Are the Magic contenders now?

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Through the summer’s free agent frenzy, the Orlando Magic sat on the sidelines with a Zen-like calmness. They were confident the pieces were already in place to beat Boston this time around if they could just stay healthy. Same with the Heat.

A quarter of the way into the season that was clearly not the case. The Magic had a $94 million payroll that likely would have had them losing in the second round.

So Saturday the Magic tried to change their fortune with a dramatic roster shakeup. Gone are Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Marcin Gortat, and Mickael Pietrus. In are Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and a newfound hope.

Should there be hope? Are the Magic really better? Are they good enough to challenge the top two in the East?

Maybe, but they have taken on a lot of risk and a lot more long-term salary. They now have guys who will not shrink from the spotlight. They have given themselves a lot of versatility.

But all that is different than having enough talent — and talent that blends well — and those doubts remain.

What Orlando is going to do on offense will not change — pick-and-roll and spread the floor with shooters. One thing these trades do is give Stan Van Gundy more options: Jameer Nelson with Dwight Howard/Brandon Bass/Turkoglu/any of the 18,000 people in the Amway Center; Jason Richardson with Bass or Turkoglu; Turkoglu with Bass or Howard or Ryan Anderson. Arenas also can be a pick-and-roll ball handler and in Washington this season was just about as effective at that as he was in isolation. Which wasn’t great.

The theory is now Orlando can find the mismatch and attack it a variety of ways. It’s a nice theory, but to execute it means a couple of wild cards have to fill out the flush.

What I love about this move for the Magic is Jason Richardson — he is an underrated two guard. He is a big upgrade over Vince Carter  — Richardson will stretch the floor as he shoots 10 percent better from three (a key part of the Orlando offense). Richardson is also a much better rebounder. Carter was supposed to be there to create more off the dribble, but at this point in their careers Richardson can do that about as well. And you’ll get a few thunderous dunks.

What would worry me if I were an Orlando fan is the depth in the middle — the drop off from Dwight Howard to Earl Clark is like falling off K2. Now you mix in Howard’s propensity for foul trouble and you could see some funky lineups as Stan Van Gundy tries to figure out what will work on any given night. Bass played some backup center in Dallas, he will do that again. Or, you might see the Magic make a trade for a backup center.

Well, one more quick little worry for Orlando — come the playoffs when they have to match up against a Paul Pierce or a LeBron James, Pietrus and his defense would have been handy to have around. Even if his offense had been off this season.

In the end there are two wild cards that will determine if the Magic are again contenders, if this trade works out for them.

One is Turkoglu. He may well come off the bench with Brandon Bass starting next to Howard, but Hedo is going to get his chance. Except, he had chances in Toronto and Phoenix the last two years and blew those.

Turkoglu had a nice playoff run in Orlando but he was not fantastic all season, a bit of a myth seems to have grown up around him that inflates his value. He had his best success with the Magic when Jameer Nelson was down and he could run the pick-and-roll with Rashard Lewis — except now Nelson is here and Lewis is gone now. Can he have the same success with Ryan Anderson and Howard? Can he even still run the pick-and-roll that well? In limited attempts in Phoenix this season he did not do well (generating 0.64 points per possession) and shot just 40 percent (and 0-7 fr0m three). That said — and despite the poor fit in Phoenix — he is shooting better on threes and long twos this season than he did in his last season in Orlando, and better than Lewis has for the Magic. If he can knock down those shots, if he can provide some shot creation like he did three years ago, then this works out. If he is the Hedo we saw in Toronto, the Magic have a big contract that will sit buried on their bench.

The other wild card is Arenas. He has been injured and just did not look comfortable in Washington, on John Wall’s team. Maybe the new surroundings, a new team with something to really play for, rejuvenates him. More Arenas will mean less Chris Duhon, and that is an upgrade for the Magic. But the question is can Arenas return to near what he was before the suspension — the Magic need that guy who can create on the wing. In theory Arenas should be able to do that better than Carter at this point in their careers, but will he?

The Magic used basically every good tradable asset on the roster — and some contracts we didn’t think tradable — to make this happen. They have huge cash outlays in a couple years for guys getting old. Otis Smith has gone all in. But a lot of things need to go right for Orlando for this to push them past Boston and Miami. A second round playoff exit is still very possible. Probably even likely.

Unless you believe in wild cards.

Top five 2018 All-Star Game snubs

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We fans love to talk about who gets snubbed. There are 68 teams in the NCAA tournament and we argue about who was 69th and deserved to be there.

With the NBA All-Star game, there are always legitimate snubs — and with the Western Conference so ridiculously deep this season good players were going to get left out. Just picking my reserve choices for a podcast felt brutal.

We now know the All-Star Game starters and reserves, so who got snubbed. Here are the top five.

1) Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers. Los Angeles has been devastated by injuries this season (not to mention losing Chris Paul in the off-season) yet they are still in the playoff hunt in the West and the main reason is Lou Williams. The leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate is averaging 23.3 points per game, 5,3 assists a night, and is shooting better than 40 percent from three. He had a red-hot January so far, averaging 29.2 points per game. This may be a case where Damian Lillard got the nod from the coaches for his multi-year body of work (he’s been good a long time), but Williams is having his best season ever and has a great case.

2) Chris Paul, Houston Rockets. He likely didn’t get selected because he has missed 17 games this season — but Stephen Curry missed 15 and is a captain. When CP3 has played he’s been brilliant, averaging 19.1 points and 8.9 assists per game, he’s been crucial to improving the Rockets defense this season, and when he is on the court the Rockets outscore opponents by 10.9 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets are 23-5 when he plays. Houston is the second best team in the NBA, they should have more than one representative tonight.

3) Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons. The coaches went with four guards for the East reserves, and that left just three frontcourt spots and four deserving players. Drummond is the odd-man out. Which sucks — he is averaging 14.3 points per game on 54 percent shooting, and he remains the best rebounder in the game today pulling down 15 a night. He has improved his defensive play as well, but what everyone notices is he hitting his free throws (62.9 percent) and that means Stan Van Gundy can play him at the end of games and not sub him out.

Drummond was more than a little frustrated he didn’t make the cut.

4) Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder. George has played well on both ends this season next to Russell Westbrook. He is averaging 20.8 points per game and shooting 42.9 percent from three on one end of the floor, and defensively he is averaging 4.4 deflections per game and has 93 steals — both tops in the league. George is a four-time All-Star and it feels weird to see him left out, but he came to the ridiculously deep Western Conference and good players were not going to make it. He’s the odd man out in the frontcourt.

5) Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets. Could have got a lot of directions here – Ben Simmons and Goran Dragic can make their cases on appeal — but people have been sleeping on just how well Walker has been playing this season. Walker is averaging an efficient 21.8 points per game, dishing out 5.9 assists per night, and when he is on the court the Hornets outscore teams by 5.1 points per 100 possessions (that’s better than the Celtics or Timberwolves net ratings for the season). The problem is when he sits they fall apart, and Walker pays the price for his team struggling this season. His name has popped up in trade rumors, and he is the best guy available right now (not that he gets moved in a tight market). Walker was an All-Star last season and had a very strong case to be one again.

Lou Williams, Andre Drummond are #madonline about All-Star snubs

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Lou Williams is having a career year. He’s done everything for the ailing Los Angeles Clippers, who have turned things around and are battling for the No. 8 seed in the West.

Likewise, Andre Drummond is having a statistically important year for the Detroit Pistons as he leads the league in rebounding and in defensive box plus/minus.

Needless to say, both of them had a strong case to make the 2018 NBA All-Star Game. The only problem is that neither of them did.

That had both Williams and Drummond speaking their minds on Twitter on Tuesday, letting fans know what they thought about their snubs.

Warning: NSFW language ahead.

Via Twitter:

Who should have been left off the East and West teams in voting, respectively, to make room for Williams and Drummond? No doubt this will be some topic of discussion for years to come as both players use it as fuel for the rest of the season.

All-Star reserves announced, Kristaps Porzingis, Damian Lillard make cut

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Last week the All-Star Game starters were announced, and a few players felt burned by the selections.

Now the reserves have been announced, and the real snubs happen.

As a reminder, the NBA is trying to inject some life into this staid event by having LeBron James and Stephen Curry — the top vote-getters in each conference by the fans — named captains who will pick the All-Star teams. Playground style. Just one after the other, whoever they want from either conference (but not televised… boo), first from the pool of other starters selected by fans, media, and current players, then from the list of reserves selected by the coaches (those coaches had to choose two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wild-cards for each conference). Curry and LeBron can pick anyone — if Lebron wants to choose James Harden, he can.

Here are who the coaches chose to round out the rosters:

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Russell Westbrook
Klay Thompson
Damian Lillard
Jimmy Butler
LaMarcus Aldridge
Draymond Green
Karl-Anthony Towns

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyle Lowry
Victor Oladipo
John Wall
Bradley Beal
Kristaps Porzingis
Al Horford
Kevin Love

The Warriors become the first team to have four All-Stars in consecutive years.

There are four first-time All-Stars in there: Towns, Beal, Oladipo, and Porzingis.

So who got snubbed? The West was so deep there was just no way to get all the deserving guys in, but the biggest snubs are the Clippers’ Lou Williams (he has carried that team), Chris Paul of the Rockets (probably due to missed time), and the Thunder’s Paul George. Out East Andre Drummond was just off the board, as were Goran Dragic and Ben Simmons.

Just as a reminder, the starters are, from the West, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins; and from the East Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid.

The All-Star Game is Feb. 18 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant nominated for Oscar

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Does Kobe Bryant need another trophy? He might get one – at the Oscars.

Bryant, the retired Los Angeles Lakers star, was nominated in the animated short category for “Dear Basketball,” based on a poem he wrote in 2015 announcing his impending retirement from basketball. He was nominated along with veteran Disney animator Glen Keane.

Bryant’s poem begins: “Dear Basketball, from the moment I started rolling my dad’s tube socks, and shooting imaginary game-winning shots in the Great Western Forum, I knew one thing was real: I fell in love with you.”

It reflects on how time is running out. “I can’t love you obsessively for much longer,” it says. “This season is all I have left to give. My heart can take the pounding, my mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”

It ends by counting down the final five seconds on a game clock:

Bryant, 39, a five-time NBA champion, played 20 seasons with the Lakers before retiring last year.