Happy NBA New Year everyone! Basketball officially tips-off tonight in the association with a modified slate of two high-profile games. The Cleveland Cavaliers are scheduled to host Kyrie Irving and the new-look Boston Celtics at 8 p.m., while the NBA defending champion Golden State Warriors are set to raise another banner at Oracle Arena in the nightcap (oh, and they are playing the Chris Paul led Houston Rockets as well).
The Orlando Magic are less than 24 hours away from beginning their quest to return to the playoffs after a five year hiatus. The Magic are scheduled to host the Miami Heat to kickoff their season Wednesday Night at the Amway Center.
To get you through the night/day until tip-off, here are a few notes, tidbits, and predictions. Enjoy!
Mr. 15th man! Khem Birch makes the final roster
After a couple of seasons playing in Europe, Khem Birch found out late last weekend that he had officially made Orlando’s opening night roster. This will be Birch’s first opportunity to suit up for an NBA team in a regular season game.
Birch averaged 2.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in 41 total preseason minutes (5 games). Don’t think those numbers jump off the page? Extrapolate that production out to 36 minutes (yes, that does equate to over seven blocks per/36) and you get the idea what Birch can provide the Magic, both as a quality body in practice to help push rotation players, as well as a versatile big who can be utilized in a pinch if someone goes down with an injury.
Birch, who is 25 years old, went undrafted in 2014. He played a year in the NBA D-League for the Sioux Falls Skyforce before heading overseas. Birch likely made Orlando’s roster over veteran forward Damjan Rudez.
The Magic have a crowded frontcourt in front of Birch; it will be difficult sledding for the native Canadian to earn playing time behind Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Jonathan Isaac, Bismack Biyombo, and Marreese Speights. It’s unclear whether Birch will spend any time with Orlando’s G-League affiliate in Lakeland, but for now, he’s on the team.
Terrence Ross is expected to play tomorrow night
Terrence Ross, who missed Orlando’s last three preseason games, is expected to play tomorrow night. Ross has been battling a flu bug, as well as a strained hamstring.
Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reported that Ross participated in Orlando’s practice Tuesday morning and that “it looks like he’ll play in the opener”.
The Magic fail to reach extension agreements with Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton
The deadline for teams to agree to early extensions with rookies from the 2014 draft class came and went Monday evening at 6 p.m. Of course, the Magic made two lottery selections in the ‘14 draft, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton.
Neither Gordon nor Payton could come to terms on an agreement with the Magic, which means both players will become restricted free agents next summer.
It’s unclear what exactly was offered by the organization, or how serious discussions ever proceeded. With stellar seasons that would include improvements in many of the concern areas that have plagued both Gordon and Payton so far in their careers, both men can essentially play their way into the contracts they are seeking (either from the Magic or another organization).
It’s important to remember that the Magic have the final call when it comes to retaining it’s own restricted free agents. Neither Gordon nor Payton will be able to walk unless the Magic choose to not match an offer sheet from another team. Magic fans should be familiar with restricted free agency by now, the organization decided to retain their own restricted free agents such as Marcin Gortat, J.J. Redick, Tobias Harris, and Evan Fournier to name a few. Different management this time around of course, but same family signing the checks.
Where do I think the Magic stand in the seemingly post-apocalyptic Eastern Conference? It’s hours before the beginning of a new season, which means predictions are unavoidable; they are out there everywhere, coming from everyone.
I’m not going to run down a predicted order I think teams will ultimately finish in (in the Leastern, I mean Eastern Conference), but I do have a general idea in the East which teams I think will fall into one of three tiers: “playoff elites”, “lottery-bound franchises”, and “everyone else”.
New York Knicks
I think the Heat and the Hornets are the most likely teams to make the playoffs this year out of the organizations that missed out last season. That leaves Detroit, Philadelphia, and Orlando for me as three organizations that will find themselves in the 8-10 range, all vying for a chance to be swept by Cleveland in four games. I mean...