Orlando Magic Gambling With Talent That May Not Fit
It clearly was a gamble, a bold move, but a risky one for a franchise desperate to win a championship now.
When a 15-4 start became a 16-9 record, they didn't waste any time clearing the deck.
Magic general manager Otis Smith put his reputation -- and the team's future -- on the line Saturday when he orchestrated a surprising, two-trade day, a move that could push the Magic back toward the top of the NBA, or backfire so badly it will cost him his job.
"We have a window (to win a championship) . We're in that window now,'' Smith said. "Our ownership believes in that window. It's our job to make it happen.''
Putting your fate into the hands of the talented but temperamental, always-unpredictable Gilbert Arenas is either very brave, or just asking for trouble.
By the end of the season, the Magic might be good enough to beat Miami and Boston in the playoffs. But they also could splinter as they struggle to establish new roles at midseason, fighting for the ball, failing to duplicate the good chemistry they had, sending franchise center Dwight Howard into a funk. He can opt out of his contract after next season.
If it doesn't go well, Smith, Howard and head coach Stan Van Gundy all could be gone. If it goes right, they could be back in the NBA Finals in June.
This was not the safe route. This was putting your head in the lion's mouth.
"I like what we've done in these deals,'' Van Gundy said. "But it's going to be a challenge. We think it is worth the gamble.''
They added Arenas from Washington by giving up the steadily-declining Rashard Lewis. He added Phoenix veterans Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu, along with young Earl Clark, by trading disappointing Vince Carter, along with backups Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus.
It left them with an unbalanced roster, too many guys who do the same thing on the perimeter, and not enough size to give any help to Howard around the basket.
They lost to the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night with eight players in uniform. They finished with seven when point guard Jason Williams left in the third period with a sore foot.
When everyone arrives -- they play Monday night in Atlanta -- they are expected to field a starting lineup that includes Jameer Nelson at point guard, Richardson at shooting guard, Turkoglu at small forward, Brandon Bass at power forward and Howard at center.
Arenas is likely to become the sixth man, another risky move for a guy who isn't accustomed to that role.
The biggest challenge with whatever lineup the Magic use is that all four key perimeter players have needed the ball in their hands to be productive in their basketball careers.
Neither Turkoglu, Nelson, Richardson nor Arenas have shown an ability to play well without the ball for an extended period. And the guy who will demand the ball is Howard, their franchise center.
"I didn't think we were playing well enough with what we had. We just weren't playing particularly well,'' Smith said. "Coming into the season, we expected to compete for a title. I didn't see us getting there on the path we were going.''
The Magic likely would not have made the deal for Arenas except for his longtime relationship with Smith, who was a front-office executive at Golden State when Arenas came into the league in 2001.
Magic ownership, in the past, has been adamantly against adding players with risky character issues, like the ones following Arenas. Ownership relented with Arenas, but only after considerable convincing by Smith.
"I'm more comfortable with him than most,'' Smith said. "This was a big jump for us, to be quite honest. The conversation I had with the family (ownership group) was not the easiest thing I've done in recent years. But I've always said that good people (like Arenas) can do stupid things.''
After watching his current team this season, Smith decided they needed more creators on offense. Neither Carter nor Lewis, their two highest-paid players, had been consistent offensively. Howard was being asked to carry too much of the offensive load.
Both Arenas, averaging a team high 17.3 points in Washington, and Richardson, averaging a team-high 19.3 points in Phoenix, can fill that void in Orlando.
Turkoglu, meanwhile, is another wild card in the mix. His best years in the NBA came in Orlando, but the Magic did not try to re-sign him as a free agent in 2009, deciding that acquiring Carter that summer was a better idea.
He signed instead with Toronto, which traded him to Phoenix. And he hasn't come close to matching the last two seasons he had in Orlando. If the Magic get the old Turkoglu, they will look brilliant. If they get the latest Turkoglu, he won't help them very much.
Facing a tough schedule in the next couple weeks, including games against Dallas, San Antonio and New York, the Magic (16-10) could find themselves closer to the .500 mark while they learn to play together.
Smith also promised Saturday night that these two moves would not be the last ones he makes this year. He is expected to add a backup center to replace Gortat before the trade deadline. Until then, he has only journeyman Malik Allen, who is more of a power forward, behind Brandon Bass.
"What this deal has done is make us a little younger, more athletic, but the thing we really wanted to do was add some offense, some guys who could create off the dribble,'' Van Gundy said. "
"To get where we wanted (winning a championship),'' Van Gundy said. "We wanted to do everything we possibly could do to make it happen. It's not going to be easy (to make it fit), but it never is.''