"I think there's a real desire on the part of Jameer to play. I think medically now we're far enough out away from the surgery that it's probably close enough to take at least take a look at. But no, I don't think there's any psychological warfare going on here. I think there's a definite feeling, that here we are in June and we're still out here competing for a NBA title. Let's see if we can bring, without taking a risk on his future, if we can bring a guy like that back into play ... then why not go ahead and do it."
-- David Steele, Orlando Magic
David Steele needs no intro, but I'll provide one for him. Steele is the play-by-play announcer for the Orlando Magic and, as you may note on the left-hand side of the site, a reader of Third Quarter Collapse along with his colleague, Matt Guokas.
Yesterday, I chatted with Steele over the phone a bit and gathered his insight on all the latest Magic news, including the possible return of Jameer Nelson, previewing the NBA Finals matchup between the Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers, offering his opinion on Hedo Turkoglu's future with the team, etc.
Click after the jump for the full transcript.
All the talk right now about the team is that Jameer Nelson might be able to return to the Finals. Have you heard anything lately about that, with regards to some of the tests the team has been putting him through?
I don't know anything about ... physically what they're wanting to do to make sure that he's good to go. And probably nothing more than what you've read. I don't know any more than that.
What's your gut feeling on the matter? Do you think that he's actually going to come out and play? Or do you think they're going to hold him back and leave him be?
I don't know. I know Jameer wants to play and Otis is trying to hold him back. That's what's been going on for probably most of the postseason. I don't know. I think that it could go either way.
Another thing to think about is whether or not ... do you want to throw another, even though he's a great guy that's captured the team and all, do you want to change the way the things have been going? I think it would be great to have Jameer back. But that might be going through some people's minds, too.
Because you don't know ... they're going to have to have some good practices, I think, before they feel comfortable with it. He'll really have to go out and demonstrate in full contact practice that he's ready to go. And I don't know they're going to have that type of practice, as we are deep in the postseason.
I don't have a good feel for it, if I guess is the bottom line.
If you could speak about what type of impact he could have on the court against the Lakers, obviously it would probably be in limited minutes if the Orlando Magic are theoretically thinking about him playing. What type of impact do you think he could have if he were to play?
Yeah, let's look at it like that. I would assume he wouldn't play unless they feel like he's really 100%, physically, mentally, everything is good to go. So if that's the scenario, then he certainly adds another dimension that the team doesn't have. He's another great shooter. He's another guy that can spread the floor and the intangibles of his leadership ... I think the players would rally around that opportunity to play on the floor again with Jameer and emotionally, it could be a huge pick-me-up for the entire team just having him out there.
There's been some talk that maybe the Magic are posturing a little bit and playing with the idea that Nelson could play, knowing they really realize that he can't, but they want to put it out there just to make Phil Jackson to think otherwise. Do you think that's a possibility?
I don't think so. I think there's a real desire on the part of Jameer to play. I think medically now we're far enough out away from the surgery that it's probably close enough to take at least take a look at. But no, I don't think there's any psychological warfare going on here. I think there's a definite feeling, that here we are in June and we're still out here competing for a NBA title. Let's see if we can bring, without taking a risk on his future, if we can bring a guy like that back into play ... then why not go ahead and do it.
They're not going to take a chance on his future. They'll be very cautious about that, I'm sure.
Dwight has been able to take his game to another level during the postseason for Orlando. Will the Los Angeles contingent of big men be able to neutralize Howard a bit? It should be noted that Dwight Howard played well in the regular season against the Lakers. Will he be able to continue his success in the Finals?
I don't think the Lakers have one individual that can defend Dwight. The Boston Celtics had the right guy in Kendrick Perkins, who was big, strong, long, and was able to individually push out Dwight from his favorite spots. Philadelphia really didn't have that, Cleveland didn't have that, and I don't think the Lakers have that one guy. I think they're going to have to spend a lot of time either double-teaming Dwight or taking their chances on him having a blow-up game. He's a matchup nightmare for the L.A. Lakers.
What type of matchup problems do you think that's going to cause for Los Angeles, with regards to having to double-team Dwight? Also, how much do you think the three-point shooting will make a big impact in the series? It's no secret that the Lakers have struggled against defending the three-point shot, how much of that could be a factor with regards to the Magic?
Well, a lot of it is how well the Magic execute out of the double-team. I haven't seen them execute like they did in Game 6 against Cleveland. That was a thing of beauty. Watching Dwight make decisions out of the double-teams and when he wasn't double-teamed, watching him make decisions on whether to dribble across the lane and go with his hook shot or go baseline. I thought he played a near perfect basketball game.
You know, the guys are in the right spots when he throws out and when they're making shots ... when that's all working, then it's a very difficult team to defend. I think the team will have a lot of success operating out of the half-court, if Dwight can continue to make those kinds of decisions and those kinds of plays. I don't see why he couldn't. I think he's getting better and better.
Do you think that Howard is reaching a point now ... it seems like in Game 6 that he knew exactly what he wanted to do with the ball on each possession. He knew that when the double-team came, he was going kick it out, and he knew that when the double-team didn't come, that he would make a decisive move to the basket. Do you think he's starting to reach that point where he knows what he wants to do with the ball?
I think he's just beginning to scratch the surface in that regard. When he really figures it out, and we saw it in Game 6, when he does that on a consistent basis, then he'll reach another level as a basketball player and the Magic will reach another level as a team.
Do you think, with regards to Dwight's free-throw shooting ... he shot the ball good from the line in the series against Cleveland. Some people are thinking that he's might regress to the mean a little bit versus Los Angeles, since he's historically a bit of a poor free-throw shooter. Do you think that's another thing he's going to be able to sustain against the Lakers, or do you think the numbers and averages will catch up to him?
Well, it's always been ... at least so far in his career, that it's always been a streaky thing with Dwight at the free-throw line. He goes through stretches when he shoots them well and he goes through stretches when he doesn't shoot them so well. I will say this ... I think if you went back and look, pretty consistently in situations where you're in the last few minutes of a game or in the fourth quarter, he hits a higher percentage in general than he does in other times of the game.
I think he really, especially in the playoffs this year, shown that he's been able to concentrate and knock down the most important free-throws in late-game situations so I think we'll continue to see him do a better job of shooting free-throws. That 70% mark is kind of a goal I think we're all looking for and if he can hit that mark consistently, if he can get to that level, then it'll be tremendous boost for the team.
I think you'll see him make a much higher percentage of his shots in pressure situations and, really, the Finals is going to be a pressure situation from the opening tip. I think he'll shoot free-throws like we saw him shoot them in the Cleveland series. I don't expect to see him regress at the line in the Finals.
Do you think it's simply a matter of concentration or do you think it's something more than maybe consistency for him?
Well, I think it is. I think it's a matter of consistency. It's a matter of getting into a routine and focusing on that routine and doing the same thing every time. That's what I think it comes down to. Didn't he make a comment about he's got a song in his head? Players have used all kinds of different tricks to try and focus and get in a routine so whatever works for him, that would be great.
Whatever Dwight can use, go for it.
Derek Fisher has struggled mightily in the postseason. If he is unable to step his game up against Orlando, how much of a problem will that be for Los Angeles? One would presumably see more of Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown, if that occurs. If so, does that help the Lakers? What does that mean for the Magic?
Well, Fisher gives them the leadership and the experience that I'm sure Phil Jackson feels most comfortable with, even if he's struggling. You pretty much know what you're going to get with Derek Fisher. He's going to make smart decisions. His shots might not be going in but he's a leader of their team. Don't expect them to change that, at this point. I think Fisher will stay the starting point guard. But they have a good stable of point guards.
I think Alston and Anthony Johnson have played very well in the playoffs, also. I don't think the Lakers have an advantage at the point-guard position. I think Rafer is an underrated defender. He's a good on-the-ball defender. He pushes the ball for the Magic and gets the tempo up. He's really gotten very comfortable with his new team. He's been very impressive.
Anthony Johnson has had some good moments, too. I thought Anthony's second quarter against Cleveland in Game 2 was solid. He made some terrific plays and made great decisions. I don't think he scored any points ... I think maybe he scored a free-throw or two, but the team was, I think, +10 while he was on the floor for 11 minutes in the second quarter. I like Anthony com ing off the bench, too.
Do you think Anthony Johnson might struggle a little bit guarding someone like Brown, who's a bit more quick and athletic?
I think Anthony makes up for his perceived lack of quickness with smarts. First of all, he's quicker than you think ... he looks a lot slower than he is, I guess I should say, and he has great anticipatory skills.
On offense, he uses the change of speed very effectively to get an advantage over a quicker defender and defensively, he's a clever defender. He's strong and he's certainly doesn't have the quickness of Shannon Brown and I wouldn't be surprised if you won't see A.J. on the floor too much with Brown out there.
And also, Stan has the ability to put the lineup of Courtney Lee and Turkoglu as the ball handler, and put Courtney on Shannon Brown. Both of these teams have a lot of versatility. Both teams have players that can do a lot of different things so that'll be interesting to watch, the chess match between Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy.
How do you see Orlando stacking up against Los Angeles? Could you describe some of the matchup problems both teams may have to deal with in the series?
Well, the Lakers ... Gasol is probably the guy that Phil Jackson believes could be a matchup problem for the Magic. Because of his ability to step away from the basket, knock down shots, and he also very clever around the basket in the low post. He's not strong, but we've seen him give the Magic problems in the past in the low post offense so I think he's a key for the Lakers.
For the Magic, it's who can guard Hedo Turkoglu. That's pretty much the case every time the Magic play. They do have some guys that are a little longer and more athletic than what Cleveland had. Probably can use Ariza on him some, and maybe even Kobe Bryant some but Turkoglu is a matchup problem for everybody that we play, especially in pick & rolls with Dwight.
I already mentioned Dwight. I think he's the #1 matchup nightmare for the Lakers. I just don't think they got one guy ... Bynum can probably try but I don't think Bynum can guard Dwight.
It seems that when Lamar Odom goes, so go the Lakers and they become an extremely difficult team to beat. How much of an impact do you see Odom having for Los Angeles, and do you think Orlando will be able to neutralize him a bit?
Yeah, for sure, it seems that he was the guy that sparked them in their series [against Denver]. He's a key guy. You know, when they go smaller ... I just think the Magic have people that can guard him. A lot of people ... I've read that a lot of people think that Lewis can't guard Odom. I think he can. I think Rashard is an underrated defender. For some reason, there's still that perception that he's soft defensively and I've seen him play enough ... I'm convinced now that he's anything but soft. He's outstanding so I'm not sure that Odom is the matchup advantage that the national media thinks that he might be. I'm not convinced of that. I think that Gasol is the bigger problem. That's just my opinion.
I just don't think that its as much of a matchup problem. I think the Magic match up okay with him but like you said, when he plays well, he's just not always on his A-game and when he doesn't have his A-game, that's the problem for the Lakers. They feed off of him and his ability to make plays. But the Magic have Turkoglu and Lewis, who I think either one could go out there and guard Odom. Now when he's making plays, sometimes a good defender ... there's not much you can do about it when a guy is just on fire of fensively. But I think the Magic have the personnel that can go out there and guard him and make him play and make him work. It's not like he's a matchup, like he's 5 inches taller or he's quicker or jumps higher. When you say matchup, to me that's what you're talking about. I think that Lewis matches up physically just fine with him. When he gets it going, he's a tough guy to guard. Kind of like Turkoglu, when he gets it going, I'm not sure anybody can guard him.
My only main concern with Hedo is his consistency. It just seems that he has games, where he's fantastic in Game 5 against the Cavaliers, but the Magic weren't able to close it out in Cleveland. However, in the next game, he had a bit of a subpar game for his standards so do you think that Hedo will be able to play a more consistent series against Los Angeles? How do you think he's going to be able to perform against the Lakers?
Hedo is the kind of guy that he's not going to be afraid of the big situation. He's going to bring the best game that he can bring on any given night. Like you said, his shot is not always falling but even when he's not scoring, he does so many things to help the Magic. A lot of stuff he doesn't get credit for.
One interesting stat, I don't know exactly what it is but he had 6 or 7 horrible shooting games throughout the course of the year and the postseason ... I mean, under 20% shooting games where he went 1-11, 2-14 ... he had about 6 or 7 of them and the Magic won all but 2 of them so it's a situation where, even when he's not shooting the ball and he might be somewhat error-prone, that's why Stan stays with him, I think.
He does so many things to help the team be successful. I'm sure he won't have 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 games where he shoots 55% from the field and all of that and doesn't commit turnovers. He's going to have his moments where you going, 'Oh my gosh, what is Hedo doing?' But the bottom line is there's a lot more positive for the Magic than not having him on the floor.
The pick & roll with Dwight ... that's a staple of our offense and we might run that, say, 15, 20 times in a game and we might score on say, 12 of them. He might not get any points, he might not even get an assist on that play, because the ball might swing from one side of the floor to the other. Because we're able to run that play so effectively, we score a high percentage of the time. That's what I mean ... his value, you can't quantify it just by looking at the stat sheet a lot of times.
Do you think that's something that Orlando is going to continue to run constantly? That was one thing that frustrated me when the Magic played the Boston Celtics and they didn't run more pick & rolls for Dwight. They felt Howard could post up Perkins, which is a completely wrong idea, because as you said earlier, Kendrick has the body and the strength to push him out of the lane and not let Dwight get into his comfort zone. What's your thoughts on that, actually? Back going to the Celtics series, why didn't Orlando run more pick & rolls for Dwight Howard? Was that a calculated move on Stan's part?
Oh yeah, I'm sure. He's the guy and the mastermind behind the offense. I'm sure that he had reasons for it. I don't know. I haven't talked with him or any of the assistant coaches about it. I think we'll see a lot of it in the Lakers series. I think we'll see plenty of pick & rolls. I'd like to go back and look at the Lakers games and see how much of it that we ran. When we had Jameer, he ran a lot of pick & rolls too, when he was with the ball club. He's a very good offensive player in the pick & roll with Dwight. I sure we'll run a lot of pick & rolls with them again.
Given how far the Magic have gone in the playoffs and the fact they have a legitimate shot to win the NBA Finals, how much of an impact do you think that'll have with regards to Hedo coming back next year. Do you think he may opt to give the team a discount or will the team look at the situation and tell him that they really need him? What do you think about that?
It's going to be a big thing, obviously. I know that you know he can opt out if he wants to, or he can collect his $7 plus million for the coming season and be a free agent at the end of next year. I know that Hedo would like to stay and I know that Otis would like for him to stay, but business is business and basketball is basketball. They'll do whatever they have to do in the end. It'll be interesting. I really can't make a call on that. I don't have a good feel for that, either, as far as what will happen.
I know that Rich DeVos and Otis Smith have said they don't want to go into the luxury tax but do you think that the fact Orlando has gotten this far in the playoffs might change that thinking, with regards to keeping the roster intact to make sure that this team can keep going and make more title runs?
I don't think that the luxury tax is something that the ownership wants to get involved with. I'd be very surprised if they did that. They'll try and make it work within the restrictions of the salary cap and stay out of the luxury tax.
Do you think Smith might execute a trade with Tony Battie or Rafer Alston (whose value is high at this point)? Do you think that's a possibility for Otis to try to wiggle some room for Turkoglu and maybe Marcin Gortat?
I don't know. I think it's going to be an interesting off-season for Otis. I don't really have any idea. He's going to have to try to and figure out a way to try to keep the thing together without going into the luxury tax. It's going to be tricky business for him.
Who do you have winning the series?
I got to take Orlando. I think we're going to win it in 6. It's almost impossible that if you don't win one of the first two games. You got to get one of the first two and so that means, you got to win once out there. We've already proven that we can win big games on the road and we've already won in Los Angeles this year so I think we get one of those and we are able to get it done in 6.
By the way, you guys are doing a great job.
I like to thank David for taking the time to speak with me and offering his opinion on a variety of topics. Although David won't be announcing the NBA Finals for the Orlando Magic, make sure to listen to him next season.