By Joe Kotoch
Over the weekend it was announced that the Orlando Magic traded Rashard Lewis to the Wizards for Gilbert Arenas. The Magic then traded Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, Vince Carter, cash, and a first round pick to Phoenix for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Earl Clark.
Many have come out and declared this a panic trade in response to the Heat while others say it is intended to show Dwight Howard of the team’s commitment to him and winning. Both may be right. I tend to believe Dwight Howard will not leave Orlando because of the inherent advantages Orlando has in retaining Howard. No team can presumably offer more years, more money, as large of raises, and comfort to Howard. Also, the Magic have a brand new arena, great crowds, and is a tax-free state. Where would Howard go? New York? Brooklyn? Not likely, neither team has as much to offer him.
The Magic were stumbling in the standings with a string of losses and GM Otis Smith pulled the trigger on the long-rumored Arenas trade. Knowing that adding Gilbert would allow the team to unload Vince, the Magic found the best package out there. Some might say that these deals could have been made anytime but Smith is a calculating executive, who recognized that the team needed to make some changes. Rather than make multiple deals spread over time or blowing up the roster at the deadline and praying the team jelled in time for the postseason, the Magic made their moves now and have four months of regular season to work out any kinks and chemistry issues that arise.
Some in the Magic organization believe that the team pulled the trigger now rather than later after learning from the Cavaliers misfortunes the past few seasons around the trade deadline. In February 2009 the Cavs failed to pull the trigger on a trade with Phoenix for Shaquile O’Neil, which haunted them in the postseason when no one was able to handle Howard. The Cavs failure to acquire O’Neil for Wally Szczerbiak’s expiring contract was second-guessed over the entire offseason. The next year the Cavs had the opportunity to acquire Amare Stoudemire for J.J. Hickson and some expiring deals but ultimately acquired Antawn Jamison for fear of not making a deal. Last season the Cavs never seemed to jell with Jamison, LeBron James, and Shaq. It appears that the Magic learned from the Cavs’ mistakes and wanted to give their team every chance to succeed.
I like this trade because it returns the team to the dynamic that it used to eliminate the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavs in route to their second NBA Finals appearance. While they no longer have Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, and Rashard Lewis, all of who were significant contributors to that team, the positives to this trade is that the Magic get Hedo back and can use him in the role that created havoc for defensive minded teams like the Celtics and Cavs. A 6’10” SF that can handle the rock and penetrate and distribute to open teammates is a rare gem.
Additionally the Magic get one of the best scorers in the league in Richardson, who can score from outside or create his own shot. At this point, Arenas is more of a combo guard than a true point guard. Still, a likely starting lineup of Arenas, Richardson, Hedo, Bass, and Howard is formidable, especially with Jameer Nelson, J.J. Reddick, Quentin Richardson, and Ryan Anderson coming off the bench. While the Magic are thin at center they still have assets and pieces they can move to add a backup to Howard. Earl Clark, a forward and throw in does have some upside and is a fit in the system that the Magic run or could be moved in another trade.
Imagine for a moment the Heat and the Magic facing each other in the playoffs. This Magic team is now better equipped to run and space the court and the high-octane offense will expose the Heat’s defensive issues. The key with the Magic is that they create mismatches by stretching the court and clearing out the post to maximize Howard’s efficiency. If the Magic can rekindle the dynamic of their 2009 postseason squad then they can add their name to the list of legitimate contenders for the Eastern Conference with the Celtics, Heat, and possibly the Bulls.
Ultimately, these trades will be judged by the success of the Magic this year and next year. The Magic sacrificed any potential salary cap space for the next few seasons. Some argue this was necessitated by the Magic’s fear of losing Howard but I choose to see this trade as a way of emulating a model that led the Magic to their most successful postseason of all-time. There is no doubt that Arenas, Richardson, Hedo, Howard, and company can light it up offensively but defensively a huge burden will fall on Howard’s broad shoulders. Time will tell how good of a trade this was for Orlando but in the short term this move makes them a serious contender for the East.