The Orlando Magic lost their 7th straight game against teams with winning records yesterday, falling by a 91-80 final to the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics due to 34.4 percent shooting (12.5 percent on three-pointers), an inability or disinclination to get to the foul line, and overall unimaginative and uncreative offense. Perimeter players Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, Quentin Richardson, and J.J. Redick combined to shoot 13-of-53 (24.5 percent) from the floor for 32 points, for which head coach Stan Van Gundy took partial responsibility in his post-game remarks. From Brian Schmitz, the Orlando Sentinel's Magic Insider:
"If you have that many perimeter guys playing poorly, I think as a coach, you have to look at it and say, 'Are you not getting them the right shots? Are you not getting them in the right positions?'
"It was everybody. I think I've got to look at what we're running, what we're doing, what works, and what we're doing for people because it wasn't good enough."
Falling on his sword, so to speak, is not a new ploy for Van Gundy; he does it at times to deflect criticism from his players, a reasonable tactic, even if it's sometimes not warranted. And while it's true Van Gundy's not the guy out there bricking open threes and forgetting driving to the basket is totally okay, according to league rules, it's also true some of the onus falls on him for not getting his players where they need to be offensively.
Of late, Orlando's played like a cartoon of itself on the offensive end against good teams, looking off Dwight Howard--even when he has deep post position--in favor of swinging the ball around the perimeter and jacking iffy threes. Howard, by the way, is averaging 22.4 points per game on 58.1 percent shooting; no other player is averaging more than 14.2 (Jason Richardson) or shooting better than 50.6 percent (the currently injured Brandon Bass). Acquiring Turkoglu and Arenas was meant to improve the team's passing and ball control, concerns Van Gundy's had since training camp, while the addition of Richardson in theory gave Orlando a more versatile and explosive offensive option at shooting guard compared to Vince Carter, whom it traded to the Phoenix Suns for Richardson, Turkoglu, and Earl Clark.
But since a nine-game winning streak in the team's first 11 games after the trades, the bloom has fallen off the rose. Richardson is shooting 45-of-114 (39.5 percent) from the field in his last 10 appearances, and Turkoglu's been so awful during the same stretch (11 points, 4.2 assists, 36.3 percent shooting) Van Gundy said, following the loss to Boston, "I've never been through a stretch with him where it seems like the majority of the plays he's making I'm sort of saying, 'What the hell is he doing?'" That quote appears in Ken Berger's must-read write-up on the state of the Magic, which you should go ahead and open in another tab now and read once you're finished here.
Over the last few weeks, this site has made some suggestions and observations about the team. Jason Richardson and Carter ought not be compared based on their individual statistics; Turkoglu is a huge key to Orlando's success; perhaps Van Gundy should play Quentin Richardson more, giving the team a lift defensively. But now, I'm more or less out of ideas. It's among the many reasons I'm not an NBA head coach. The team is more talented, in theory, than it was before the trades, yet the upgrade appears to be, half a season later, minimal at best. It's on Van Gundy to get his guys going again, and on his players to implement the plan Van Gundy devises.
To be clear, I don't think the Magic will fire Van Gundy. President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith is too patient a man, too fair a man, to relieve Van Gundy of his position midseason. Nor does the team's recent performance warrant Van Gundy's dismissal. I have no doubt about any of that. What's more in question is this team's long-term stability, as Berger covers in impressive depth. Howard can become a free agent in 2012--he has one guaranteed season in Orlando after this one, in other words--and the team owes nearly $200 million in player salary, not covering luxury-tax payments, over the next four seasons. In the short term, it hasn't defeated a winning team since January 8th and runs the risk of not hosting so much as a first-round playoff series unless it goes on a major tear soon.
None of this is to sound alarmist, okay. These are sober statements of fact.