Wednesday, May 9, 2012
I've seen my vast share of Magic games in my life, but those last two playoff losses to the Pacers hurt about as much as any other defeat these eyes have observed. This series proved that effort can only take you so far when you're outmatched at almost every position. Stan Van Gundy's Game 5 postgame basically mirrors my view of how proud I am of that Magic roster for battling even in rough spots. I'll leave it at that as we dump this unforgettable rollercoaster-like 2011-2012 season and focus on potentially even more chaotic summer. It'll be interesting to see how we view this period in time 5, 10, 15 years down the road. Anyway, let me build off my topic's title. Do you guys remember that scene in 'Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade' where Indy and that rich Nazi have to decide which cup was the one Christ drank out of? The wealthy man chose (well Elsa picked for him, but that's beside the point) the really glittery cup and ends up literally eroding to death. Dr. Jones picks the plainest cup he can find, ends up being correct in his selection and is thus able to save his father Sean Connery.
Now imagine Dwight as the jeweled cup and Stan Van Gundy as the plain old cup. The shiny superstar 90% of the time prevails over the replaceable Head Coach in any sport. It's just how professional athletics are in this day and age. As many including SVG have said in the past, "we're hired to get fired". Rich DeVos' time is running out. There's no Holy Grail around to stop what only comes natural to us. Remember that epic 'There Can Only Be One' NBA campaign that was ridiculously successful? Well, not counting Otis Smith, Stan or Dwight will not be a member of this Magic franchise come the '12-'13 season. There's a tiny chance both will be gone, but I don't foresee it. It's beyond improbable to think those two will be able to coexist and that it'd be extremely irresponsible for this front office to recklessly assume that this Orlando fan base, the impending roster, and the community can withstand another season of this tumult. ESPN and deplorable 'reporters' are the only ones who can possibly benefit from this saga continuing. The one given ought to be Otis being fired. I'm one of few people comfortable with Adonal Foyle being the replacement. Smith has now had 3 years of overall negative moves for this franchise. Otis should step down and take the pressure off SVG who from day 1 made Smith's life so much easier after coming in as the #2 choice behind Billy Donovan. Stan's 'I don't give a damn' attitude has always been intact. Through good, bad, and ugly times. How many great coaches would've casually come in days after the original primary coaching choice stepped away from the position? It's been about 5 years of pure success since Gator boy got cold feet and man have we been major beneficiaries. The hiring of Stan Van Gundy is an enormous reason why this Magic franchise is here and not in Kansas City.
Yes, I'm sure Dan DeVos and Alex Martins have slayed over their options in going about a crucial segment in this franchise's history. But in the end, they want to see a championship in Orlando before Rich croaks. Which means that barring a miracle, they'll keep on trying to satisfy Dwight. Which equates to getting rid of Stan because there's not enough time for a few years of rebuilding back into a title worthy contender. The thing our front office hasn't realized yet is that Dwight isn't immortality. Superman has reached his ceiling as far as player improvement goes. Howard will never improve his free throws and he never developed that knack for leadership we were all hoping he'd eventually inherit from Jameer and other veterans. We've also seen a steady growth in D12 taking more plays and games off as the years go by. It doesn't take superb eyesight or awareness to notice either. Worse yet, D12's back surgery now puts in doubt his physical capabilities for the future. Howard's lack of boxing out and poor screening was forgiven because of his beastliness. Once that body breaks down, fundamentals and technique are necessary for survival in this league extending well into your 30s. I love what Dwight's done in his 8 years here, but too much damage has been done by poor actions and decisions he or his representatives have made in a short 6-month time span. Lies and flip-flopping have occurred more times than one can calculate with an abacus. His current occupation of Los Angeles. His baby mama Royce saying for over a year that Dwight wanted to be in Brooklyn. His current girlfriend coaxing Dwight into a bigger market. An agent with an agenda to gain more money through big city exposure. I'm going against the grain, but if you can package Dwight with Hedo and Duhon for draft picks and expiring contracts, you easily pull that trigger and begin the clean slate. Rip that band-aid off swiftly now. It's been done before, just look at '99 and a brutal end to the original Lockout-shortened season. John Gabriel couldn't build through the draft and Otis has failed almost as badly. Creative financing in order to set up a smart offseason free agency run in '13 or '14 seems to be best path to choose. Just like that 50-game season, we're at a crucial crossroads that won't be officially prodded and graded until years down the line.
My suggestion: Offer Stan Van Gundy a two-year extension this summer and build our squad around a coach that gets maximum results from little talent. Minus Dwight, the majority of our current Magic locker room loves SVG. Only those with an insubordinate past with head figures seem to despise the man. Why? Because Van Gundys don't fold like your average coach. That intimidates even the toughest of players. The NBA is a diva league full of easy to bruise egos. Even fans that are just Dwight Howard supporters can't deny the fact that Van Gundy is the best coach this franchise has ever had and may ever have. Here's a good free agency rundown from Evan Dunlap at the OPP. Jameer will probably get decent enough offers from other teams to bail. I can't blame Nelson for doing that. Mighty Mite is looking to trade away a decent short-term pay day for a multi-year deal that will keep him around longer. Plus, Jameer will be able to pick his next destination. Orlando should match any offers Ryan Anderson sees, especially after another disastrous playoff run. Mr. Anderson is only 24 years old though and he's still a damn good player that we can build around. Redick's not going anywhere as J.J. very well becomes our veteran face come training camp. Hold on to your rookies and hope Earl Clark, Wafer, and Ish Smith can be kept for minimal money. Who knows, we may finally see some European centers in Fran Vazquez and Milovan Rakovic wearing our pinstripes. That's enough youth and athleticism to help offset any old bodies we gain/retain.
Whatever the path, we're in superb hands when it comes to the long-term. Gorgeous new arena. Favorable weather and tax situation. Alex and Dan have a massive interest in bringing a championship to the City Beautiful. Magic fans don't have to worry about the DeVos family selling the franchise even after Rich passes. His kids and grandchildren have too much invested into this team. No, I'm not talking dollars either. Though it does help to have a few billion at your disposal. Our main concerns, observations, and critiques begin now through the next two/three years. Do you side with Dwight and hope he keeps showing the loyalty while praying your new GM and new coach are competent enough to deliver a championship? Or do you cut ties now, build around a top 5 NBA coach, a tight core for the future, and make the necessary tactical moves to get several millions of dollars under the cap in preparation for a 2014 run? Winning isn't easy, especially in as small a market as we are. I fear the DeVos family will open the door to getting slighted by Dwight, will fire Stan, and will ride that surgically repaired back for the quick fix. I hope Martins' alleged ultimatum to Dwight about signing a long-term extension within the next few weeks is a sign that my viewpoint and opinion ends up coming true. We're in for a long and unpredictable summer. This is my plea to the DeVos family: Please pick Stan Van Gundy. If you ditch SVG then another franchise will immediately swoop in and make their easiest signing of the summer, setting up their team for improvement and eventual glory. I'm ready to say goodbye to Dwight. What about you?
Friday, May 4, 2012
I feel real sorry for anyone who only liked the Magic because of Dwight Howard. I know when we won Game 1 last Saturday, there wasn't much of a buzz in downtown Orlando for having accomplished a hell of a road feat. Why is this the case? Because not enough people are invested in this franchise as there needs to be. Because not enough people care to think for themselves and recklessly choose to buy into the doom and gloom attitude around them in regards to the current state of the Magic. It's like all of a sudden this season gets ignored because we're not a top championship contender and the boats been rocked a bit, or we're not the hot ticket in our community because ESPN doesn't think we exist. Shame on you. Shame on any of you with a ticket to a Magic game that'd rather be socializing on the balcony, staring deep into your phone, or stuffing your face at the buffet rather than viewing playoff basketball in person. Shame on anyone contemplating giving a damn about the Heat that has zero ties to Miami. We're only down 2-1 in a series we can easily still win, yet I'm hearing guys like Mike Bianchi and other local radio personalities deciding to go with other story lines. Boxing? The Kentucky Derby? Seriously? It's the playoffs and there's a team in your backyard participating in them. God forbid we win on Saturday, we even the series up, and people have to pretend to be optimistic a little bit longer. It's amazing what a difference one week makes. At least Dwight considers Los Angeles a "jail" and is repeating our "We All We Got" motto. That'll quiet down the 'he quit' accusations for now.
Memo to Ryan Anderson: Congratulations on your more than deserved Most Improved Player award. Now go play like an improved player starting Saturday. Get that 20-10 game we so desperately need from you and then drink your ass off into a coma to celebrate your 24th birthday. For a relatively young franchise, the Magic have quite a large volume of MIP winners. Since the award was created in the '85-'86 season, no other franchise has more winners than we do (5). The Pacers are next closest with 3. When Scott Skiles received his '90-'91 award, he didn't have a postseason to build off of what would be his best NBA season in his injury-riddled career. Darrell 'Flash' Armstrong's '98-'99 award was buffered by a solid playoffs. Granted they were severely shortened thanks to the Sixers, Darrell was one of the few Magic men who didn't let us down. T-MAC's '00-'01 kicked off about an 8-year span of All-Star (with some superstar spans sprinkled in) basketball that very few could match. Hedo's '07-'08 award is about as astounding as it gets. Hedo never before nor since came close to the statistics and clutchness he produced. Five years ago seems light years away now when we could use some 'Hero' ball. We expect Ryno to continue to up his game, but it needs to begin now before he officially gets labeled a playoff choker.
I'm stunned that Stan isn't expected to be making any lineup changes. Maybe it is all about "energy", but we're seeing WAY too many horribly trending patterns that suggest energy can only take you so far. Early on in Game 3, it looked like the Pacers had figured us out on both ends of the court. Then Glen kept us around until Indy put another 3rd quarter shellacking on us for the third straight game. Drunk Orlando folks had more energy Wednesday night than our players did. All I know is the guys in white with black pinstripes wet the bed. For the most part, the Amway Center crowd was spectacular (put the state of Indiana to embarrassment). After initially rumored it wouldn't happen, Amway Center was decorated in its usual 'Blue & White Ignite' attire. New Stuff was also blue and actually good. Even Scotty B wasn't as annoying as usual. Hell, we even dusted off Gina Marie Incandela for another powerful anthem (I saw that fist bump, Wafer). And yet, nothing. Tactics and personnel sometimes need to be shaken up if you want to win a playoff series. I'll trust Stan again as I always do, but he'll take all the blame if we get blown out again at Amway on Saturday afternoon. Maybe Liggins should be activated and guard Paul George? Maybe Redick, Earl, and Wafer need a ton more minutes? Maybe that Ish guy can at least make Collison and/or George Hill contemplate exerting themselves on defense? Something, Stan, anything. Cinco de Mayo is as superb a time as any to drink away your sorrows or party like madmen. Not sure about you folks, but I'm ready to wear my celebration cap.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Though the Magic as a whole have played superbly through these crippling circumstances, coming back home tied 1-1, there is one ghost that just can't provide much consistency or fire power. No, it's not the one Otis Smith is visiting in Los Angeles. It's Ryan Anderson. Game 2 saw Ryno go into that 44-42 halftime with 8 points (granted off bad shooting) and 8 rebounds. No one can have shooting gripes when Anderson hustles on the glass. The problem came in the second half. Not one rebound and only a 3-pointer before Ryan succumbed to foul trouble.
His Game 1 didn't go so well either. 5 points and 6 rebounds. It's becoming a disturbing pattern. If he wants to see more than $6 million per season, he's going to have to buck this trend. The Magic scored 13 points in each of the first two 3rd quarters of this series. The difference was that Indiana mustered 19 points in Game 1's third period, only to torch us with 30 third quarter points in Game 2. Ryno is now in his 4th NBA season, third with the Magic. He's 23 years old, but the youth factor is going out the window and being replaced with playoff phantom. Last year against the Hawks, the Magic just needed one (JUST ONE) of Ryan or Brandon Bass to have a decent series in order to advance. Mr. Anderson averaged over 24 minutes a game yet put up an unforgivable 4.6 ppg and 4.5 rpg on a pitiful 26.7 FG%. We couldn't judge much on Ryno's limited minutes in the 2010 playoffs. No one can question his effort, but hustle doesn't grow a clutch gene. If Snoggle wants to continue being an NBA starter, as well as being paid like a starting forward, he's going to have to find a way to not become a disappearing act in the postseason. These next two games at Amway Center are a damn good time to begin. Did I mention it's going to be Ryan's 24th birthday this upcoming Sunday? Give yourself the gift of home victories. Ryno must back up his Most Improve Player award worthy regular season one way or another.
Hopefully J-Rich's jammed left finger will be back to normal on Wednesday. It was evident that Jason shouldn't have been out there since suffering the injury in the 2nd quarter on Monday night. Stan needed to give Redick and Wafer his minutes. Big Baby was huffing really hard in that second half. It caused Davis to flatten out his jumper more and clank them off the rim. Earl didn't provide anywhere near his best and our rotation paid for it. Glen will still be fatigued come Game 3 Wednesday night, but that rambunctious Amway Center crowd should carry him through that. No matter what happens in Game 3, the result will have both teams thinking long and hard about what will have occurred because Game 4 won't be until Saturday afternoon. I remember Dante Marchitelli reporting that Hedo told the guys during a 1st quarter huddle that he couldn't see out of his mask. His play somewhat mirrored that. For a blind man though, Turk actually didn't do THAT bad. Maskoglu will just have to adapt. Jameer can't wait until the final minutes of a contest to 'turn it on'. Nelson must attack at will and not let George Hill have the better game like he did Monday. Duhon was bearable, but Stan needs to instill Ish's energy. Unleash the fresh blood.
Danny Granger has had two straight bad games. Hibbert is seeing Glen in his nightmares and at this rate may write his will on his body. But the Pacers are skilled and deep enough to where they have no problem winning games with those two struggling. Not when Hill, Paul George, and David West are playing as solid as they all did in Game 2. They all stepped up. Period. That Indy backcourt shredded us to pieces on the break. Who will bring it for the Magic? Can we protect our parquet? I'll tell you this, I'd bet some decent money on Orlando fans to provide better crowd atmosphere than Pacers fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse have so far. It needs to be old school electric in there. Be loud and be proud, Magic fans. We still have the upper hand currently. 'Blue & White Ignite' gets to have its say now. Our big crowd support has the capability of assisting in mitigating Indiana's size and speed advantage.