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The sad history of the Magic’s back-up point guards

Over the last decade, the Magic have overpaid for underproducing back-up point guards

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One of the most important roles that any NBA team hoping to at least flirt with competence has to fill is that of backup point guard. You need a steady presence who can be trusted to distribute the ball, execute the game plan, and helm the ship when the starter rests or falls to injury. Without such a player, a team runs the risk of being cast adrift for long stretches of both games and potentially even seasons.

Because of this importance backup points tend to get paid, which makes their acquisition all the more difficult to navigate for franchises. You’ve got to get both the player and the price right, all while negotiating from a position of relative weakness due to the shallow pool of suitable candidates. It’s tough, a fact which has become all too apparent to fans of the Orlando Magic in recent years.

A Decade of Destruction

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Let me start by pointing out that the destruction I mention is, sadly, not being doled out to those opposing the Magic on the court. Instead, it is of a much more depressing nature: it is to the team’s salary cap, the collective hope of the fanbase, and the living rooms of those die-hards watching from the couch night in and night out. The destruction is taking place in our souls.

Have you ever had a recurring nightmare? Well, to say that the position of backup point guard has been a torturous one for Orlando in recent years is a bit of a mild understatement. It seems that not an offseason can go by without the team adding another veteran they believe will help solidify the rotation, only for the front office to later find themselves scouring the collective bargaining agreement for the rules regarding buyouts. Time is and apparently always has been a flat circle in Florida.

Before the misery gets too abject, let’s dive in and see how this component of team building has treated the team over the last ten years. Safety goggles are recommended.

2008-09: Anthony Johnson

Anthony Johnson is the third Anthony Johnson to appear in an online search for his name, after the UFC fighter and the 17th Century colonist. This is both a great start to this column, and an eerie reflection of his time with the Magic during their most recent Finals run, when his contributions were ultimately forgotten thanks to (a sadly injury-interrupted) career-year from Jameer Nelson and a gloriously resurgent Rafer Alston. Johnson was, however, pretty competent in the role, shooting the three ball at a decent clip, playing solid defense, and minimizing turnovers. Still, I will always remember him best for a game against the Wizards the following season when he tallied a meaningless bucket in the closing stages of a blowout win and the crowd went crazy because we all thought every Magic player had scored (everyone collectively forgot about Brandon Bass until he collected a put back about a minute later).

2009-10: Jason Williams

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Not to be a total downer, but this is the last positive entry. That being said, ‘White Chocolate’ was awesome! He came out of retirement to play all 82 regular season games for a retooled Magic squad, converting at a career best rate from deep, dishing out effortlessly cool assists, and providing solid play for the bench unit. Interestingly, when I think back on this season I again end up returning to the previously mentioned Wizards game, when J-Will drilled two huge threes in the final two seconds of the first half. The crowd response was such that I really thought my eardrums might pop. Remember when it used to be fun to support the Magic?

2010-11: Chris Duhon and Gilbert Arenas

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During the 2010 offseason the Magic signed Duhon to a four year, $15 million contract, which we can now fondly look back on as the first in a series of backup PG overpays and overcommitments by the franchise. He was pretty darn bad right out of the gate, and didn’t hit double figures in a single box score category all season long. This undoubtedly contributed to the decision to acquire Arenas, which makes it the worst transgression the ex-Blue Devil committed in his tenure with the team.

After the trade Duhon continued to play some because Stan Van Gundy was nice and Arenas was an absolute trainwreck, but the backup spot certainly now belonged to ‘Agent Zero’. It is difficult to find the right words to describe the one-time superstar’s play in Orlando, although ‘putrid’ goes some way towards it. He racked up career worst figures across a variety of categories, including shooting percentage, turnover rate, and box plus/minus, among others. Anytime you can pay a backup point guard in excess of $20 million to actively hurt your team’s chances of winning I guess you’ve got to do it. Remember when it used to be fun to support the Magic?

2011-12: Chris Duhon

And now I present to you Chris Duhon’s masterpiece.

2012-13: E’Twaun Moore, Ish Smith and Beno Udrih

Orlando started the season with Moore soaking up most of the backup PG minutes, but that quickly changed when Jameer Nelson went down with an injury. To the starting unit went Moore, who has never been much of a distributor, and into the rotation came Smith, who has never been much of a shooter. Should the Magic have been able to meld these two into a single player they might have had a cost-friendly solution to an ongoing problem, but alas such science is not yet available to the average NBA team. A mid-season trade brought in the veteran Udrih, who was … actually pretty good. In fact, he played well enough to get a contract with a Knicks team that were expected to be serious playoff contenders (Narrator: “they were not”).

2013-14: Victor Oladipo and Ronnie Price

NBA: Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Remember Ronnie Price? Don’t worry, at this point in my life neither do I really. I mean, the name rang a bell but I definitely had to make a sneaky Google search to remind myself of what he looked like. Anyway, despite playing pretty sporadically for the Magic during this campaign he managed to continue a long and storied history of providing poor shooting and erratic turnovers from the position. Ultimately though it was Oladipo (remember him?! *tearfully sobs*) who ended up taking the majority of backup point minutes. Coach-at-the-time Jacque Vaughn (remember him?! *angrily sobs*) carved out opportunities at both guard spots for the rookie, with the intention of developing his pick and roll game and general court vision to pair with his athleticism and explosive scoring potential. Looking back on this in 2018 the good news is that it appears to have worked. The bad news is that Oladipo now plays in Indiana. Remember when it used to be fun to support the Magic?

2014-15: Luke Ridnour

The Magic gave Ridnour almost $3 million to average 4 points and 2 assists across 47 games which, considering some of the contracts to come, is hardly the most egregious move they have made in the never-ending search for competent point guard play off the bench. The team also inexplicably trotted out lineups quarterbacked by both Willie Green and Ben Gordon, which really should have been a criminal offence at this point in their respective careers. The Ridnour era came to an ignominious end when he was shipped from Orlando to Memphis, a move which kicked off a chain reaction that saw him traded between five teams in less than a week before ultimately retiring. Sometimes life comes at you fast, unlike this unholy trinity of calcified veterans in 2015.

2015-16: C.J. Watson and Brandon Jennings

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Synchronicity in basketball is a beautiful thing, except when it isn’t. The latter was absolutely the case when the Magic decided to outdo the previous offseason’s effort by giving CJ Watson $5 million (for each of the next three years!) to average 4 points and 2(.7) assists across 33 games. In his first year with the team Watson shot career worst percentages from basically everywhere on the floor, while turning in advanced metrics that definitely suggested Orlando would have been better off signing literally anyone else. His play was undoubtedly one of the factors that emboldened the team to trade the young, improving and fairly paid Tobias Harris for 25 games of Brandon Jennings’ rapidly cooling corpse. Remember when it used to be fun to support the Magic?

2016-17: D.J. Augustin and C.J. Watson

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. After inadequate play from the backup point guard position during the previous season, the Magic go out during the early stages of free agency and make it a priority to sign a veteran to plug this roster hole. Within a matter of weeks it becomes apparent that the length and cost of the contract are both mistakes, and the team rues their decision-making. The fanbase, meanwhile, fires up the trade machine. Predictably, after securing 4 years and $29 million from former-General Manager Rob Hennigan, Augustin came in and provided production well below league average according to basically every worthwhile basketball metric. On the bright side, he has a very nice head of hair that causes much less debate than that of other point guards on Orlando’s roster.

2017-18: D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Fire up the broken record! This is actually kind of amazing at this point: Orlando decided to splash $12 million across the next two years (the back half of which is mercifully unguaranteed) on Shelvin Mack, who has immediately proven himself to be a certified Magic backup PG by posting a career low shooting percentage and ranking as a net negative in terms of on court contributions as measured by basically every advanced stat. The good news is that Augustin has been way closer to competent this season, although it probably isn’t great that he is still thrown into almost every hypothetical trade that fans are concocting ahead of the upcoming deadline.

Hello. Still with us? If you are, congratulations! You just survived a terrifying journey through the last decade of Orlando Magic backup point guards. It’s a trip down memory lane that certainly makes for horrifying reading, but please know that by still being able to draw breath even after having bore witness to the absolute carnage outlined in the preceding 1700 words, you are now undoubtedly a stronger and more resolute individual.

Please exit through the comments section and be sure to share your favorite scary backup point guard story with us!