What the Magic should do when the lockout ends

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PBT is working its way through what every team in the NBA should do when the NBA lockout ends. See all the teams we’ve done so far here. Today, we talk Orlando Magic.

Last season in Orlando: They had a solid regular season — 52 wins, which was fourth best in the Eastern Conference. But they also clearly were not going to compete with Miami, Chicago and Boston to win the conference, so GM Otis Smith made some moves — out went Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and Marcin Gortat (he was the only one of the three really missed). In came Hedo Turkoglu, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson.

It didn’t help. In the playoffs the Magic ran into a Hawks team that could single-cover Dwight Howard with Jason Collins, and while Howard could still get his it allowed the Hawks to not double as often and stick with the Magic’s perimeter shooters. Jameer Nelson and Turkoglu really couldn’t create shots for everyone and the result was the Hawks bouncing the Magic in the first round.

Then there was panic.

Since we last saw the Magic… Not much has changed. There were all sorts of rumors that Nelson would be traded around the draft, but nothing happened. Orlando traded for the rights to Justin Harper (a projected stretch four) and DeAndre Liggins (good perimeter defender) in the second round. They have big man Daniel Orton, who played some in the D-League before a major knee injury sidelined him last season. All potential nice fits, but not impact guys who are really going to change things.

When the lockout ends, the Magic need to… pray, sacrifice a virgin in a volcano, go down to the crossroads and make a Faustian deal — whatever it takes to keep Dwight Howard in Orlando. That also means is shake up the roster, although that is easier said than done.

Few teams will be as impacted by the final form of the new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement as the Orlando Magic.

If, as has been discussed, there is a “Melo Rule” put in place Orlando’s position improves. This rule is designed to prevent how Carmelo Anthony held Denver hostage last season (at least that’s how the owners see it, I thought he was more up front than LeBron James had been). It would say no team can sign a player to a “Bird rights” extension of his existing deal if the trade happened after July 1 — meaning you can’t trade for Howard in the middle of next season and give him the big, big bucks. It would force Howard to chose next year — sign a max extension with Orlando, pick up his extension and stay another year (at $19.5 million) or take much less to walk away. (How much less, and how much the Magic can sign him for are all part of the CBA talks.)

If there is no ‘Melo rule, Orlando could find itself in the shoes Denver was in last season. And like the Nuggets they will be faced with a brutal choice.

Even if there is a ‘Melo rule, Howard might still opt out and walk if he doesn’t think Orlando can build a winner around him. This much is clear: right now the Magic’s roster needs to be reworked. Jason Richardson is out as a free agent, so that is step one (Orlando is not brining him back except at a drastically reduced price tag).

There likely will be an amnesty deal in the new CBA that would allow the Magic to wipe Gilbert Arenas’ contract off the books (likely both from the tax and the salary cap). If so, that will help. But even without him the Magic have $56.3 million on the books in salary (for nine players). We don’t know what the new cap will be, but last year it was $58 million and it will likely go down, not up. Meaning the Magic can’t just go buy a free agent to fit in. Not that there is a great free agent crop anyway.

GM Otis Smith is going to have to pull a rabbit out of his hat — and it’s got to be a better gambit than the Richardson/Arenas one last year. Can he find some team to take on Turkoglu’s contract (which has two more years at $22.8 million then a $6 million buyout for the third year)? Does someone want Nelson? There likely will be teams looking to get rid of big salary players after they see the new labor deal, there will be some guys cut free in amnesty moves, but getting a real game changer to pair with Dwight Howard will be hard.

But it’s that or trade Howard. A trade is what everyone outside of Orlando wants the Magic to do (so long as Orlando trades Howard to said fan’s favorite team), but in Orlando the clear goal is to keep him. If a ‘Melo rule prevents Howard from basically forcing a trade, Smith will have more options. But still not many good ones. Nobody really will give up much for what the Magic have on their roster, and the Magic need to get another star.

The bottom line is the Magic are still a good team. A second tier contender with some nice role playing parts — J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, even Quentin Richardson. But right now for Orlando, good is not good enough. They need to be contenders with a future where Howard can see competing with Miami and Chicago. If not, he may just walk away.

No team may have a tougher road when the lockout ends than the Magic.

Kevin Durant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: “I would tell him to play for himself”

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Kevin Durant was once the big star in a little city. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star now plays for the Golden State Warriors, and has a championship ring to his name after making a switch in 2016.

So Durant has at least some experience similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is currently leading the charge for the Bucks against the Boston Celtics in the first round, and he’s seen as the future in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2016, so presumably he’ll be in Wisconsin for some time.

Meanwhile, Durant had some advice for Antetokounmpo, should he ask for it. In a feature on ESPN, Durant was quoted as saying he felt Antetokounmpo should be sure to have fun, and to play for himself.

Via ESPN:

What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.

That’s some pretty good advice, although factors surrounding Antetokounmpo will likely weigh the same as they did on Durant in OKC. The Bucks presumably need a new coach once their season ends. They’re currently helmed by interim coach Joe Prunty, who took over when Jason Kidd was fired earlier this year.

The Bucks also need to fill out their roster and find a way to stay healthy. The Thunder famously had roster issues (read: the James Harden trade) and eventually the lack of playoff success drove Durant to switch teams.

Milwaukee doesn’t seem close to that kind of juncture, although eventually things will flip for the young Bucks and fans and management will expect some kind of production in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in, series goes 2-2 (VIDEO)

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.

Report: Ime Udoka, Ettore Messina, David Fizdale to interview for Hornets job

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The Charlotte Hornets have a new GM in Mitch Kupchak. Upon taking the helm, Kupchak made short work of firing head coach Steve Clifford.

Now, the Hornets need a new coach and they have quite a few names to choose from.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Hornets will be interviewing current San Antonio Spurs assistants Ime Udoka and Ettore Messina along with former Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale.

Via Twitter:

All three have extensive coaching experience under their belts. Udoka played in the NBA for seven seasons and has been an assistant coach in San Antonio since 2012.

Messina is a four-time Euroleague champion as a coach, and a two-time winner of the Euroleague Coach of the Year award. He’s coached abroad and in the U.S. since 1989, and he’s been with the Spurs since 2014.

Fizdale coached the Grizzlies for two seasons. Before that he was a longtime assistant coach with the Miami Heat under Erik Spoelstra.

Hornets star Kemba Walker said that who the team chose as GM would influence his decision to re-sign after 2018-19. Walker loved Clifford, so who Charlotte picks as coach could carry significant weight with Walker as well.

LeBron James, Cavaliers hope to even series with Pacers

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — LeBron James has been in this playoff position before, just not in the first round.

With Cleveland down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers in the first round, James was asked if Game 4 in Indianapolis Sunday was a must win.

“It’s the postseason,” said James, who is 10-0 in his career in first-round playoff series with Cleveland and Miami. “Every game is a must win. You want to come in and play well and win no matter what. No matter if you have home-court advantage or if you’re starting on the road, that’s the mindset you have to have. I felt like (Friday) was a must win. We didn’t win, obviously, but it’s the same mindset on Sunday.”

James, who scored 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and delivered eight assists in a 92-90 road loss Friday night, rejected what he felt were reporters’ attempts to ask if the other players needed to do more.

“You guys think I’m going to throw my teammates under the bus? I’m not about that,” James said. “Guys just, we have to be better, including myself. Had six turnovers (Friday). I was horrible in the third quarter, couldn’t make a shot. If I had made some better plays in the third quarter, the lead doesn’t skip.”

The Pacers cut a 17-point halftime deficit to six points in the third quarter and finally took their first lead in the fourth quarter.

“We know we all gotta play better as a collective group, no matter who it is,” James said. “We got production to start the game and in the second half there wasn’t much production. We still had a chance to win. We’ve got to regroup and figure how we can be better in Game 4.”

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavaliers were limited because George Hill‘s back “locked up” in the second half. Hill played only nine minutes in the second half, scoring two of his 13 points. Lue used James and Jordan Clarkson rather than backup point guard Jose Calderon in the fourth quarter. If Hill can’t go Sunday, Lue said he will likely start Calderon.

Hill had an MRI on Saturday, but the results weren’t back. He is listed as questionable for Game 4 with back spasms. Hill was hurt during Game 1 when Trevor Booker set a back screen and felt stiffness before Game 2, but played 20 minutes.

For the Pacers, Bojan Bogdanovic was the difference maker, scoring 15 of his team-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. Bogdanovic struggled shooting the first two games of the series.

Bogdanovic, who made 7 of 9 3-pointers, kept his focus after two quick fouls in the first quarter and had to leave briefly in the fourth when he picked up his fifth foul. The seven 3-pointers tied a franchise playoff record, also held by Reggie Miller twice, Chuck Person and Paul George.

“I thought it was going to be another poor performance from myself, but in the second half I started hitting shots and started feeling (much) better and I think a did a great job (Friday night),” the Croatian forward said.

Bogdanovic said he was most pleased with his defense against James.

“Everybody thought before this season that I cannot play defense,” he said. “I don’t say that I am playing great defense, but I am working hard at trying to make it tough for each offensive player that I am guarding.”

Bogdanovic said he tries to push James so he catches the ball far from the basket.

“Against those type of players you just try to stay aggressive on them,” Bogdanovic said.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan was impressed with his ability to produce both ways.

“You’re taking a pounding if you’re on the defensive end of the floor if you’re guarding LeBron,” McMillan said. “But offensively he found some energy. He got some good looks and he knocked them down.”

The Pacers came back to win eight times during the regular season after being down 15 or more points.

“We’ve been resilient,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “We made an adjustment in the second half and it helped us. But it’s only one game; I’m looking forward to Sunday.”