With the regular season inching closer, the starting lineup for the Orlando Magic on opening night still hasn't been decided by head coach Stan Van Gundy, though he has stated that he's coming closer to a decision. Who will the starters be? Who knows, but that's something to keep an eye on before Wednesday's home opener.
I was able to speak with Van Gundy amonst the media and Ryan Anderson one-on-one after practice was over this afternoon.
Here's what they had to say:
Stan Van Gundy:
I know that Eddie Jordan likes to run the Princeton offense and Elton Brand is coming back for the 76ers, how do you think that's going to change their focus offensively?
Well, I think that Eddie ... the one thing about that system and Eddie is probably, of all the guys who run it in the league, he's probably the most committed to that style of play and to that offense. He's probably developed it more fully than anyone else. It's got everything in it, it has great post-up options, and Elton has always had quick feet anyway so I think it'll be a really good offense for him to get good position down low, it'll be tough to guard him in that offense.
Do you expect them to be as up-tempo as they were last year?
I would think. I would think that they would really try to push the ball, they were really in the pre-season trying to pressure the ball, trying to create turnovers, getting out in transition. Taking care of the ball, we thought in the regular season and in the playoffs last year, was probably as big a factor as any because if we don't take care of the ball, they're going to convert and so that's going to be a huge factor going into Wednesday night - it's how well we're able to take care of the ball and avoid turnovers.
With these last couple of practices before the start of the regular season, will this be a time to determine your starting lineup or have you already decided?
Well, not totally. I'm getting closer but not totally. We worked with different groups today, we changed it around half-way through [practice] so I know that Jameer, and Vince, and Dwight, and so we worked all four of those other guys with those [three] guys today.
How important is it to key in on Jason Kapono?
Well, again, it's like everything else, I mean, we don't want to give him a lot of open looks but their quickness makes you keep your defense pretty compact to not the ball into the basket and so you won't be able to stay at home on him all the time. You're just going to have to do a great job closing out but it'll certainly be a point of emphasis, we don't want to be giving him any open shots.
From the start of the pre-season to now, what aspect of the team has improved the most in that timeframe?
Well, I think we progressed the most defensively but we still have a long, long way to go. I don't think we're there and there still times in practices, in games, where I look out there and wonder how much we've had progressed but we have made some improvements and hopefully we'll continue to the next couple of days and just continue to get better and hopefully we will, over the course of the year, continue to get better.
I mean, that and taking care of the ball are really our issues. I think if we can do those two things - defend and take care of the ball - we'll be okay because if we don't turn it over, I think we'll get good enough shots and we got enough guys that can make shots that we'll be okay. But we haven't handled the ball well.
Is that [turnovers] going to be a major point of emphasis against Philadelphia?
Oh, it will be against Philly but I just think with our team it's a major point of emphasis. I mean, some encouraging signs I thought that [Mickael] Pietrus didn't have a turnover in the last two games. I think that's huge. I think when you're around those guys are going to have the ball a lot and have to make plays, Jameer, Vince, Dwight, those other guys in the lineup need to be low-turnover guys and so M.P. was a low-turnover guy last year. He had turned the ball over quite a bit early in the pre-season but I thought he really made a conscious effort the last two games, cut his mistakes down, that's a huge, huge help for us so hopefully that'll continue. I thought obviously Dwight, in the last game, handled the ball a lot better. His turnovers have been up significantly so that was good to see, too.
More after the jump.
I know that you said before that you wanted to improve defensively. How did you feel you progressed in that area during the pre-season?
In this last game, I felt really comfortable on defense. We had a gameplan and we really stuck to it. Of course, there's going to be mistakes but for the most part, I think I'm improving a ton. I think our team is improving a lot on defense. Yeah, I mean, that's basically the key to us being a championship team is building our defense up.
The chemistry, how has that been developing?
Yeah, I mean, we have a ton of chemistry early but now, we're real tight. We know what everybody can do. Everybody is accepting their roles. I know that we haven't really sought out who's going to be playing as much or whatever. We all have respect for other, we all know we can play, we have a great team, we have so many weapons, so I think we're a real strong team.
Away from basketball, how often do you guys hang out to build that camaraderie?
For the most part, everybody hangs out with each other. Especially after the games, we might go out and get a bite to eat or we might see this guy at a certain place so I mean it's different from last year because, of course being in New York, it's a bigger city but nobody really went out as a team. Basically, it was practice, then you go home, and you're on your own. Here, it's really ... people want to hang out, grab a bite to eat, or go to the movies and that's great, I really think that helps our unity because we all know each other real well.
Does it feel more like a family vibe, in that sense? Getting to the point where you feel so comfortable that you don't mind it?
Yeah, it's a lot more of a family vibe here. Like I said, everybody seeks each other out, we want to hang out with each other, rather than being sick of each other and seeing each other every day but talk to me at the end of the season, we'll see how much we like each other. *laughs* I'm just kidding.
I know that some people have said that you were overlooked in the trade. Was that something where you wanted to come in and show the local fans you could play?
I'm always overlooked. That's just kind of the way my career has gone - in college, in high school. I'm used to it but of course, Vince [Carter] is an amazing player so I can't really have hard feelings towards how people feel. That's kind of their feeling on the trade and I can only make myself have respect for myself, just keep playing hard, and maybe change some people's minds but it is a Vince Carter trade, I'm a throw-in, but a lot of people don't think that, some people do, that's just something I have to accept.
I know in college you were #34, in New Jersey you were #20, why #33?
#33 is kind of a number I've always wanted. I didn't have it in college, that was my high school number and in AAU, that's what I wore. It was kind of a number I've always liked. Nothing too meaningful behind that, I just like the number.
I know that you've stated that you feel Orlando is the best team in the NBA. What about the team makes you feel that way?
There's so many good teams right now but it's funny because a lot of people don't think we're going to do what we did last year, even win the championship. But if you were to ask everybody in this practice facility, everybody who works for the Magic, they'd be real confident that we'll be winning a championship. We're a real, real fighting team. We're ready to win but as far as other teams, of course Boston, L.A., Cleveland, there's a lot of powerhouses but we have so many weapons, it's going to be hard for any team to beat us consistently or solidly. We're going to fight every team.
Do you guys keep track of predictions? I know that the GM's released their survey a few weeks ago and only 7.1% said you were going to win the East. Some scouts said that you're the consensus #3 team in the conference.
That's something, it's not set in stone. It's what people think. People obviously don't come in here and see us practice every day. I hope in the pre-season we proved something because a lot of people ranked us behind Atlanta in the division and we beat them by like 40 so it's all politics, it's what people think, and you got to respect opinions but we're here to prove everybody wrong.
In the pre-season, given all the rankings and such, did you feel like you guys had to make a statement against some teams or overall?
I think the big thing was for us just to improve and build as a team. I don't think we were trying to prove anything because, I mean last year, what else do we need to really prove? I think we've added so many more weapons from last year. Not that last year's team wasn't good but I mean Vince Carter is a legend in the NBA, he's an All-Star, he's a guy that can help this team a ton and Dwight is only getting better and stronger, Jameer, and when Rashard comes back, I mean, we're going to be hard to beat.
Was there anything that stood out to you about Dwight Howard or Jameer Nelson that you didn't know prior to playing with them?
They're both real unselfish. We try to get the ball to Dwight as much as we can because he's going to create a ton of mismatches but when he's getting doubled, he'll kick the ball out, he's a real smart player. Jameer is a real unselfish point guard, he'll find you every time. We're a real unselfish team, with as many scorers as we have, that's I think the biggest plus about this team. We move the ball, we have so many scorers, that's what we're going to do this season.