Team Name: Orlando Magic
Last Year's Record: 59-23
Key Losses: small forward Matt Barnes (via free agency to the L.A. Lakers), center Adonal Foyle (via retirement; now serves as Director of Player Development), point guard Anthony Johnson (via free agency; not re-signed).
Key Additions: point guard Chris Duhon (via free agency from the New York Knicks), center Daniel Orton (via the NBA Draft from Kentucky), small forward Quentin Richardson (via free agency from the Miami Heat). Additionally, power forward Malik Allen (via free agency from the Denver Nuggets) and small forward Stanley Robinson (via the NBA Draft from Connecticut) have joined the team on non-guaranteed contracts.
What significant moves were made during the offseason?
This offseason was a quiet one for the Magic. They made their big splash last summer when they acquired Vince Carter from the New Jersey Nets, having him replace Hedo Turkoglu's role in the offense. Rather than making any trades, GM Otis Smith split his mid-level exception on Duhon and Richardson, hoping they can upgrade the productivity Jason Williams and Barnes, respectively, gave the team last year.
Additionally, the Magic extended the contracts of Smith and head coach Stan Van Gundy for the second consecutive summer, providing both with more job security. The extension for Smith also includes a new title: President of Basketball Operations.
The biggest personnel move didn't involve the addition of a new player, but rather the retention of a current one. Convinced that reserve shooting guard J.J. Redick has turned a corner in his NBA career, Smith matched the offer sheet to which the Chicago Bulls signed him in July, retaining his services for the next three seasons. Redick set career-bests in scoring (9.6), rebounding (1.9), assists (1.9), minutes (22) and True Shooting (60.6 pecent) last season while leading the team in fourth-quarter scoring, although the ever-modest Redick attributed the last fact to the Magic's tendency to blow teams out. He also has earned the admiration of the coaching staff.
Moving Foyle to a player-development role will also have an impact. Foyle has the respect and trust of many of the Magic's players, including franchise center Dwight Howard, who said last season that a chat he had with Foyle inspired him to become more of a leader.
Please make the jump to finish reading the discussion of offseason moves. Other topics discussed later include strengths, weaknesses, and a predicted record.
In the bigger picture, the most significant move happened off the court, due to something that kept happening on it when the Boston Celtics ended their season in the Eastern Conference Finals. Indeed, the Magic have tried to become more focused and mentally tough this season. "[Toughness]," Redick said during Media Day, "[is] a big reason why Boston beat us." The team has abandoned its pregame "Magic Show" exhibition during warm-ups. And Howard has vowed to take a more businesslike approach on the court, a topic which Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today covered in greater depth here.
The Magic set the tone for their season in a three-and-a-half-hour meeting the day before training camp. Though the coaching staff and GM Otis Smith were in attendance, the players did most of the talking, and discussed accountability. Every player has a role to fill, and it's up to him to fill it. It also means knowing every other player's role, and holding those players accountable when they aren't holding up their end of the bargain. One of the big stories to come from this meeting, it seems, is word that the Magic desperately want Carter to play the way he always has, rather than trying to fit in. I asked Carter to elaborate on that point:
[Van Gundy] just wants us to be aggressive. He wants me to play my game. That's what I do. I can post up, I can get to the basket and just make plays. And that opens up everything else throughout the rest of the game. I try to set the tone. That's kind of been my goal, to kind of set the tone [by] just being aggressive.
What are the team's biggest strengths?
The most obvious strength is defense. Howard, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year Award winner, anchors it all, but it's Van Gundy's schemes from the bench that have elevated this team to the elite on that side of the ball. Orlando gives up on offensive rebounding to limit its opponent's transition opportunities, a strategy that's proven remarkably effective. Additionally, the team emphasizes chasing shooters off the three-point line, forcing opponents to take long two-point jumpers as a result. Numerous statistical analyses have proven that this shot is the least efficient in the game, which explains why Van Gundy stresses the importance of yielding it first.
Which brings me to another strength: preparation. Van Gundy is committed to data, and the Magic have spent money to start an analytics department in order to provide him and his staff the best possible scouting resources. He has become renowned--on the blogosphere, if not in the mainstream media--for his exhaustive pre-game messages on the locker-room whiteboard. Having seen some of these whiteboards for myself, I can assure you that the accounts of their impressive depth are indeed accurate.
Replacing Barnes with Richardson is a clear signal that the team prizes outside shooting. In the Conference Finals, Boston exposed a weakness in the Magic's offense by refusing to guard Barnes on the perimeter, as it rightfully didn't respect his jumper. They won't have that luxury with Richardson, a career 35.9 three-point shooter. Indeed, the addition of Richardson gives the team two above-average three-point shooters at every position except center.
Depth should also be a strength. We touched on Redick already, but he is hardly the only asset here. Marcin Gortat has proven an effective defender and rebounder when Howard heads to the bench, and while Duhon is a bit overmatched as a starter, he projects to be an above-average backup who can keep the offense moving when Jameer Nelson is unavailable. Mickael Pietrus, the team's best perimeter defender, also comes off the bench. Youngsters Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass, who are skilled enough to start on plenty of teams, will fight for backup power forward minutes.
What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Barring some sort of minor disaster, Orlando will once again rank among the league leaders in offense and defense. But there are a few issues on both sides of the ball in which Orlando is deficient.
Perhaps the biggest issue, on either side, is shot-creation. The Magic traded for Carter in the hopes that he could generate offense for himself against the league's stiffest defenses. He didn't prove to be quite up to the task. Though he's still physically gifted enough to get shots off against almost any sort of pressure, and intelligent enough to not commit too many turnovers, the shots are rather low-percentage. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Magic have worked throughout training camp and in the preseason to add new facets to their offense, which means more post-ups for perimeter players like Carter, Richardson, and Lewis; as well as running some cut-driven, read-and-react offense through the elbows.
Carter, for his part, worked out intensely this summer and trimmed 3 percent of his body fat. When one writer asked Carter after one preseason game what his mentality is for this season, Carter said, "Finish the job. It's about as simple as that."
Defensively, the Magic don't force many turnovers. It's the cost they pay for staying at home, as it were; better to stay in front of their men and force a bad shot than to gamble for a steal, miss, and give up an easy one. Yet it would be interesting to see what this team could do if it took a few more risks defensively, particularly in situations in which it needs a quick basket.
Losing Barnes may weaken the team's defense slightly, though Pietrus is still the team's top perimeter defender. If Lewis indeed plays more minutes at small forward, which looks to be the case, he'll have to work especially hard on defense, as guarding that position has never been one of his strengths.
What are the goals for this team?
Retaining Redick and signing Duhon, Richardson, and Orton came at a price of over $14 million in salary this season alone, bringing the Magic's total to over $93 million this year and over $281 million the next four years. The DeVos family isn't spending that money, which doesn't account for luxury-tax payments, to win one or two playoff series. The clear, not-at-all-ambiguous goal for this team is to win a championship. That attitude starts at the management level and has worked its way down. Smith has said numerous times, regarding this season and prior ones, that anything less than a championship will constitute a failure.
Predicted Record: 62-20.
Frankly, I don't see how the team could possibly have declined. It led the league in point differential despite getting only two above-average months from Carter and Nelson, and never getting any consistent production from Lewis. This NBA season, in terms of attention and coverage, will belong to the Miami Heat. I don't think anyone will dispute that point. But in their shadow, I believe the Magic will modestly improve upon last season's record, and enter the postseason more prepared to take on all comers than they were last season.