I put this article by Brian Schmitz in the FanShots as soon as I read it 16 hours ago, but I'm leading off today's news bullets with it because it is so important. Nobody ever had reason to believe the Orlando Magic would pay the luxury tax next season in order to re-sign Hedo Turkoglu and Marcin Gortat this summer, but now we have what almost amounts to a 100% confirmation of that fact from GM Otis Smith:
"I have not gone to ownership and said we need to be in the tax. I don't think it's necessary. You have to be creative."
"Creative" is one of Otis' favorite words when it comes to discussing salary. Two years ago, he used the phrase "creative financing" in reference to having enough money to sign a top-tier free agent as well as to re-sign Darko Milicic. We know how that played out: Marc Cornstein, Darko's agent, said disparaging things about Smith and vowed never to do business with the Magic as long as he was affiliated with them.
Which means this summer probably won't be much fun unless the Magic win a championship, and even then the good times might end: if they won a title this year, already below the tax threshold, they'd have even less reason to believe paying the tax is necessary in order to assemble a championship roster.
THEN AGAIN, Otis was able to move all the Magic's expiring contracts (sans Hedo) in trades during the season. Brian Cook went to Houston and Mike Wilks went to Memphis in the three-team trade for Rafer Alston, while Keith Bogans headed to Milwaukee for Tyronn Lue. Otis' recent track record suggests he might be able to get something done. Still, it's hard to remain positive in light of ownership's reluctance to pay the luxury tax. As always, we'll see.
Here's Mike Bianchi's well-reasoned response to Schmitz's article. A choice excerpt:
The Magic are championship contenders now; not some middle-of-the-pack also-rans. There's no turning back now. They are at a point where they have to do what's necessary to keep their core players. If they don't, there will be a message board mutiny we haven't seen since the big Microsoft Hotmail shutdown Thursday night.
Can you imagine the fan outcry if the following scenario were to play out? Say, for instance, the Magic make it to the NBA finals this season and lose to the Lakers in seven games. What if they then let Turkoglu go and end up taking a step backward next season? With the new arena scheduled to open in 2010, does the team really want fans grumbling about a lack of commitment to winning?
And you certainly don't want Dwight Howard thinking the Magic aren't financially dedicated to surrounding him with the very best team possible.
In happier news, the noted statistician Kevin Pelton has nice things to say about some Magic players while he names players to his All-Defensive Teams. Dwight Howard receives Defensive Player of the Year honors and anchors the First Team at center, while Rafer Alston (?!) is the Second Team's point guard. Here's Pelton on Alston:
A midseason trade sent Alston from one elite defensive team to another, and while he's not the primary reason for the success of either defense, he is a contributor. Alston has developed into a very heady defensive player who is rarely caught out of position.
Based on my own observations, I'd say Jameer Nelson is a better defender than Alston. But I didn't crunch the numbers.
Rashard Lewis receives an honorable mention at power forward.
More postseason awards, this time from Sports Illustrated. A panel of scouts, organized by Ian Thomsen, elected Howard as the Defensive Player of the Year and named him to the All-NBA First Team. Nothing surprising there, except that he was not unanimous. Read Thomsen's complete story to see why one voter bumped Howard to the second team in favor of Yao Ming.
UPDATE: ER here, with a two additional bullet points.
- John Hollinger of ESPN.com, with the help of his Playoff Odds generator, attempts to zone in on the most likely first round opponent for Orlando in the playoffs. Who's the lucky team? The Philadelphia 76ers, with a 60.2% chance of facing off against the Magic. How about the Detroit Pistons? Their odds are slim, at only 6.7% .. hmm, intriguing.
- Harlan Schreiber of HoopsAnalyst (a great stats site) runs down his list of award winners for the regular season. Surprisingly, Dwight Howard is not listed as his DPOY. Instead, it's a player on the Boston Celtics, but it's not who you're thinking of.