In preparation for Sunday’s match up with the Orlando Magic, I exchanged emails and questions with Eddy Rivera from the Magic Blog, Orlando Pinstriped Post. I’d like to thank him for taking the time to answer some of my questions regarding the team that we faced in last year’s Finals and giving us a more informed look at the team we’ll see tomorrow.
The acquisition of Vince Carter was a move that was considered a gamble by many critics. No one doubts Vince’s ability, but many wondered if he would fit in as well as Hedo. At this point in the season, how would you judge this trade off? If you could go back and undo the deal that sent away Courtney Lee and held on to Turkoglu, would you?
I like the trade when it happened and I like the trade now. Assimilating Vince Carter into the collective wasn’t a smooth process for the Orlando Magic. Up until the month of February, Magic fans were treated to two extremes of Carter. On offense, Carter was being either too aggressive or too passive. The over-agressiveness became an issue because shots were being taken away from Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that Carter was inefficient on the offensive side of the ball. At the time, I stated that Orlando needed to move away from a Carter-centric offense and get Howard involved more so that the team could have a more balanced attack. Howard has always been the #1 option for the Magic since head coach Stan Van Gundy arrived to the team a few years ago, but Carter’s arrival temporarily disrupted the natural flow of things.
After Howard had an embarrassing performance against the Portland Trail Blazers on January 15th, the issues that plagued Orlando on the offensive side of the ball were solved. Sort of. The Magic offense refocused on Howard, he had an excellent game against the Los Angeles Lakers a few days later, and he hasn’t looked back since, but a new problem emerged. Carter, at the time, was mired in a career-worst slump and he wasn’t snapping out of it. Because of that fact, Carter was barely shooting the basketball sometimes in games. Carter deserves a lot of credit because he tried to do his part in making up for the lack of offensive production by focusing more of his efforts on the defensive end of the floor. But Carter was brought in to be a playmaker and he wasn’t fulfilling his responsibilities.
Eventually, Carter regressed to the mean and he finally found a happy medium on offense. Since the beginning of February, Carter is performing efficiently and playing the way everyone expected him to play.
To answer the second part of the question, no, I wouldn’t undo the trade. Holding onto Hedo Turkoglu and acquiescing to his financial demands would have been catastrophic for the Magic moving forward. Courtney Lee was a nice player but as we’ve seen this year, Orlando isn’t lacking for wing players so it made sense to swap him for Ryan Anderson. A subtle but coy move by general manager Otis Smith to acquire another stretch four and a younger player, despite Anderson’s recent struggles.
Besides Carter, the team made many other changes from last year. This team also added Matt Barnes, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, and Jason Williams. That’s a lot of new players for a team coming off a trip to the Finals. How have the additions worked out so far? Are you happy with the way that Van Gundy handles the rotations? Does this team have too much talent?
The additions have worked out fine, for the most part. Barnes has been an excellent compliment as a starter to the four All-Stars, Williams has been a pleasant surprise as a reserve at his age, Anderson started out the season on fire but has cooled off since then, and Bass is chipping in here and there.
Van Gundy has handled the rotations well. Because of the abundance of talent on the roster, Van Gundy has opted for a 10-man rotation. For the majority of the year, the odd man out was Bass because Anderson was the better fit and the better player backing up Rashard Lewis at power forward. But as mentioned before, Anderson has struggled on offense lately, which has opened the door for Bass to see some consistent playing time the past week or so. That and Van Gundy wants Bass prepared for the stretch run. Whether or not this trend continues remains to be seen, but it’s an interesting storyline that has developed recently and has sparked debate.
Does Orlando have too much talent? No. The Magic were stricken with a slew of injuries and sicknesses (a suspension, too) in the early portion of the season and if it was almost any other team in the NBA, there would have been issues concerning how to replace a player or two. But for Orlando, it was no big deal. Rashard Lewis’ 10-game suspension? Plug in Ryan Anderson. Jameer Nelson’s injury? Plug in Jason Williams. Vince Carter’s injuries? Plug in J.J. Redick. The Magic didn’t miss a beat in those instances and that’s because the team has the fortune of being one of the deepest in the league. When the playoffs come, Van Gundy will probably shorten the rotation a little bit but he’ll have the luxury of having options on the bench when matchup situations arise.
Many “experts” are already penciling Cleveland into the Finals. However, last year the Magic beat the Cavs in the playoffs. How do you think the Magic match up with the Cavs this season? Do you even think the Cavs are the Magic’s biggest threat in the playoffs?
Well, aside from Zydrunas Ilgauskas being absent from the proceedings, the Cleveland Cavaliers were practically at full strength when the Magic beat ‘em at home a few weeks ago. I think that game was important for Orlando’s psyche, especially because it won despite excellent games from LeBron James, Antawn Jamison, and Shaquille O’Neal. It’s no secret that the Cavaliers have made some changes to its roster to better match up with the Magic. But despite all the additions, Orlando was able to beat Cleveland with both rosters – more or less – having their full arsenal of players. Granted, the Cavaliers have beaten the Magic twice this year, albeit under favorable circumstances. In the first game, Lewis (suspension) and Anderson (injury) were absent, which left Orlando without a stretch four to cause problems for Cleveland. In both losses, the Magic were on the second night of a back-to-back, which didn’t allow Van Gundy ample time to prepare for the Cavaliers. Sounds like excuses, I know, but they’re facts and they should be noted. On the flip-side, I know that Delonte West and Mo Williams each missed a game in the season series (both were Cleveland wins) so it goes both ways.
And yes, the Cavaliers are the Magic’s biggest threat in the playoffs (if you asked me before the year, I would have said the Boston Celtics due to matchups). I would say vice-versa, too. Cleveland is the favorite to make it to the NBA Finals from the Eastern Conference and no offense to Boston, but Orlando is the only team in the East that is capable of not making that a reality.
Last season, Jameer Nelson was an all-star and was a terror to the Lakers. However, this season he has not played up to that same standard. What’s been the difference this year? Is it really just injuries? Or are there certain aspects of his game that you’ve really noticed a drop off?
Well, I’ll start off by stating that Jameer Nelson is playing like an All-Star again. And the simple reason why is because Nelson is finally healthy. There’s other reasons, too, but that’s the main one.
From the start of the season up until a few weeks ago, Nelson was barely healthy. Nelson got hurt on November 16th against the Charlotte Bobcats, sat out a month to recover from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, and then came back on December 21st against the Utah Jazz. But when Nelson returned to the starting lineup, he didn’t look right. Nelson explains why:
“With a knee injury, a weight-bearing injury, I was just playing games,” Nelson said. “I couldn’t practice. I couldn’t practice at all. If I did practice it would be only half court. The first part of practice, first 25, 30 minutes of practice were just sitting down. So one thing was being in shape, but another thing was having a rhythm. I didn’t have a rhythm at all.”
That’s it in a nutshell.
Everyone expected Nelson to regress to the mean this year after his torrid shooting pace last year but his dip in production was too extreme and that’s because he wasn’t healthy. But now that Nelson is healthy, all is well and he’s playing at the standard he set last year. Looking back at the situation, it seems like the All-Star break did Nelson some good. Right?
Thank you again to Eddy from Orlando Pinstriped Post. Go visit his site and you can read what I said when he had some questions for me. We’ll have more on tomorrow’s match up a bit later, but this is a good place to start when looking at one of the better teams in the league and a definite contender come June.