Orlando Magic v New York Knicks

How they can win it all: The Orlando Magic

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I’m going to get a few jokes out of the way before we start this, okay? I want to give the Magic their due. I do. And I will. I just have to get a few of these out of the way. See, I’ll even use bullets to keep it short.

How the Magic can win it all:

  • Use the time-traveling technology from the “Terminator” series to send Chris Duhon back (he’s expendable) and warn Otis Smith about Vince Carter/Gilbert Arenas.
  • Create magical formula to boost 3-point shooting efficiency by 700%, bringing them to a top five team.
  • Put Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson in a blender for six to seven minutes and hope a legit well-rounded power-forward comes out of it.
  • LET THE BEARDS PLAY!

Okay, so realistically what has to happen?

Shots Gotta Fall

The “Live by the three, die by the three” thing is played out. It really is. Every great team needs to hit some perimeter shots, and the Magic don’t shoot ill-advised threes (most of the time). It’s a product of their system. But that only works for them when they actually, you know, hit. The Magic are a great defensive team, but their postseason success has been defined by hot shooting. Gilbert Arenas absolutely must get hot if the Magic are going to have a chance. Ryan Anderson will help, as will a healthy J.J. Redick. But if Arenas is getting as many minutes as he does and still taking terrible threes and missing even worse, Orlando doesn’t have the weaponry it used to.

Dwight has to prove it

A lot of people think Dwight Howard should be the MVP over Derrick Rose. If he wants to make an Olajuwon like statement about his inevitable snub, now would be a great time to. Howard has the ability to take over a game and just overwhelm teams with his physical abilities. He has to put that kind of effort in, consistently, if the Magic are going to win it all. It has to be one of the great offensive showcases by a center in NBA history. I wish I was exaggerating. It has to be legendary. If he just goes through his 20-12 motions, it won’t be enough for the Magic to advance past the second round.

SVG has to keep their heads

SVG will lose the team eventually. That’s not a knock on SVG. He’s one of the top three coaches in the league in any given year. He’s a brilliant tactician, patient, motivates his guys and gets consistent effort. But if this team, whose chemistry is still an unknown, starts to drift, things will come apart. 2009’s success for Orlando was determined by faith in themselves, faith in the system. SVG has to keep getting his guys to buy in night after night.

In reality, there’s not a lot Orlando can do to win it all. Chicago’s defense will stifle them on the perimeter, Boston would pound them on the interior, the Heat would overwhelm them with firepower, and the Lakers, well, we’ve seen that act before. The window closed on Orlando despite their best efforts. The window was firmly open, and then just like that, it closed. If the Magic were to make the Finals and win, it would be one of the biggest upsets in NBA history.  The fact that the Magic were in the Finals just two years ago shows you how fast these things can change.

But if they get hot from the perimeter…

51 Q: Tom Thibodeau can coach, is he ready to run a franchise?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 12: Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls yells to his players in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 12, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bulls 106-101. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves were probably not going to get Tom Thibodeau without the promise of organizational control. After his contentious relationship with the Bulls’ front office led to his exit after five seasons in Chicago, he took a year-long sabbatical from coaching and observed how other organizations run their operations from both a coaching and a front-office standpoint. He was in high demand as a coaching free agent and could essentially name his price, and if he wanted personnel control too, he could have it. That’s what ended up happening in Minnesota, and Thibodeau will be the latest test case in whether the two-in-one model works. Thibodeau’s coaching ability is indisputable. How he’ll fare as an executive is a different question entirely.

The Timberwolves had a solid offseason after a rumored draft-night trade for Jimmy Butler fell apart. Given Thibodeau’s history of stubbornness and intractability, it was a valid fear that he’d take the same approach to roster-building as his former mentor Doc Rivers has in Los Angeles, simply bringing back all of his old mainstays from the Bulls days. With Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich on the market, the opportunity was there to get the band back together, spending too much money in the process and hindering the development of maybe the most promising young core in the NBA in the name of more wins in the short term.

But Thibodeau didn’t do that. Instead, he and GM Scott Layden plugged some holes with value deals. Getting Cold Aldrich for three years at $22 million gives them a more than serviceable backup center, and they landed Brandon Rush on a one-year deal for $3.5 million to provide some outside shooting. They didn’t do anything to sacrifice long-term flexibility and didn’t sign anyone that will get in the way of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine getting plenty of playing time.

The idea of a coach making personnel decisions is a dicey one for several reasons, not least of which being that it’s harder to have the emotional detachment to trade a player if you see them every day in practice. But the Chicago team Thibodeau inherited in 2010 was a readymade contender that needed a coaching upgrade. This Minnesota team isn’t there yet, and even his ability to get more wins than expected out of any roster he’s given won’t make them truly competitive in the upper echelon of the Western Conference playoff picture, at least not yet. So far, his moves reflect an understanding of that reality.

The first big roster decision Thibodeau will have to make during the season will be the point guard situation. Thibodeau loves Kris Dunn, whom he drafted at No. 5 overall in June, and Dunn provides shooting that Ricky Rubio does not. If Dunn takes the starting spot in training camp, Thibodeau will have to look long and hard at moving Rubio. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad could also wind up on the block, depending on how the rotation shakes out, and how Thibodeau fares at getting a return on his trades will be worth monitoring.

With that said, it’s pretty hard to screw up a core that includes Wiggins and Towns, and Thibodeau seems to know what he has in those two. As long as he can put complementary pieces around them and keep their development up to pace on the court, this experiment should prove to be a success.

Julius Randle lacerates hand, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

Julius Randle
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Julius Randle suffered a season-ending injury in his first NBA game.

His third pro season includes an even earlier setback.

Lakers release:

Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a laceration to his right hand (webbing between middle and ring fingers) yesterday while practicing. He received seven stitches and will be re-evaluated in approximately 14 days.

Thankfully, this doesn’t sound as major and happened well before training camp. Even if he needs twice as long to heal after his announced reevaluation, he’ll be ready for the preseason.

The key is getting Randle fully recovered. His ball-handling ability for a power forward is a key facet to his game, and a cut in his hand could impede it.

NBA rookies name Kevin Durant their favorite player

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses with his new jersey during the press conference where he was introduced as a member of the Golden State Warriors after they signed him as a free agent on July 7, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant faced tremendous backlash for leaving the Thunder for the Warriors.

But not from NBA rookies.

In the league’s annual rookie survey, a plurality of first-year players voted Durant their favorite player:

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State — 29.7%

T-2. Carmelo Anthony, New York — 9.4%

LeBron James, Cleveland — 9.4%

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City — 9.4%

T-5. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio — 6.3%

Kobe Bryant (retired) — 6.3%

Paul George, Indiana — 6.3%

Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers — 6.3%

T-9. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota — 4.7%

Others receiving votes: Vince Carter, Memphis; Stephen Curry, Golden State; Marc Gasol, Memphis; Kyrie Irving, Cleveland

This is the third straight year Durant has claimed the top spot, matching LeBron and Kobe for combined wins in the six years this question was asked of rookies:

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This is further evidence: If you resent Kevin Durant for exercising his right to switch employers after nine years with a company that acquired him by producing an awful product, you’re out of touch. Follow the kids’ lead and get with it.

Jason Terry: Luke Walton ‘utterly declined’ my offer to provide Lakers veteran leadership

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 19:  Guard Jason Terry #31 of the Dallas Mavericks takes a shot against Luke Walton #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on January 19, 2011 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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Before signing with the Bucks, Jason Terry said he reached out to multiple contenders.

He also spoke with the Lakers.

Terry tried to leverage his relationship with Lakers coach Luke Walton, who also played at Arizona (though their time there didn’t overlap).

Terry on SiriusXM NBA Radio.

I called my good friend Luke. I told him if he needed any help, veteran leadership, in that capacity – Lakers – with an ability to coach at the end of my deal, then that was something I would be looking forward to. He utterly declined, and I respect him for that.

Gotta love a guy who announces to the world his pitch of providing veteran leadership was “utterly declined.”

The Lakers should be just fine with Jose Calderon and Luol Deng.