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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.

Brandon Ingram far from soft, but going to have to get stronger to do what he wants in NBA

Los Angeles Lakers' Brandon Ingram shoots against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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When you see Brandon Ingram in person, you can’t help but have your first thought be “man, is he skinny.”

When he starts to play then you see why he went No. 2 in last June’s draft to the Lakers — he has a smooth, fluid game, can shoot the three, good IQ,  he even ran the offense at points, and looked like a modern NBA four who can do a lot of damage down the line in the league.

Once he gets stronger. Teams at the NBA Summer League tried to cover him often with shorter but physically stronger players — the Sixers’ Jerami Grant, for example — and Ingram struggled with that. It will only get worse once real NBA games start.

Just don’t confuse his physical strength with being soft, scouts and coaches of other teams told Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s a difference between being soft and being weak. He’s just weak right now. He’s not soft, by any stretch of the imagination,” a Western Conference head coach said of Ingram. “The kid is skilled. He’s got a good basketball IQ. He’s going to be more than fine. I think the Lakers got themselves a big-time player who is going to be around a long time.”

“I saw a good-looking prospect,” an Eastern Conference scout said of Ingram. “There were some games where he excelled, and there were some games where he struggled. But overall . . . he’s a matchup nightmare.”…

“Every time somebody got physical with him or leaned on him, he just wilted. He just kind of folded. And he was kind of like that the rest of the summer league,” a Western Conference assistant coach said of Ingram. “It’s going to be interesting to see how he adjusts to the NBA. The summer league is not the league.”

It’s going to take Ingram a season or two to put his imprint on the NBA. He’s got to get stronger, and like every rookie he’s got to see how his game and skill set fits in the league. What can he do, what should he stay away from.

What you had to like if you’re a Laker fan is how hard he continued to play, how he got better as Summer League went on. Then he stayed in Las Vegas as was part of the USA Basketball select team, where he was pushed around by the Olympians and challenged by the other guys just starting in the NBA. It’s a great learning experience. Both those situations were also chances to bond with Laker star D'Angelo Russell, both on and off the court.

There’s a lot to like with Ingram. Now someone get that kid a protein shake.

 

Report: Some in Chris Bosh camp suspicious of Heat’s intentions

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 25:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat watches on from the bench against the Charlotte Hornets during game four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 25, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
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Pat Riley said he’s open to Chris Bosh playing this season.

Not everyone is convinced of the Heat president’s authenticity.

Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald:

Some in the Bosh camp remain angry and suspicious of the Heat’s intentions, wondering if Miami was motivated by clearing cap space. A Heat source insists this is not the case, that Miami wants him to play if doctors are comfortable with it.

An NBA-employed friend says Bosh very much wants to play and believes he should be cleared. If the Heat fights him on this, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bosh takes this issue to the players union

one issue that has been discussed is whether Bosh should come off blood thinners or continue taking them, according to a person briefed on the matter.

If Bosh comes off the medication this summer, there’s no reason why he couldn’t play.

But even if he stays on the thinners, Bosh has tried to convince the Heat to allow him to play while taking a new medication that would be out of his system in 8 to 12 hours, or by game-time, thus lessening or eliminating the inherent risks of playing a contact sport while on thinners.

It’s hard to believe the Heat have nefarious intentions — not just because they reportedly expect Bosh to play next season, but because a salary-cap workaround would likely fail.

If Bosh goes a year without playing (last game:Feb. 9), Miami waives him and a doctor approved by the NBA and players union says Bosh’s condition is career-ending, the Heat could exclude Bosh’s salary from team salary. He’d still get paid. He just wouldn’t count toward the cap.

So, the $75,868,170 Bosh is owed the next three years is protected. It’s just a matter of whether Miami frees cap space.

But even the Heat sitting Bosh for a year and convincing a union-approved doctor of Bosh’s inability to safely play wouldn’t be enough.

If Bosh plays 25 games for another team after an injury exclusion, his salary would be put back on Miami’s books. That might allow the Heat temporary cap room to sign someone, but with Bosh’s salary applied, their luxury-tax bill would be prohibitively enormous.

So, we’re probably back to the previous questions:

Can Bosh safely play while on blood thinners? Probably not, though there might not be total agreement on that.

Does Bosh need to continue taking blood thinners? That’s a much more complicated question. Hence, the lack of a resolution to this issue.

Kevin Durant better get used to it: He was booed at Team USA introductions in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 24:  Kevin Durant #5 of the United States dribbles upcourt against China during the second half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at Staples Center on July 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant is a villain to many now.

Including some delusional fans in Los Angeles, who thought he might come to the Lakers (the real question becomes: is Jim Buss in this group). He didn’t even give the Lakers a meeting.

So he got some boos when being introduced before the Team USA rout of China at Staples Center Sunday (there may have been some Clippers fans in that booing group too). It was a mixed reaction, but no doubt there was some people letting him hear it.

He can expect to hear a lot more of this next season as he and his Warriors teammates travel around the league. Plenty of people are now rooting against him.

As for why the Lakers didn’t even get a meeting with KD, he had a very reasonable reason (something he said while in Las Vegas for the USA training camp last week.

“Nothing against the Lakers, but I already had my mind set on who I wanted to talk to,” Durant said. “I really respect their team. I just thought they were a couple years away from where I wanted to be.”

 

Team USA teammates clown DeAndre Jordan for airballed free throw (video)

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Team USA didn’t have much to worry about in its exhibition out of China yesterday.

So, Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant focused on a bigger issue: DeAndre Jordan‘s airballed free throw: