Dwight Howard Wants Changes to Orlando Roster
It didn't work. And more changes are sure to come now.
Despite 59 regular-season victories and sweeps through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the poor showing against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals will prompt another search to find a better supporting cast for center Dwight Howard.
While the Celtics head for the NBA Finals that begin in the West on Thursday, the Magic will start exploring other roster options -- with Howard's approval.
"We've got to learn from our mistakes," Howard said. "Next year, we've got to have guys who are willing to give everything they've got to get wins."
Howard's message to management was clear: His current cast is not equipped to deal with a veteran group as tough and as focused as the Celtics.
"In a series like this, it's not about skill or talent because it's the Eastern Conference championship. Both teams are talented and skilled," Howard said. "It's about who wants it the most, and who is willing to do it for a series. Those guys (Celtics) played like they wanted to win the championship. That's why they are in the position they are now."
Of the six games against Boston, Howard played well in four of them. He was poor in a Game 3 loss. He was mediocre in a Game 1 loss. He averaged 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3 blocks, not the dominating presence he wanted to be, yet good enough to remain the foundation of a potential championship team.
He had 28 points and 12 rebounds in the Game 6 loss in Boston Friday night, but too often he looked like an island when the Celtics swarmed the lane, and he battled alone. He was not pleased with the team's overall intensity.
"There's no need to kick ourselves. We went down because we didn't play as hard as we could," Howard said. "You have to play as hard as you can for as long as you can, and everyone didn't do that."
Most disappointing were veterans Rashard Lewis and Carter, the two highest-paid players on the team. The Magic added Carter last summer from New Jersey, believing he could provide them a late-game scorer who could create shots for himself and others in the playoffs. Carter averaged just 13.7 points and 3.8 rebounds against Boston while shooting only 36.7 percent from the field. He was badly outplayed by Paul Pierce, his counterpart with the Celtics.
Lewis was even less help, taken out of his game by aging Celtics forward Kevin Garnett. Unable to get on track offensively when his 3-point shot was taken away, Lewis averaged only 8.2 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Carter, 33, will be entering the final year of a contract paying him $16.3 million. He might be attractive in trade before the deadline for a team looking to create salary cap room next summer. Lewis, conversely, is untradeable with three years and $65 million still owed to him.
The Magic are satisfied with point guard Jameer Nelson, but they will be looking for a new and younger backup for next season, allowing Jason Williams to leave as a free agent.
They had hoped that signing free agent power forward Brandon Bass last summer would give Howard help with rebounding and post defense, but he fell out of favor early this season and never recovered. Starting small forward Matt Barnes, with a one-year player option worth $1.6 million, also could be replaced.
They would like to re-sign restricted free agent J.J. Redick, but only at a reasonable cost. It's unlikely that little-used Anthony Johnson or Adonal Foyle will be returning.
The Magic already are well over the salary cap and paying the luxury tax, so only lower-level free agents will be available for their bidding. The trade possibilities, though, could include anyone outside of Howard.
"This is as disappointing as it gets," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who has one year remaining on his contract and is expected to return. "Yeah, it's tough to take. I liked our talent. I liked our commitment throughout the year. When you have that as a coach, you feel like you should be able to get them over the top. It's disappointing that we didn't get the job done."