Sunday, September 30, 2012

Orlando's Competitive Goal: Surpass the '04-'05 Team


Well folks, training camp begins this week. Depending on who you talk to, it's going to be either a dreadful period in our franchise's history, or an extremely optimistic and eager time to watch something get built up from scratch. People calling this '12-'13 campaign 'Heart & Hustle Part II' really need to re-examine their heads. It's an insult to the talent and experience levels that Magic Head Coach Jacque Vaughn and GM Rob Hennigan have in their hands. Don't get me wrong, I'm damn proud of what Doc Rivers' 1999-2000 squad accomplished in going 41-41 and narrowly missing the playoffs. It's a testament to what maximizing your effort and growing an impenetrable team bond can really do for you. A lot of relatively unknown players came up big that season. See John Amaechi, Ben Wallace, Chucky Atkins, and the list keeps going. What that squad lacked in offense and name recognition more than made up for in pure guts and amazing defensive prowess. It'll be quite miraculous if this Dwight Howard-less Orlando squad gets anywhere near 41 wins. 



Shaq may not have much faith in this Hennigan-Vaughn creation, but he doesn't have a stake in what happens. ESPN has decided to make things worse on Magic fans by saying we'll be as bad as the 2003-2004 team. On the brighter side of things, at least ESPN graced us with some dignity by having the Bobcats as the worst team in the East just barely behind us. I never ever want such blasphemy to be spoken and/or written from anyone that gets a decent paycheck for their 'basketball input'. Just compare the '03-'04 and '12-'13 rosters alone and you'll see that there's no way this team will only win around 21 games. Not a chance in hell. Vegas has put us at around 29 to 31 wins this upcoming campaign which I will say is fair from a betting perspective. People like stating that because of the Dwight debacle, the 2011-2012 campaign was the worst in Magic lore since the 21-win season. Get real and watch some film of that abysmal year. Stan Van Gundy's team still made the playoffs, and we did particularly well against a growing power in Frank Vogel's Indiana Pacers. 



Question for Magic fans: What do the '96-'97, '99-'00, and the '04-'05 Orlando teams have in common with this 2012-2013 campaign? It's the first season after losing a massive superstar in the franchise's history. Shaq leaving in '96. John Gabriel unloading Penny in '99 and officially hitting the reset button. T-MAC getting the rightful boot from Weisbrod in 2004 and pouring down a brand new fresh path of a cement path. Now to what degree these men were 'stars' when they left Orlando is beside the point. Those guys along with Dwight Howard are the 4 most recognizable Magic men in our history. 



The 1996-1997 team managed a respectable 45-37 season. Rony Seikaly was Shaq's replacement. Believe it or not, Rony managed to play more games for Brian Hill and Richie Adubato's side that season than Penny, Horace, Nick, and Dennis. All 4 Magic men missed about 20 or so games each. Hardaway's legs were beginning to wear down, but that didn't prevent him from almost beating the Miami Heat in the 1st Round on his own. An epic 5-game exit and as acceptable of a morale defeat as one could have. Not a bad season considering the player mutiny against B-Hill.



'99-'00 was the official changing of the guard. Penny, Horace, and Nick were gone as were basically any other familiar faces apart from guys like Darrell Armstrong and Bo Outlaw (as well as then Sophomores Michael Doleac and Matt Harpring) who all of a sudden had to become leaders on a team of nobodies and castaways. Rob Hennigan's current plan is to rebuild this season and make a competitive push either in the summer of 2013 or 2014. Well John Gabriel knew that in the summer of 2000 he was going to go very hard for massive names like Grant Hill and Tim Duncan. The similarities can end there for now. Just know, that John Gabriel was expecting to head into the 2000 NBA Draft with a top 5 pick. Oh what a 41-win season can do. Doc Rivers' bunch went 6-2 in that preseason, if you want to set an October measuring stick. 



Things couldn't possibly get worse in the '04-'05 season. Blame it on T-MAC breaking down under the immense pressure of carrying a squad of scrubs. Maybe Doc Rivers wasn't a good Head Coach after all. Blame it on McGrady quitting and faking injury. I blame the curse of Juwan Howard (though that's now null and void thanks to his '12 championship ring with the Heat). John Weisbrod true to his bulldozing promise got to work. Kick out the cancers and scrubbiness of Juwan Howard, Drew Gooden, and Steven Hunter. Hello veteran Tony Battie. Giricek was out for DeShawn Stevenson at the '04 trade deadline. Funny how shipping Mike Miller just before the 2003 trade deadline and bringing in Gooden and Giricek was a massive part of the 8th seeded Magic almost knocking off the #1 seed Detroit Pistons. Man how fast the dominoes can fall. June 24, 2004 saw Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson get acquired in the NBA Draft. But it was 5 days later with the McGrady, Juwan Howard, and Tyronn Lue trade with Houston that officially began the clean slate. Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato couldn't have been a more perfect trio at the time to bring some chemistry to an entirely new roster whose only mainstays were Grant Hill, Pat Garrity, and Andrew DeClercq. Add in a very underrated Hedo Turkoglu signing, and you can start noticing some '11-'12 comparison. Until Jacque Vaughn proves otherwise, he can be viewed the same way as Johnny Davis was during that '04-'05 campaign. Before Cato and Mobley got hurt, this was a playoff team. Zero doubt in my mind and any Magic fan's mind who actually witnessed that team work hard on both ends. That team was also rebuilding and growing guys like Dwight and Jameer. That didn't necessarily mean sacrificing victories. Just saying.  



'Oh, Adam, but wait man, we're trying to tank and get a top 5 pick.' Well, if that's what the coaching staff and front office truly want and will vehemently seek, then what I've posted above should be noted as pointless. But try telling a locker room of 15 guys that they're supposed to suck and get disrespected for the next 7 to 8 months. I sure as hell don't want that job. If it's meant for us to lose a lot of games, okay. But we at least want players developing and everyone giving it their all. Talent wise, we're way better than '03-'04 and '99-'00. That's a wide victory gap between 21 and 41 wins. 



Steve Francis put up 21.3 ppg in 78 games in 2004-2005 to lead our team that season. I don't see a Magic man hitting the 20-range. Grant Hill teased the Orlando community with his 67 games of 19.7 ppg output. Before being injury plagued, Cuttino Mobley put up a ridiculous 46.4 3-pt% and 16.0 ppg in 23 games. 6th Man Hedo Turkoglu posted 14 points per game off the bench. This is where you're going to take a long hard look at Al Harrington and J.J. Redick. Those are your best options as far as #1 bench producers go. Can Kelvin Cato's 7 and 7 be surpassed or match by Vucevic or Ayon? Of course. Can then rookie Dwight Howard's 12 and 10 be matched by Big Baby or Andrew Nicholson? Yep. Offense wasn't a problem back then (ranking 9th best) in '04-'05 just as it won't be THAT large of an issue for Jacque Vaughn. Defense. Defense. Defense will be the major concern. That '04-'05 squad ended up crumbling down the stretch because they gave up the 28th most points per game on defense. That and after Mobley got traded for Christie, Francis mentally shut down. No matter who starts at PG, SG, and SF, can they combine to average 50-55 points per game? If they can, whether that's a Jameer-Redick-Afflalo backcourt, or Jameer-Arron-Hedo, or any other combination, this team will win a lot of games and will be in playoff contention until the very end. Defense be damned, great offenses can get the job done in the regular season. That's a fact. Now it's once you get to playoff time where championships are won because of defense. But that's not exactly our focus anymore at this time. 



On a quick side note, let's look at Josh Cohen's three over/under scenarios. Over/Under 16.0 points per game for Arron Afflalo? Most believe the former Nugget wing will be the team's leading scorer. I think Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis might have something to say about that how. However, I'm still taking the over. Somewhere between 17 and 18 ppg isn't asking too much from Arron who is beyond thrilled to be in Orlando.



Over/Under 1.5 transactions before the trade deadline? That doesn't include buy outs or cuts obviously since we have 19 contracts on the roster going into Monday. I'll say over. I think there will be 2. February is a long time away and who knows what can happen between now and then. Vaughn's crew could be playing very nicely or abysmally. Here's my pure speculation of the matter. I think Armon Johnson and DeQuan Jones will both be cut after training camp. Josh McRoberts I see being bought out (not that any salary cap hit on us this season really matters). I think Q-Rich will be traded for a second rounder. I'm in the minority on this, but if the right combination of picks and cash is there, I see Henny pulling the trigger on dealing Glen Davis to give youngsters like Nicholson, Harkless, and O'Quinn more time to develop. For now though, we need Big Baby to be on of our captains (along with Jameer and J.J.). I don't see Hedo getting dealt. Nor Jameer, Ayon, or Redick. I'm still unhappy with Liggins not being retained. Harper will be kept and developed as an SF. Maybe Justin sees D-League action. Tough to say. Once the Dwight trade happened, I was very certain Christian Eyenga was going to be bought out along with McRoberts. But from what I've ever heard, Magic brass really want to develop Christian. So I put trade transactions at 2, but there are a lot of question marks. 



Over/Under 29.5 wins this 2012-2013 season? Way over. '96-'97 with B-Hill and Adubato saw 45 wins. '99-'00 with Doc produced 41 wins. Even the promising then heart-wrenching 2004-2005 squad produced 36 wins with all the Steve Francis and Doug Christie shenanigans. Oh, and Johnny freakin' Davis and Chris freakin' Jent were at the helm. The bar has been set low for Jacque Vaughn. Verbally, he's won myself and many Orlando faithful over. Now let's see how his on the court actions and teaching work as he has to unify a group of professionally paid athletes. I see the '12-'13 campaign surpassing '04-'05 by mustering up at least 37 wins. Again though, I'm Mr. Optimistic. Feel free to throw dirt on my still open casket if this prediction is a flaming failure. Unity and having an 'asshole-free' locker room can go a very long way down the road of success. 

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