What Happened To The Magic In Orlando?

Kurt —  January 17, 2010

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The Orlando Magic are currently the four seed in the East, with a 26-14 record. Not bad, but they are 4-6 in their last 10. If you watch the games, right now they are not the same team that made it to the Finals last year — you can make a good case for starting White Chocolate in front of Jameer Nelson right now. Seriously. What is going on in Orlando?

I asked Philip Rossman-Reich of the TrueHoop Network Blog Orlando Magic Daily to explain what is happening:

A lot has happened to the Magic since the Lakers danced off the Amway Arena floor with the Larry O’Brien trophy. Hedo Turkoglu and Courtney Lee are gone, Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson (and Brandon Bass and Jason Williams and Matt Barnes, plus the return of a “healthy” Jameer Nelson) are in. On paper this looks like it would be a huge upgrade as Orlando has sorely missed a go-to scorer since the days of Tracy McGrady. Not only that, but the team is much much deeper and easily goes 10 players into their rotation.

But things are not quite so happy in the Magic kingdom. Orlando had to weather the storm of some early injuries that went with Rashard Lewis’ 10-game suspension to start the season. Things worked then. But as players have had to be integrated back into the lineup and new combinations are playing together, something seems off. It is hard to put a finger on what exactly is wrong with the team. A lot of times the effort is simply not there to go out and win games. It is like the team expects to hit the floor and win basketball games. And I think we all know that is not how things work in the NBA.

There has been a lot of pressure put on this team. Nothing lower than a championship would be an acceptable outcome. This is really the first time a lot of these players have faced that kind of pressure and scrutiny on a day-to-day basis and I think it is wearing on them more than they would like to admit.

It certainly is not an excuse, but really thinking this is maybe the third year in the franchise’s history (1995 and 1996 being the other two) that a title was a realistic expectation. Last year caught everyone by surprise as the team flew under the radar and had to prove themselves as they played the disrespect card. No one is disrespecting the Magic this year and everyone is giving their best shot to them.

This has been made more difficult by the shuffling lineups Stan Van Gundy has had to use. The Magic have had their top four guys in the lineup a total of 12 times this season. That is 12 of 40 games! With two new starters and a bunch of new guys coming off the bench, that transition has not been easy. It is made worse by the fact everyone is shooting and performing much worse than last year. Vince Carter is having the worst shooting year of his career. Jameer Nelson, who is still working his way back from tearing his meniscus and missing 16 games, has regressed to the mean after his all star season last year. And Rashard Lewis is still fitting his way into the offense with Carter dominating the ball more than Turkoglu did.

That does not even get into Dwight Howard, who still struggles to get his teammates to get him the ball and is still a 50-50 chance at the line.

These problems are vexing everyone — fans, coaches and the players themselves. 26-14 is certainly not a bad record. Orlando is still within striking distance at the top of the Eastern Conference and despite all the turmoil, I think a lot of people still expect them to break through. But the lack of energy and offensive inconsistency from this team has been really disconcerting and has led to a very puzzling first half of the season.

Kurt

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49 responses to What Happened To The Magic In Orlando?

  1. So, apparently Sasha is rubbing off on Maria Sharapova.

  2. …then there’s a rumor that there’s a rift between VC and Lewis. I’d hate to be in Van Gundy’s shoes for now.

  3. To be fair to Sasha, I think many people “rub off” on Maria Sharapova. She IS a hotty.

    Also It seems like the Magic are going through almost the same thing the Lakers are going through except the lakers aren’t as deep, play in a stronger conference, and have had more injuries. It’s a good sign that this team is at the top of the standings despite the adversity, it shows the mentality that this team has adopted for this back to back run.

    The subtraction of Hedo Torkoglu took away the Magic’s identity and uniqueness. Now that they’re more traditional, they just don’t seem to stack up with the elites. The talent level went up but the team’s overall quality went down.

  4. Any team that takes on Vince Carter and expects to contend is fooling itself. The guy gets his numbers, but he’s never been a winner and he never will.

  5. I really like this post, it’s fun to dissect our primary competition once in a while.

    Just saw the video of Baron Davis throwin ‘bows last night. He did it right in front of the Lakers bench, Ammo and Farmar were the first to jump up. DJ Mbenga stayed seated the entire time. I guess my dreams of a 300-pound black belt enforcer just died.

  6. i hope they don’t get their act together on the lakers tomorrow though…

  7. i am actually on the camp that says VC is a better player than Hedo, but after a half season gone by, i still think VC is a better player, just not a better fit to orlando.

    as of now, orlando is missing the playmaking ability of heado. that’s why people start to suggest they need to put white chocolate into the starting lineup.

    look at orlando starter, nelson, pietrus, lewis, vince and howard – all are not well-known as a playmaker.

    orlando’s offense setup is relying on the inside-outside play. and if nobody can give the ball inside in the post (other than driving to the paint where there’s always a 50-50 chance that you’re moving to a crowded lane and cannot dump the ball outside), it will be a problem.

    compare that to us, we can get the ball to the post (we have multiple reliable positions in the post), our problem is we have not shooting well from perimeter (at least in the games that we lost).

  8. I think Orlando will solve all this by the end of the season they are simply too talented to struggle and not find their way at some point. And as we all say on here the regular season doesnt matter, as long as your healthy and gelling at the right time when the playoffs arrive then that is all that matters.

    I think everyone tends to forget they went into Boston and beat a healthy Boston team without Rashard Lewis. The potential is there, but will we get to see the team reach it’s potential? Well that remains to be seen. VC is better the Hedo, the only advantage I see Hedo having is his size but other than that VC is a better player.

    I just dont want to see the Magic get back on track thanks to a win against the Lakers at Staples. Let them beat one of the other elites to get their confidence back.

  9. offensive inconsistency? thinking they can win every time they step out on the floor? not giving enough effort?

    boy, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? This is a great reminder that every team, and not just our own, faces struggles throughout a season.

  10. We better not think that Orlando is struggling, so this should be an easy win. If the problem is not playing hard, the Magic will have no such problem at Staples. They will have all the motivation in the world to show us up on our own floor after losing in the Finals. If the Lakers don’t bring it, it could easily turn into an embarrassment like the one on Xmas day

  11. 5, DJ doesn’t raise even a finger unless his purpose is to kill…

  12. After I cheer for the Lakers, I’ll be rooting for Ryan Anderson. Go Bears!

  13. Speaking of the Sasha/Sharapova connection, anyone else notice she lost to AK47’s wife?

    I only mention that because everything about AK cracks me up

  14. I really have to disagree with a lot of people on this site saying that the Lakers do not put out full effort. I don’t remember a game where the Lakers effort was less than 100%. The games that we’ve been blown out or we’ve lost I thought the effort was there, but it wasn’t efficiently or effectively used.

    I’d agree if effot meant an effort to play smart team basketball, especially for the bench. But as for physical effort, I think the Lakers are still top notch. Even sasha gives full effort when being a pest on defense until he fouls someone out 27 feet from the basket.

    I think that differs from the lack of effort that we’ve seen from Vince Carter over the years. I really think a player of that magnitude rubs off on players on the team. Vince Carter, for all his skills, has always been known to be afraid of contact. Many articles over the years (a lot from Bill Simmons) have noted that Vince Carter doesn’t play full force; especially when he gets hammered from the inside after a drive. Once that happens, Vince likes taking jump shots.

    I think that type of effort rubs off on other teammates, and maybe thats the lack of effort that the Magic need to figure out. Each team needs a few focused guys, and the names on the magic roster don’t have the reputation for being the focused guys (J. Will, V. Carter, R. Lewis).

    My sister’s father in law is a Magic fan and they said that while they miss Hedo’s versatility, the biggest person they miss is Courtney Lee, a hard nosed worker that was atheletic. (remember, IF he made that tip in last year in game two, it would have been a different series).
    Vince Carter on the team may have been an upgrade on paper for the Orlando Magic, but as a team I think they took a step back in terms of cohesion. Last year, Hedo and Jameer (when healthy) split time as the primary ball handler with both able to make good decisions. This year, the primary ball handlers/distributors will be J. Will and Jameer and that is a big step down.

    Add one high strung coach and you have a team that should be top 2 in the east underachieving.

    V.Carter’s stats FG%38 3PT%30%

    D. Fisher stats FG 36% 3pt 34%

    Fisher doesn’t look too bad in comparison :)

  15. @7 13thirtyone: Simply put, we have Kobe, Orlando and the rest don’t. Yeah!

    On a serious note, I agree with #3 bizzle, the Lakers are facing the same problems as Orlando (the expectiations, teams giving their best effort against them every night, having a target on their backs etc), but that is how special this Laker team and organization is. We sometimes take it for granted, but the team is doing an amazing job amidst the injuries to pau, kobe, artest, the expectations, media and other teams to say the least. This is why I love the team, phil and the players.

  16. Orlando has the deepest team in the league, but apart from the problems mentioned in the article sometimes it feels they;re too deep for their own good. It’s tough for them to find time for good players like Bass (Anderson lately) and Gortat. Still, they have loads of problems. Their franchise player is averaging 9 shots per game (!), Rashard is also getting no touches, Vince is often taking very bad shots (and it seems he didn’t adjusted his game to playing in this type of envoirment where everybody can shoot the ball and everybody need some shots) and worse of all – often they seem to abandon inside-outside game totally and they just jack up threes.
    Still, somehow I get the feeling they may play their best (or one of the best) game of the season tonight against the Lakers (just like the Spurs, Blazers, Cavs..)

  17. Like most teams in the NBA, the Magic has substantially tweaked their roster, and the chemistry has changed. They no longer have a historic “Magic” reference point for comparison–if they ever did.

    The Lakers, on the other hand, have only changed one player from last year, with expectations and goals well defined. Kobe and Derek have been through 3 NBA championships and much of 13 years together–with Luke and Lamar not far behind. Sasha, Jordan, and Andrew were all drafted by the Lakers–and have known no other organization.

    Even so, the Lakers have had “chemistry issues” with Andrew and Pau playing together, and Ron Ron finding his role.

    Nonetheless, it appears that the Lakers will achieve full integration soon–at least full enough to compete for an NBA championship.

    The Magic are very likely to improve integration, but what kind of chemistry can be achieved is unknown and unknowable–that’s kind of scary.

    It would appear that standing pat has its advantages.

  18. I think Orlando will figure things out and get it together by the time April rolls around.

    I’ve been hearing about the whole argument that Orlando misses Turk in particular because of his passing ability, but I think Orlando’s problems can be traced to Dwight Howard’s inability to develop post moves. He really hasn’t improved. I think good teams have figured out how to guard him in the post and because he’s no longer getting those alley-ops from Turk he has struggled to score this season. If the Magic are going to get back to the Finals it will have to be because of the improvement of Dwight Howard.

  19. I think Orlando will be fine. The dynamic is different and it’s still early, and they’re still 26-14. Lakers fans of all should understand this. Last year, SVG and Dwight were having problems and it looked like Orlando might implode. They worked the problems out just fine.

    I agree with Chris J. I don’t think Vince Carter is a winner. Not as a #1 guy. That’s not his role in Orlando though. No matter what, the addition of VC gives them match-up problems against Boston and Cleveland. When Vince is on, neither team’s SG’s can really match-up. Add that to Rashard Lewis and they’ll have 2 advantages over Boston (3 if Dwight can figure out Perk), and 3 huge advantages against Cleveland.

    I believe the main reason they brought in Vince is to match-up better with Kobe. He’s always faired better than most and held his own against #24.

    This team seems like they are built better this year. It’s just taking time. I just hope the struggles continue against us.

  20. Zephid – re: #11. Nice comment. That sh** cracked me up, dude. God, I love how funny yet serious and cerebral everyone is on this blog. Prediction for tonight – Lake Show 98, Magic 90. And we hold ‘em to under 42% shooting. And Howard gets 0-2 dunks, while Bynum gets 3-5.

    BTW: check out my blog @http://sethmeister-the.blogspot.com/
    I’m an int’l student from NorCal studying in Tel Aviv, so it’s mostly about Israel-related stuff and my life here.

  21. Not a whole lot has changed since the finals insofar as how to play the Magic.

    Play Howard straight-up. Stay on the 3 point shooters and force them to shoot off the dribble as only Carter is dangerous off the dribble.

    The Celtics applied this tactic on Christmas day and beat the Magic 86 – 77 and frankly it wasn’t that close.

    The Magic had 27 points at the half and shot 33% overall (19% from 3). In the 2nd half Carter started to penetrate and got going somewhat but they looked lost for the most part.

    This is of course when the Magic was still winning.

  22. 1) To utilize Dwight properly you have to be able to get him the ball down low. Without Hedo they don’t do as well here.

    2) They don’t have somebody nasty that plays a lot of minutes, so they can tend to coast during games.

    3) Vince is taking too many shots for his efficiency.

    All these things relate to Dwight Howard. He needs to develop to be considered a go-to center. Right now he is the same person he was last year, but the team around him has changed.

    We complain about Andrew, but he has changed more than Dwight. Andrew shows the promise of more changes in the future. Dwight shows evidence of ‘leveling out’ at his current performance – like Shaq did (but he was meaner and more talented). If I was a Magic fan, this is what I would be really concerned about. If I were Magic management, I would be very concerned that I have to be really focused in who I bring in because Dwight’s skills can really be negated by the wrong person – read Vince Carter without a pass-first point guard.

  23. We’re cerebral on this blog?

    Zephid – Love it. Can we put that on a giant banner with DJ’s face (half-covered by a ninja mask) outside Staples? Or right inside the visitor’s locker room?

    21 – We didn’t play Dwight straight-up, though, did we? As I remember it, it was the irregular mix of doubles we threw in that gave Dwight the most problems. Boston is one of the few teams that can play Dwight straight up because of Perkins’ strength.

  24. Saw someone mention Carter’s shooting percentage and double checked it myself, and it’s hard not to see that as a huge part of their problems: their worst shooter is taking most of ther shots.

    Also this fits in with the adjusted plus/minus analysis Wayne Winston recently did:
    http://waynewinston.com/wordpress/?p=362

    Almost all of their line-ups work much better with Carter out. Particularly critical is what Orlando do when Howard sits (since when Howard is in they’re always pretty good): With “Williams, Redick, Pietrus, Gortat or Bass and Anderson” (and not with Carter!) they area also still pretty good.

    Now, I haven’t actually watched much of Orlando playing this season, but it would be very surprising to me if every Carter shot was really a “late-shot clock, no one else could have gotten a better percentage shot up” situation.

  25. Shannon Brown, officially in the dunk contest!

    The others, Gerald Wallace and Nate Robinson, plus the winner of the dunk-off thing.

  26. Kurt- Great news

    re: Magic. I do think that by the end of the season a lot of Orlando’s kinks will be worked out. They just have too many new guys to work into the system to be efficient at this point of the season, and the injury bug has been harsh on them, as it has the Lakers. But I do believe, that for their system, that VC was a significant downgrade from Hedo. He just doesn’t provide the same matchup problems Hedo did, but if he gets hot from 3, look out. They’re gonna be a potent offensive team if VC is feeling it.

  27. Also, hoops junkies, free trial of League Pass this week, if you want to watch a lot of hoops today.

  28. They have a free trial of league pass the week that has all the Lakers games nationally televised and I don’t need it. Figures.

  29. I think if you look at the stats from last year, it’s pretty apparent that all the important pieces (Nelson, Lewis, Howard) had career years.
    So far they have all reverted back to the mean which in essense suggests that they went from a championship contender to a middling playoff team.

  30. @Ryan, 28 – seriously I was thinking the same thing

    Any news on LeBron being the the dunk contest?

  31. @Don
    If they’ve made the decision on who to include already I think its’ a safe assumption he won’t be among them… which I think we all expected.

  32. Kurt, being the “also” didn’t mention LBJ does that mean he is not going to be in it or is that the only other confirmed players at the time. Further more, if that is the only other players, wouldn’t that make a pretty small dunk contest for how many talented guys there are in the league?

  33. hey Kurt, question for ya,
    in the past, the Lakers played on MLK day in a matinee day game, and I heard Joel say that same thing in the last game, but in the schedules and the times, it’s listed as 7:30, and on TNT, so with the TNT thing, I guess it is eveing, ie; prime time?
    I used to like that day game on MLK day, do you know what is the official start time for today’s game?
    thanks!

  34. it’s 7:30 tip

  35. Which means that if it’s the second game of a TNT double-header, it will cut to the Laker game at around 8:15 or so…

  36. No LeBron, he backed away. Also no Dwight. From a national perspective, this is not a lot of name firepower in the dunk contest. But Wallace and Brown and DeRozan can make it interesting.

  37. I agree with Craig re: Hedo. Not having him really hurts the overall team chemistry because Rashard and Dwight really were set up by Hedo. This allowed Nelson to be more agressive with his own shot. Now all this is out of wack. However, I also agree with Wondahbap, VC matches well with Ray Allen and Kobe. Still, when Rashard was clicking, this team was damn near unstoppable. VC and Rashard don’t mix, and I dont see how that changes.

  38. Let’s hope Nate doesn’t miss two dozen consecutive dunk attempts in Dallas, like he did in Houston four years ago. I was in the arena that night and it was easily the most grueling thing I’ve ever been forced to sit through at a sporting event. He couldn’t make the dunk, and he would not stop trying… Like he’s Evander Holyfield still thinking he has a shot at a belt.

    I’ve never liked Robinson after that night.

  39. Chris, while I agree with you in general that having to sit through that embarrassing “dunk” was painful, the most grueling thing was that he won!!!

    I felt like calling my cable company and demanding a refund for that half hour (or however long that took).

  40. Chris J, I think the most embarrassing dunk contest moment is when “The Birdman” tried passing to himself from the half court line dunk about 20 times! If I was there for that one I probably would have tried to demand my money back or at least devote my attention to autogragh hunting.
    As for this contest I’m just hoping that ShanWOW is half as acrobatic as he is athletic. The old dunk from the freethrow line won’t get it done these days (not even a through the legs as Gerald Green proved against D. Howard.) So far, dunks I have seen in streetball videos but not in the dunk contest are; 360 through the legs, 720, and a Vincanity inspired 360 windmill from beyond the hash marks. Any of those in a final round will seal the deal. There are three kind of dunkers that win the contest, innovative dunkers (Dwight, VC, MJ), mad hops (Tiny Nate, Webb), and last “and yes least” guys that just happen to finish there dunks well when everyone else can’t finish dunks that are out of their league (Josh Smith comes to mind.) I’m kinda sick of Nate’s tricks and unless I’m underestimating everyone else’s acrobatics I have a feeling this could get “same old same old” like before they brought back the contest.

  41. Damn it. This is going to be one of the weaker dunk contests, ShanWOW or no ShanWOW.

    I had my hopes on Iguodala, Josh Smith, Lebron, and Dwight. Instead we get the pu-pu platter of dunkers. Good news is Shannon has a greater chance of winning than he would against a dunker like AI or against the theatrics of Dwight.

    Lebron James, it has become official. You are a certifiable tool.

  42. I think this post makes a great point. The Magic are now getting everyone’s “best” every night. Welcome to Laker land. Every team, every night comes out to beat the champs. I’m know this is true for the Magic now (to maybe a slightly lower degree) and it may be unexpected.

  43. I was really looking forward to Shannon beating Lebron. Just like he did in high school. (despite the way it was scored)

  44. Nuggets, Cavs, Celtics and today’s oppoinent, Magic…only teams that have chance against Lakers in 7 game series. It’d be nice to go out and create more questions in their locker, while answering some of our own (smaller) still lingering questions.

  45. I’d say Orlando just had great on-court chemistry last year, partly by their design and maybe also by stumbling upon something special with Hedo in this prominent role.

    Howard covered for some Hedo’s/Rafer’s/Lewis’s defensive issues by being an intimidating shot-blocker. And Hedo – being not half the athlete Carter is – was their glue guy in my opinion. Solid ballhandler and passer, a good set-up man on their dangerous drive-and-kick plays and high pick-and-rolls plus often also their go-to guy in crunch time. And in a few games I saw of them, it seemed to me that he kind of sparked the Magic whenever they went on a run. Maybe like a Nick van Exel on those mid-90s Laker teams, not the best player, but often the one who made the team go.

    In Toronto Hedo has Bargnani and Bosh crowding the mid-range or even longe-range area, has no real clean-up defender behind him and less playmaking chances with Calderon and Jack handling the ball a lot.

    So I guess the lesson is that on-court chemistry is a delicate thing to achieve. Who thought Memphis would click the way they’ve done? And we probably don’t have to look further than the pretty smooth Gasol-Odom combo vs. the Gasol-Bynum combo.

    As far as the Magic’s current roster goes, their depth is probably their biggest strength. During the long regular season this may end up helping them climb back to the top of the east in the stretch run (although Boston, when healthy, and to a lesser degree Cleveland are also solid in spots 6-8). But during the play-offs I’d say their well-working top seven from last year is more valuable then the increase in talent at the end of the bench.

  46. Ray “I don’t remember a game where the Lakers effort was less than 100%.” I think even the players would admit that they have become complacent at times. I don’t know if there are any players, except for Kobe, that can say they give 100% all of the time.

  47. Chris J wrote on January 17, 2010 at 9:26 pm
    Any team that takes on Vince Carter and expects to contend is fooling itself. The guy gets his numbers, but he’s never been a winner and he never will.
    ———-
    How right you are. Vince Carter has ALWAYS been, and it seems, will always BE, a loser. Why? Because for individuals with the talent level of a Kobe, Jordan, etc., the pressure is EXTREME. I mean, absolutely ridiculous. Vince used to have this pressure when he came into the league. He had the raw physical talents of a Kobe, but lacked Kobe’s desire/work ethic. Vince would rather “get his” and use the excuse of not having good teammates to justify why he has never led a team or even been on a team which has competed for a championship.

    Vince Carter has been in the league for like 12 years. He has only made the playoffs 6 times. Vince Carter HAS NEVER been past the 2nd round of the playoffs. In fact, the Nets went to the NBA finals back to back in 02 and 03. Vince got there the next year, and the Nets never again made it past the 2nd round of the playoffs.

    Vince doesn’t have the most important ingredient to a champion. Being a winner. He is a loser. Thus, no matter how much physical talent or skill he has, he can never be a champion. If he ever wins one, it’ll be on the back of someone else.