With the pre-season coming to a close, it appears that everyone on the Orlando Magic is ready to start the regular season and begin its quest in trying to win an NBA title for the first time in franchise history.
I was able to speak with Stan Van Gundy, Vince Carter, and Marcin Gortat amongst the media after the morning practice was over. Here's what they had to say:
Stan Van Gundy:
How does your bench compare this year to last year? Does it bring more versatility to the table?
I don't know, I thought our bench played pretty well last year. People made a big deal of the fact that we were the lowest scoring or one of the lowest scoring benches in the league but that was far more a function of minutes than anything else. I played those other guys big minutes so our bench minutes were probably the lowest in the league too so I thought our bench was good. I thought this year in the pre-season, so far, our bench has been ... no matter who we brought off the bench, we've gotten a good lift. It's been very, very good but it's pre-season, so you don't know until you get started but I like it, that's why I'm going to open up the season playing 10 guys because it would be hard for me to cut any of those guys out of the rotation, at this point. So yeah, I'm happy but it's still pre-season.
For the last pre-season game, are there any more lineup combinations you want to take a look at?
No, not really. I think I pretty much know. The only thing we really didn't look at at all was Marcin at the four, quite honestly, that's just ... we may do that in practice. That's really tough with Adonal [Foyle] out, we don't have enough fives to be able to play Marcin at the four to be able to really get any work there so he's done it before. I would like to get a look at that at some point but that's the only thing we really haven't explored. We said we wanted to play J.J. [Redick] and Vince together at the two and three, we've done that. We played Matt [Barnes] at the four. I think we've pretty much done everything. M.P. [Mickael Pietrus] has played two and three so I feel pretty comfortable that we've seen about everything and that guys are comfortable enough to play multiple positions.
Do you plan on seeing Vince Carter a lot at the three this season?
Well, I think he'll primarily be a two but I do think there's a lot of situations where he and J.J. can play together, too, if need be so they're both smart enough, too, so we can make the adjustments we need to.
At full strength, how do you think opposing defense will attack your team in terms of limiting touches for Dwight, or Vince, or Rashard, or whoever?
Well, I think we pretty much know. It's all stuff we've seen, people are certainly going to try to limit Dwight's effectiveness, not let him get near the basket, if he does, foul him. I mean, we've seen that for over two years now so there's no real surprise there, whether they double-team him or however they handle it. I think that with Vince, you'll see people trap him some on pick & rolls, he'll get double-teamed some. We had that same thing with Turk. People will stay home at shooters a lot but again, you can only do so many things and we've had people do it before, not come off Rashard. Well, it just opens up more room for Dwight and more room on drives. I don't think anything is going to change, there's only so many possibilities and we have the same problem.
You're guarding people, there's only so many possibilities and whatever you work harder to take away, you're going to give something else up and so it's a matter of whether or not Vince can convert with what you give him. It's the same thing with us so nobody is going to surprise us with anything. I don't think we're going to be easy to guard. I mean, I don't think you can ... there's not one scheme that's just going to work, let's put it that way. I think with some teams, well, if you just get back and protect the paint, don't let them drive the ball and post up, then they're going to struggle because they can't shoot it or if you just get out on their shooters. With us, I think with like most of the better teams, it's tougher than that. You have difficult choices. Some teams do it well and other's won't so we'll see.
Do you plan on playing the entire second unit at the same time?
Oh, I don't know about that. You'll almost never get ... I mean, you might get minutes with all five of them in there but we're not going to sub five guys. I try to never do that. I think one or two at a time because you don't want a bunch of guys coming in cold so it'll rotate through. They'll be out there together.
More after the jump.
Is this the most anticipated season you've had in your career, given what's at stake?
Of course. If you have a championship-caliber team and you're not excited about this, then you shouldn't play.
How do you think your preparation for the game has progressed in your career?
I mean, definitely, it's better because it's a lot different because I've played against pretty much all the guys in the league. I mean, when it comes to some of the rookies and the young guys, that I don't really know, but my preparation is pretty much the same as it is now. I can give you insight on some of the coaches' philosophy because I've played with some of the coaches or past coaches, or of course against them, so I can give a little insight because it's not a guessing game. I've kind of been around long enough to really ... first all, I've seen it all against other players and against myself.
How have been the practices been like, in terms intensity and what not?
I love it, sometimes the practices are a little tougher than the games. I think that prepares us, having a harder practice than the game is a lot easier, so I'll take it.
Stan is known to be a really detailed, meticulous coach. Could you talk a little bit about that and what you've seen so far?
You just said it all. What else is there to say? He's very meticulous, he wants to make sure to cover every aspect of the game, each player, each set, after timeouts.
Does he prepare you for every situational imaginable or tries to?
Yup, there'll be more right before the game as well so whatever he left out this morning, he'll get to the rest of it tonight.
You've won a gold medal in the Olympics. Is there any transfer to being prepared for that competition to where you are now? To win it all?
It is the same goal. Dwight has had the opportunity to play [in the Olympics] and just see what it's like and in the NBA Finals, he had the opportunity to play for something that's major in sports so my focus and my mentality is kind of like that was. It was just amazing to see the approach. I mean, you play with these professional athletes and great players, I think the coaches were . . . we knew we had a pretty good team so the coaches, I mean, were - Rudy [Tomjanovich] - it was great, he prepared us and he knew that if we were to go out and be the stars that we were, everything would take care of itself.
For the returning players, has the demeanor changed at all in terms of the desire to win a title? The hunger?
I think most of us are pissed. We're just mad that we lost this championship after beating Cleveland, going to the Finals, and losing those two games just by missing a layup and giving up the championship on our own court, it wasn't easy, so we definitely believe now that we got a stronger team. We're way stronger. We got the experience that we need, we know how it is to be in the Finals right now, and I guess we just got to use that now.
There's some people out there, experts, that still don't believe. They still like Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers in the East, does that bother you guys?
That's just how it is, they always are going to talk about Cleveland, people are going to talk about Boston because of the players in Boston and the history of Boston but it's cool, at the end of the day, basketball is important and you got to play five-on-five so let them talk, we don't got any pressure. They got this pressure and we're just going to do what we're supposed to do. We're going to go out, play hard, and win the games and we'll see who's going to laugh at the end. That's the best part of it.
For the returning players, how has the bench changed from last year? Could you compare the two units?
Oh, we're definitely deeper. We got more experienced players, we got younger players who got more energy. We got Brandon [Bass] who's got a lot of energy, his game is bigger, he's a post-up player, he's a scorer off the bench. We got J.J. who is in great shape, I mean, he was working out the whole summer until he was killing himself in the gym to keep him ready for the season and he's in great shape so obviously, me coming off the bench, try to support as much as I can and we got Anthony Johnson, Jason Williams, and we still don't know who's going to play and Matt Barnes is going to come out, I mean, we got the crew. We got the bench that can probably play and start for different teams so we got players on the bench that can start for different teams so we definitely have a nice team.
During the off-season, did you work out with anyone?
I was back in Europe working on my game and getting ready for the Eurobasket but I didn't do anything crazy. I took maybe two weeks off, I put handcuffs on me and stick to my bed and make sure nothing is going to happen to me before I signed a contract but I had maybe two weeks off and then I was with the [Polish] national team.
Do you feel any pressure living up to your contract?
No. I'm going to do what I've been doing the past two years and I'm going to keep improving every day and I don't have anything to lose. I'm just going to be ready to play and if I want to have my chance, try to use it, that's all. I don't care. People talk, I don't believe people made a mistake signing me or matching me, it's just wasn't one guy, it was a whole crew making this decision, and I don't think there were people in the NBA who didn't know anything about basketball. I mean, come on, so I'm cool so I'm definitely not worried about that at all.
Could you talk a little bit about Stan's preparedness and what he's been doing before practices and before games?
Well, he's been doing the same thing and he's got the same preparation. We go through the system, we learn what we're supposed to do, he's telling every guy what we have to be ready, and going into film and making us ready. Obviously, if we screw around and lose focus, then he's going to tell us and just do the right thing. I, personally, I'm ready. Every time he's explaining me things, I'm ready for the game and I'm trying to focus on the stuff I have to do.
Odds and Ends:
After practice was over, there were three Orlando Magic players that put in some extra work - Dwight Howard, J.J. Redick, and Linton Johnson. For Howard, one can probably guess what he was working on (hint: free throws). For Redick, he was putting in time working on his jumpshot, specifically, off of "screens" (there were chairs set up for him) and pulling up when crossing half-court. For Johnson, he was practicing his jumper.