With a week to go before Christmas, the Orlando Magic were a giddy little bunch of overachievers. The crew was working with a 12-13 record, shoving stockings in the face of dummies like me that picked them to win 13 games all year. The unexpected record was paired with the expected aggressive play – it was obvious even in the offseason that the band of rebuilding scrappers the team’s new front office put together was going to play hard for rookie coach Jacque Vaughn, possibly reminding Magic fans of the time another San Antonio Spurs-pedigreed former point guard also made things fun in what could have been a down year.
Five weeks later, the 2012-13 Magic far from resemble Doc Rivers’ locally-storied 1999-00 outfit. The team has lost 15 of 17 games, including a heartbreaker against Toronto on Thursday, and more or less signed off on competing for a lower rung playoff spot as Rivers did during his first year. Orlando managed some impressive play along the way, but cold numbers are cold numbers, and the Magic locker room is probably a chilly place to be right now.
J.J. Redick thinks that “the basketball gods are against” the Magic. We think they’re just not that good, but can use some cheering up. From John Denton at NBA.com:
Hearing the disappointment in J.J. Redick’s voice from across the Orlando Magic’s locker room, Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis yelled out encouragement to his despondent teammate late Thursday night.
It wasn’t long after DeMar DeRozan drilled an off-balanced, heave of a shot that sunk the Magic and Redick was talking about how Orlando’s chances at making the playoffs later this season were slipping away.
``Hey, J.J., it’s all right. They are going to be loving us again soon,’’ Davis yelled over to Redick.
``I know, we’re going to go on that 10-game winning streak going into the All-Star break,’’ Redick said, hoping he could somehow will the Magic back on track.
Assuming Redick is on the Magic by the time the All-Star break comes along. The Magic, who will have no participant in the Feb. 17 contest, could soon be flooded with offers for the guard. ESPN’s Marc Stein reported on Friday that the Boston Celtics were due to amp up their attempts to acquire the guard, though it’s hard to see what Orlando would ask for in return.
(This is only of interest to me. If the Magic did deal Redick to Boston, it would mean two of the most misspelled easy names in NBA history will have both worked for the Celtics: Robert “Parrish,” and J.J. “Reddick.”)
The Celtics appear to be out of assets, but if a three-team deal would come along it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Magic let go of their already-28 year old guard. He might be shooting nearly 40 percent from behind the arc, but he’s likely not going to be in the team’s plans once the youth-led rebuilding project bears fruit a few years from now.
Of course, rebuilding projects have centerpieces, and the Magic are currently without one. There’s no high-end draft pick currently on the roster, and the picks received in various deals from the summer haven’t really netted much to fawn over – conditional picks from Philadelphia and the Lakers far down the line, and a pick from either two very good teams in Denver or New York. Right now, the team’s best hope is to strike gold in the 2013 NBA lottery in time for a very weak draft.
Crud. This was supposed to be cheery.
This is what happens when you let a player take hostage of a franchise. The team’s ownership and CEO Alex Martins dithered away months and potential trades in the wake of Dwight Howard’s uneasiness, and left a brand new GM in Rob Hennigan to trade away a franchise centerpiece with absolutely no leverage on his side. The Cleveland Cavaliers rebounded from LeBron James’ absence to grab Kyrie Irving the next year, but that was only after they lucked into jumping from seventh to first in the lottery with a Clippers pick the team traded for. In a draft with Kyrie Irving, no less. And they’re still 11-32, worse than the Magic.
Right, right. Optimism.
First of all, Glen Davis has acquired a craving for the taste of human flesh. Gotta stay hungry.
Jacque Vaughn has his team working, not winning (AP)Nikola Vucevic has turned into quite the banger in his second year, rebounding nearly a fifth of the total rebounds he’s on the court for according to Basketball-Reference.com. It’s a little disappointing that the Magic don’t utilize his scoring touch more often, especially in face up situations, but the 6-11 Vucevic is still learning the ropes as an NBA center expected to play starter’s minutes. It boggles the mind that Nikola takes fewer than two free throws for every 36 minutes he plays, though, a team-wide malaise that has the Magic last in the league in free throws attempted.
Rookie Andrew Nicholson has come in with a ready-made, if not polished, offensive game. The St. Bonaventure scorer is adept at finishing off broken plays with sound touch, something you’d expect from someone that spent all four years in school. He’s a bit of a black hole, but on a team like the Magic that struggles to score few are complaining. Maurice Harkless, the team’s second young prize in the Dwight Howard deal, has been slower to develop.
And that Big Baby-inspired 10-game winning streak before the All-Star break? It’ll be a toughie.
It’s true that the Magic’s two wins over this swoon were impressive victories over the Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers, and that the team went into overtime with both the Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers, but the upcoming sked will be trying.
Seven of the team’s 10 pre-All-Star break games will be played away from Orlando. One home contest will bring the Clippers back for a rematch, and the Trail Blazers into town for another close one. Beyond that, the Magic will have to face the Nets, Knicks, Celtics, Bucks and 76ers on the road. Even a road contest against Kyrie’s Cavs is no gimmie, and the team plays Detroit at home on Sunday just five days after being blown out by the Pistons in Michigan.
Basketball gods, etc. This is what it’s like when a superstar leaves you behind with little to show for it.
(Little to show for it beyond, of course, “thank the basketball gods that that jerk isn’t in our locker room anymore.”)
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