the '08-'09 team, this one looked like even more of a contender.
Look at the decline. Last season was a step down, and this season is looking much worse. But what happened?
What did the Magic have two seasons ago that they don't anymore?
What's odd is the marked improvement of Dwight Howard. His game has evolved considerably since the Magic's championship run.
But what are we missing?
Here are my thoughts, but I'd love to hear yours.
Facing a pair of dynamic 6'10" players at the 3 and 4 is a nightmare scenario for just about any team. Especially when both of them can knock down 3s. These two drew interior defenders out to the perimeter and allowed Stan Van Gundy's 1 in/4 out offensive scheme to thrive, even with Howard's lesser offensive skillset.
2) Rashard MFing Lewis
I don't want to step on Evan's toes, as he has been an outstanding advocate for Rashard, but Rashard Lewis was the cornerstone of that championship run. He led the team in scoring more often than not, and hit more than a few big shots in the clutch. He elevated his performance in the post-season, which is the sign of a true competitor, and without him we may have lost in the first round to the 76ers. Think on that.
Marcin Gortat was hungry. Does anyone else remember his Game 6 performance against Philadelphia in Howard's absence? 11 points, 15 boards. I can't recall many specific games off the top of my head, but I remember seeing several great performances from Gortat throughout the season, mainly rebounding and blocking shots. But he had a decent offensive touch, too. It seemed clear he'd see increased playing time in 09-10 and further develop his game, but it just did not happen. Gortat never looked more promising than he did that season.
I hear it just about once a game from NBA2K11 -- "Jameer Nelson had that breakout year in 2009 when he made the All Star team, but has been mired in injury and never reclaimed that level of play."
Agreed. And why hasn't he? Nelson is just 29 years old -- prime NBA years. Thinking about him torching Derek Fisher and the Lakers in the 08-09 regular season makes me straight up nostalgic. He knew when to move the ball and when to cut to the hole, or spot up for a quick 3. However briefly, Nelson was one of the best point guards in the NBA .
And when he went down, Rafer Alston came in ready to be whoever the Magic needed him to be. Like Gortat, Alston came in hungry. He had something to prove. Past experience playing under SVG certainly helped, but there was something remarkable about Alston's ability to blend in seamlessly, and allow SVG's offense to function at nearly full-capacity, in such a short period of time.
In the 2009 offseason I was convinced Otis Smith was building a dynasty in Orlando, not unlike the Spurs of the past decade. I know this is what he had in mind, a strong, unselfish team built on leadership -- and the best center in the NBA. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that he doesn't know how this is done. The December trades proved it.
Unfortunately, I'm convinced we were just another team that stumbled into the right place at the right time, a "Magic formula" if you will -- something we see in a lot of One And Done NBA Champions (Detroit Pistons in '05, Miami Heat in '06) and most NBA Finals losers ('03 New Jersey Nets come to mind).
Because Turk was (and arguably is) gone. Rashard Lewis never rose to that same level of play, and he's gone too. Gortat rotted on the bench, and on the floor in his fleeting minutes. Also gone. Alston is gone, and Jameer Nelson's All Star game is MIA -- which makes me think that it was also the result of the Magic Formula.
What do you guys think? What did we have two seasons ago that we have been losing ever since?