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In Search for Backup Center, Orlando Magic Seek Impact Player, Not Simply a Warm Body

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The Orlando Magic are serious about winning a championship this season. Otis Smith, the team's President of Basketball Operations, made that much abundantly clear when he traded four rotation players last December 18th for Gilbert Arenas, Earl Clark, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu, but he'd long before instilled an organizational philosophy of winning sooner rather than later. Images of the Larry O'Brien Trophy hang throughout the Magic's facilities in Amway Center, for example. There's no confusion as to the team's goal.

And HOOPSWORLD's latest report about the Magic's trade activity affirms that. After losing Marcin Gortat in that trade with the Phoenix Suns, the Magic have only three rotation-caliber big men on their roster, and naturally, they're searching for another. Coach Stan Van Gundy downplayed that need on New Year's Eve, saying he's comfortable using Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass, and Dwight Howard as his only bigs on a nightly basis. But Orlando indeed needs another big guy, one who can play center, if it's going to challenge the rest of the league's elite this postseason.

Alex Kennedy says, however, Smith "wants someone that can have a significant role for the remainder of the season." Orlando isn't interested in scraping the bottom of the barrel for a veteran retread, or just another seven-footer; it wants a contributor.

If nothing else, you've got to commend Smith's ambition here. Why settle for the recently waived Jarron Collins or Pops Mensah-Bonsu, after all, when the Portland Trail Blazers may make Marcus Camby available? Kennedy mentions Camby as someone in whom Smith has interest, which makes sense. Though nearly 37, the Trail Blazers' starting center is averaging 11.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots. He'd be wildly overqualified as a backup center.

The biggest issue in acquiring Camby, or any other competent center, is that Orlando has precious little to offer in a trade. Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson, on whom Smith split the Mid-Level Exception last summer, are out of the rotation and have almost no trade value. Jason Williams' arthritic feet aren't getting better, and although he'd be an ideal fit for some teams needing a push-the-pace backup point guard--think the New York Knicks--his health is a huge question mark, and his league-minimum salary means Orlando couldn't get much for him in a trade.

The Magic sent this year's first-round draft selection to Phoenix, meaning the next-best pick it could use to sweeten a deal in 2013's first-rounder, as NBA rules prohibit teams from trading draft picks in consecutive seasons. The trade cupboard is really, really bare.

If Smith could have obtained a reliable seven-footer in exchange for Quentin Richardson and Duhon, he would have done it already. About that there should be little doubt. Similarly, were he interested in free-agents like Jake Voskuhl or Earl Barron, he would have signed one.

Which brings us to J.J. Redick, the Magic's backup shooting guard and among the league's most efficient offensive players. Kennedy, citing "league sources," says the Magic "may have to part with J.J. Redick if they're eyeing a veteran big who can contribute much more than just six fouls each night."

Last week, I argued against trading Redick, for a number of reasons. But if the Magic truly feel like they need a contributor on the level of Camby, Jeff Foster, or Samuel Dalembert--to name but a few commodities--they probably will have no choice but to trade Redick.

Smith's patient approach could pay dividends here. It's nearly February, when teams out of the playoff picture may begin buying out their veterans in order to free them to sign with contenders. Orlando will be an attractive destination for such players. Smith can still offer a pro-rated portion of the bi-annual exception; among championship-caliber teams, only the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks can do the same. The other reasons for signing with a Florida team, including the weather and lack of a state income tax, also apply here. Should the right player become available then, I fully expect Smith to make him an attractive offer.

But if not, he might have to make the difficult decision to unload Redick, who has, in one of the greatest success stories of Smith's tenure as a Magic executive, developed into one of the league's better young guards in the non-superstar class. Or he could keep Redick and sign the sort of unhelpful stiff he's resisted adding to date.

Waiting for the right big man to come along is a high-risk, high-reward proposition. Though risky, it's also the right tactic for Smith to use.