Like Ice Cube once said, it was a good day.
For the Orlando Magic, Stan Van Gundy was very pleased with the team's effort in the morning practice session and as such, gave his players the afternoon off in preparation for the first pre-season game against the Dallas Mavericks - which takes place, Monday. Vince Carter, also, shed some light on the now-infamous defensive slip-up he had a few days ago, in which the national media had and has been trying to stir "controversy" where no rift actually exists (the issue has been addressed).
I was able to speak with Van Gundy, Carter, and Ryan Anderson amongst the media, and Matt Barnes one-on-one. Here's what they had to say:
Stan Van Gundy:
So what are some things you're trying to work on before the first game against the Dallas Mavericks?
It's still, again, not about so much the first game. We're still really trying to get out defense together. I mean, that's the biggest thing but also we're trying to be prepared from an offensive standpoint, not necessarily to be real good, but just be prepared for anything we might see defensively - double-teams, trapping our pick & rolls, pushing our pick & rolls to the baseline, whatever it is. We want ... we're hoping we don't see something that we haven't done at all. Now, we'll see a lot of things that we'll probably have a long way to go in but at least, hopefully, we'll see things that we'll have done them and talk about them so when we have problems, at least in a timeout maybe we can refresh some memory, but that's really it.
The main thing is continue to push the areas that I told you about last week, we want to push our conditioning, we want to push our defensive mentality, and just continue to get more comfortable on playing with each other. There's a big improvement, today, a lot of it because obviously coming after a day off, we had a little bit more energy so that was a lot better.
Have you been watching film this past week? If so, what specifically have you been looking at?
We watched film only one time, it was 15 clips. I think in the first week practice is so long that you sort of limit watching film but when we play games starting next week, we'll have a lot more to look at and things like that so we have a lot we could show. We have shown individual guys some clips but we've only watched film as a team one time. We've just opted to put them out here [in the practice court]. Repetition on the floor, at this point, is more important for us. I think when you know your system really well, then you can learn a lot watching film and be able to make corrections on the floor. I think when you're just learning a new system, which seven of our guys are, the repetition on the floor is more valuable than watching it on film.
How invaluable is the flexibility that you have with your roster?
I think it's great. I think it will certainly help in terms of depth. I think it helps you overcome situations, like injuries and Rashard [Lewis] being out early in the year because you have other people. It's certainly not desirable. I mean, I rather have everybody and certainly rather have Rashard to start but we don't but at least we got a roster where .. we'd have to have a lot of injuries to sort of get caught short.
Has there anybody that's stood out to you so far in training camp?
I mean, if there were, I probably wouldn't tell so I'm just concerned with, again, the team and the energy level and the intensity and how we're picking things up. I'm not concerned about who's playing better than who, at this point. I want everybody looking to get better in certain areas and we've talked to them about those areas, but I don't care how well they're playing or not, we still want them to get better.
With regards to injuries, do you think you have all your bases covered?
Well, you never know. You just don't know. If you get two injuries and they are at different positions, then you don't have a problem but two point guards collide tomorrow and then they're both out, yeah, you got a problem. If Dwight and March are both out at the same time, then yeah, you got a problem. I mean, you can't cover every possible scenario. I think we're as well covered as you can possibly be. I think Otis [Smith] has done everything possible but there's always freak things that happen and you have to deal with it. In short-term, you deal with it and if it's long-term, you might have to be forced to do something but we'd almost have to have two guys at the same spot have long-term injuries for us to really be in trouble. If we have two guys at the same spot with shorter term injuries, then we'll probably be okay.
More after the jump.
Stan talked about putting in some plays during your time in Toronto and New Jersey. Has he done that so far, yet?
He's put a few plays in. I mean, some of the plays we [New Jersey Nets] ran last year, he's obviously put in that I'm comfortable with so when you've been around long enough, you've seen a lot of plays, you've run of lot of plays, and I think I can pretty much make anything work. Just, for me, I like to not only know the play but understand what I'm supposed to do but I also like to understand what he [the head coach] is trying to get out of it and once I understand what he's trying to get out of it, I can maneuver from there so I've had times to feel my way with that and I feel comfortable.
Have you always been that type of player, to try to understand the play in its entirety?
Yeah, I've been like that. Sometimes I overanalyze a play but I've found over the years it's help me learn other positions as well, once I kind of figure out the purpose of the play. Once I get it, now I can help others or when I'm playing the other two positions that he's [the head coach] having me play, I can kind of understand what's going on.
It makes me feel smart. *laughs*
This will be your first game with the new team, in terms of playing against Dallas. Is there anything in particular that you're trying to work on in that game?
Like I said, just getting into game shape. It's one thing to go up and down like we do, but with stops here and there, in playing against some other guys and seeing where we're are. Each game I think is important for us for this team. It's not like, oh, this is pre-season, let's get through it, which is ... it can be the mentality. Yes, it's your first game and the excitement is there, but for us getting our new team and our new guys established and understanding what he [Stan Van Gundy] wants, that's one thing to do in practice but it's another to do in a game against other players and the guys who don't know what we're running out there on the court.
Is Brandon Bass' defensive mentality really contagious, in terms of his intensity?
His intensity on both ends of the floor is contagious. I mean, for one, Dwight [Howard] can get you a lot of extra possessions but when Dwight comes out, right along with March, with Brandon, along with March, or Dwight, you put those two guys together, we're guaranteed to get a lot of extra possessions because of that. With our shooting, that'll be big for us.
I know that you stated in the past that you had a real tight knit group with Golden State. Do you think this team has the potential to be just as close?
Yeah, this reminds me of the exact same type of team, where everybody gets along and no one really gets left out. Everyone jokes around with each other and has a good time and it really reminds me of that team [the Warriors] a lot.
In terms of Jameer's 'Building Magic' week, how did that help the new guys get to know the other guys?
I think that was very crucial, because half our team is new this year. Getting the chance to meet and hang out with everyone and really get a chance to play with everyone before camp actually started, I think it really helped us out a lot.
In training camp, is there anything specifically you're trying to work on?
Really, just to keep working on my defense. Myself and [Mickael] Pietrus are going to primarily be the guy who's guarding the best player on the other team so to constantly improve on my defense and just work on my complete game, but my major focus is working on defense.
In terms of the new guys, has anyone stood out to you?
I mean, everyone has been playing well. From Brandon ... Vince is a former All-Star, Ryan Anderson has been playing great, everyone has been doing a great job. J-Will, with the year off, came back fresh so I definitely think we've made some major improvements and I think we're going to be a really good team this year.
I know that you and Ryan Anderson worked out together in Sacramento during the summer. What did you guys work on while you were there?
Just a lot of shooting, a lot of shooting. He shoots with the ball like a guard so for him to be 6'10'', 6'11'', he's perfect for this system. He's a shooting four man so he's only in his second year, he's very talented, and I really think he's going to be a big part of this team this year.
Has Stan been putting you in different positions, like the two, the three, and the four?
Yeah, he told me to work on the two, three, four so really just anywhere where they need, any position, I'm willing to play. Even if it's the one or five so I just have to stay ready and know every position out there so when I'm put in that position, i'll be alright.
How's training camp going for you, so far?
It's going really well. We're working really hard, we're learning new things everyday but I think we're learning real quick as a group. We have new guys, obviously. Coach is trying to adjust his teaching techniques to the newer guys, basically, just to drill it in our heads and things that we need to work on and it's really working for us, we're playing as a team, we know who to get the ball to, we're playing real well right now.
I know that you and Matt worked out in Sacramento. Is there anything specifically you were trying to work on?
We worked out pretty early in the summer, so back then, we were just working on maintaining our conditioning and just staying in shape, getting shots up, and playing, just getting a feel of the game throughout the summer time because it's a long, long lag.
Aside from Vince, have any of the other veterans have been giving you tips because it's a new team for you?
Oh yeah, everybody has been real open about giving advice to everybody. Not only the veteran guys but the younger guys, everybody is really communicating. That's something coach [Stan Van Gundy] is really stressing to us and I mean, Jameer [Nelson] has done a great job of teaching me new things, Dwight [Howard] has done a really good job, and even Matt [Barnes].
In terms of your role on the team, has Stan spoken to you about that?
Earlier in the summer, we talked about it. There's still a lot of things we're working through. I haven't really quite ... I haven't talked to him about it, like sat down and talked to him. I know what he wants from me but I don't know, as far as where I'm going to be playing, how many minutes, I don't know that yet. I know that he wants me to be a rebounder, he wants me to spread the court and shoot the ball, he wants me to just be aggressive, move the ball, and get the ball down low to Dwight because that's my strength, I'm a perimeter guy so by having Dwight draw so much attention, it's going to leave guys like me open around the perimeter.
How easy has it been meshing in with the new offensive system? It's clear that the way you play is conducive to the way the Magic play.
It's been a relatively easy transition because a lot of ... New Jersey plays real similar, where it's four guys out and one guy in so it hasn't been a big jump, but there's some new techniques ... the defensive end is something that's a lot different that I'm adjusting to, but offensively, it's a lot of screen & rolls, pick & pops, spread pick & rolls, lot of similar things that we ran last year.
Has Stan been putting you at the five at all? Or strictly putting you at the four?
Just playing me at the four.
Anything you're trying to work on specifically against the Mavericks?
There's a few things that I really need to focus more on. Obviously, Dwight is such a big presence on the court, I need to feed him more. I need to get the ball down low to him. I need to focus on that a lot more and the great thing about his offense is that, if you're open, you shoot the ball. No matter really who you are. If you're not a three-point shooter, he [Stan Van Gundy] doesn't want you shooting the three but if you're open, you should generally shoot the ball so yeah, it's a great offense. I got to really focus my eyes on the rim and Dwight and that's something I'm really working on.
You talked about the defensive schemes and you're trying to adjust to it. What have you been trying to work on with that?
Really, communicating, talking. A lot of help-side defense, there's different rotations I'm not really used to so I'm adjusting to that and through these practices, coach just drills them and drills them until you get them so yeah, I'm learning a ton. Like, last year, you got to stick with guarding your man on help-side, you got to guard your man no matter what. Here, it's like, it's more focusing on help-side, yeah, I mean like guarding penetrations and getting out, if it's not your guy, you still need to get out and guard him so there's different styles of defense, but yeah this is something that I really need to step up on and really work on a little bit.
Odds and Ends:
After practice was over, Dwight Howard joked around with me about a skinny black tie I was wearing, wondering if I wear it all the time (because I've worn it previously around the players), so that was pretty funny because that was the first time I really interacted with him on a casual level and we chatted about it for a few minutes (even Vince Carter jumped in for a little bit). Everybody on the Orlando Magic seemed to be in a pretty good mood - helps when head coach Stan Van Gundy gave the team the afternoon off instead of having another session.
I was able to speak with a source associated with the team's plans and I asked which player has stood out from the Magic so far in training camp - the answer was nearly immediate, Jameer Nelson. It was indicated to me that Nelson has been the most consistent and most vocal player out of everyone so that was encouraging to hear. Sounds like Nelson is back to his old self and for Orlando, that's great news because of his importance to the squad.
I got to chat with Otis Smith and learned that he was a Miami Dolphins fan.
Saw senior vice-president Pat Williams walking around.