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Assessing the Orlando Magic's Failure, Part II: Midseason Acquisitions Can't Spark Offense

(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Otis Smith, the Orlando Magic's President of Basketball Operations, pushed all his trade chips to the center of the table in December when he acquired Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Earl Clark in two separate deals designed to reinvigorate his flagging team--which had lost five of its last six--and bolster its offense. Superficially, the trades worked: the team's offense improved slightly, and they had the ancillary benefit of helping center Dwight Howard reach new heights at that end of the floor. But overall, the newcomers disappointed, which ranks among the reasons the team found itself out of the playoffs in the first round for the first time since Stan Van Gundy took over head-coaching duties.

"I thought we needed scoring, we needed a bit more punch," Smith said at the news conference announcing the acquisitions. "[L]ooking at our team, we were pretty much through 25 games and we were missing a little something and I thought change was needed." Smith brought about that change by swapping Rashard Lewis, the floor-stretching power forward whose productivity had dipped in each of his three-plus seasons with Orlando, for Arenas, a shoot-first combo guard. He got younger at shooting guard by effectively exchanging Vince Carter for Jason Richardson, with Richardson's athleticism and reliable outside shot trumping Carter's ability to make plays for others. Turkoglu's passing, versatility, and previous success under Van Gundy--he won the league's Most Improved Player award in 2008, with Van Gundy as his coach--made him a good fit for a team in need of another facilitator. Clark never really carved out a spot in the rotation and his athleticism is best used defensively.

The trades, as we can see with the benefit of hindsight, backfired, though it's not too terribly difficult to understand what Smith might have been thinking with the shakeup. On the day of the trades, for instance, the Magic's offensive rating stood at 106.3; when the season ended, the newcomers had helped boost that figure to 107.7. The upshot is the team scored more efficiently, but on the other hand, it didn't improve its overall standing in the league. The 106.3 figure was good for 14th in the league at the time.

107.7? Also 14th in the league.

In short, the trades were meant to make the Magic a more potent offensive club, and they didn't actually do that. The team's effective field-goal percentage at the time of the trades was 52.3. The made-over club posted an effective field-goal percentage of 52.2. Indeed, Smith's moves ultimately proved lateral at best on the court, while compromising the team's long-term financial future.

It's unfair to pin responsibility for the team's offensive shortcomings on any one player, but I do think Richardson has to go under the microscope a bit here. He averaged 19.3 points in just 31.8 minutes per game with the Phoenix Suns prior to the deals, shooting 41.9 percent from beyond the arc and 47.7 percent overall. Though he played more minutes with Orlando--34.9, to be precise--his productivity declined sharply, perhaps as a natural consequence of no longer having a point guard of Steve Nash's caliber feeding him the ball. Richardson shot a good, but not great, 38.4 percent on threes and, worrisomely, just 43.3 percent from the field. Carter, thanks to his foul-drawing ability and improved accuracy on twos, actually scored more efficiently for Orlando than Richardson did this season.

Arenas is another scapegoat of sorts, though I'm not sure what anyone might have expected a man coming off three knee surgeries in the last three years to accomplish in the smallest role he's ever held at the professional level. He proved an unmitigated disaster offensively, shooting more often, per minute, than everyone on the team, but converting just 34.4 percent of his shots. He had the right idea when it came to pushing the pace in transition, but still made curious decisions in the halfcourt, resulting in his unacceptably high turnover rate of 19.3. And the poor decision-making also manifested itself in his shot selection. Arenas showed flashes of usefulness in the Magic's playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks by attacking the basket for scores or passes to teammates, but his greatly diminished speed and leaping ability raises questions about his long-term prospects. And the Magic owe him fore than $62 million over the next three seasons.

Turkoglu simply isn't the same player he was during his first Magic stint with Van Gundy. He shot less often than in prior years, seeming more comfortable as a passer or loiterer on the perimeter. Love his team-best 40.4 percent mark from long range, but hate his reluctance to actually shoot the damn ball, and his curiously poor (66.7 percent) foul shooting. Add to all that his poor showing in the playoffs--he had the fourth-worst True Shooting mark of any player to average at least 11 shot attempts in the postseason in the last 10 years--and one wonders just how much he can offer Orlando going forward.

Van Gundy lamented the state of his roster, or so it would appear, when the Hawks took a 3-1 lead on the Magic. "We don't have the Jamal Crawford or a Joe Johnson," he said, "guys who can break you down off the dribble." This much is true. Van Gundy's offense is one that relies less on one-on-one play than any other in the league, instead calling for precise ball movement to create high-percentage shots at the rim or from three-point range. The Magic don't take many in-between shots, which in theory ought to help their efficiency. In practice, though, the offense doesn't quite accomplish that, because all the passing necessary makes it prone to turnovers. Plus, Howard's frequent post-ups have the nasty side-effect of causing stagnation as his teammates stand around, watching him put the moves on his man.

One can see why a shot-creating wing of the Johnson or Crawford vintage could help this Magic squad, just as one wonders if Carter represented the Magic's last, best hope at filling that role.