Are the Magic contenders now?


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.

JaVale McGee apparently makes Warriors regular-season roster

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 15:  JaVale McGee #1 of the Golden State Warriors brings the ball up the court against the Los Angeles Lakers during their preseason game at T-Mobile Arena on October 15, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Golden State won 112-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Steve Kerr warned us, but it’s still difficult to digest.

The NBA’s best team will have the league’s most foolhardy player.

Yes, the Warriors are apparently keeping JaVale McGee.

Golden State waived its other three players without guaranteed salaries today: Elliot Williams, Phil Pressey and Cameron Jones. That drops the Warriors’ roster, including McGee, to 15, the regular-season limit. Unless Golden State prefers to open the season with a vacancy, McGee made the team.

McGee earned the job with a strong preseason. No Warriors match his rim protection, giving him clear value in certain matchups

Zaza Pachulia remains Golden State’s starting center, and Draymond Green will play plenty at the position. But I wouldn’t be surprised if McGee outperforms an aging Anderson Varejao (whose primary skill is flopping) and a rookie Damian Jones (who’s recovering from injury) to become a rotation regular.

McGee also has potential to add comic relief to what’s already a tremendous viewing experience.

Report: Kings and Thunder were ‘seriously engaged’ on Rudy Gay-Cameron Payne trade until Payne got hurt

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 03:  Rudy Gay #8 of the Sacramento Kings during the first half at American Airlines Center on March 3, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Kings are still looking for answers at point guard.

Darren Collison? Not for the season’s first eight games, at least.

Ty Lawson? Um…

Seth Curry? Too late.

Ricky Rubio? Not right now.

Goran Dragic? I mean, maybe, I guess.

Cameron Payne?

If it weren’t for Payne’s foot injury, perhaps Rudy Gay would play for the Thunder.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Kings were seriously engaged with Oklahoma City on a Rudy Gay deal that would’ve included the Thunder’s second-year point guard, Cameron Payne, but those talks stalled after Payne broke his foot in September, league sources said.

This suggest the Kings are not as steadfast on keeping Gay as they’ve suggested, so perhaps we’ll see more trade rumors involving him.

A deal based around Gay and Payne would’ve made sense for both teams.

Sacramento would get a younger player (22 to Gay’s 30) and someone under greater team control (three more years on a rookie-scale contract then restricted free agency rather than Gay planning to opt out and become an unrestricted free agent). Payne would give the Kings much-needed hope at point guard, and he could grow with a team trying to retool around DeMarcus Cousins.

Oklahoma City is far more capable of winning now, even without Kevin Durant, and Gay would help by replacing some of Durant’s scoring punch at small forward. Such a deal could hinder the Thunder down the road, but they seem so intent on making a statement behind Russell Westbrook this season. The bigger concern than swapping Payne’s future for Gay’s present might be Gay opting in and interrupting Oklahoma City’s bigger goals for next summer.

Alas, Payne’s injury puts such a trade on hold, if not closing the window for it entirely.

Elton Brand retires ‘for real, this time’

BOSTON, MA - MAY 12:  Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers celebrates a shot in the first quarter against the Boston Celtics in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Elton Brandretired” last year, though he left the door open for a return.

The 76ers, desperate for a veteran presence, signed him last January. They even re-signed him this offseason.

But Brand wont stick with Philadelphia into the regular season.

Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly:

Brand had a $1 million guarantee on his contract. It’s unclear how much, if any, of that money he’ll get. The first $980,431 would come from the 76ers, any more would come from the league. Philadelphia is far enough below the salary floor to give him a parting gift with minimal team-building constraint.

There had been talk of Brand surviving from the 20-man offseason roster to the 15-man regular-season roster, but this provides clarity for the 76ers. Undrafted rookies James Webb III, Brandon Paul, Cat Barber and Shawn Long are the other likely cuts.

If this is truly the end for Brand, he had a fantastic career since the Bulls drafted him No. 1 overall in 1999. Neither his peak (seventh in 2006 MVP voting, leading the Clippers that year to their first playoff-series victory in Los Angeles) nor longevity (17 seasons, including eight averaging at 20 points and nine rebounds per game) have been properly appreciated.

J.R. Smith denies racism toward Jeremy Lin

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 19:  Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks reacts with teammate J.R. Smith #8 during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at Madison Square Garden on February 19, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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Jeremy Lin sensibly noted how his Asian-American heritage has influenced his basketball career, for better or worse.

Among the negatives: It made it harder for Lin to gain acceptance as a basketball player.

But did J.R. Smith show that prejudice against Lin while they played together with the Knicks? That’s what Craig Carton claimed when Lin appeared on Boomer & Carton.

  • Carton: “Let me say directly what we think went on, and you tell me if you felt it or if I’m right. There’s the thought – and I believe this, so I’ll say it’s my thought, maybe no one else’s – that there’s a racial component that because you’re a Chinese-American player, that certain African-American players in your locker room, J.R. Smith being one of them, did not want to accept you as a ballplayer. And when you were offered money to play and this big contract comes your way, there’s resentment because of where you’re from and who you are. Did you ever feel that?”
  • Lin: “Yeah, I don’t know. That’s such a hard question, because I’ve never spoken to him or anybody directly about it. So, it’s all speculation. Do I think that – I’ve never spoken to J.R. about it. I’ve never spoken to whoever else you might think about it. And so it’s hard for me, because I don’t want come out and speculate. I will just say, the one thing I will say is that race has been a huge part of my journey ever since I was a child trying to play basketball. So, I do think there’s always that type of component that would be involved, but again, I’ve always said, it’s a double-edged sword. It comes with the good. It comes with the bad. And the bad is, yeah, sometimes I’m different. I look different, and I’m treated different, and that’s a negative thing. And in some ways that’s a really positive thing, too. Linsanity wouldn’t have been Linsanity if I was white or black or whatever. Part of the reason why it was so crazy is because I’m Asian. So to answer your question, I do think race definitely plays a part into it. I think it always has. And to what degree or to how much or to who felt what, that I can’t really specifically give a good answer for you.”

Smith responded emphatically:

I can’t speak to what’s in Smith’s mind, but I’m going to need better evidence than Carton’s unsubstantiated claim that Smith showed racism toward Lin before I believe it.