Orlando Magic v Atlanta Hawks - Game Four

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.

Wall has to work for recognition among top NBA point guards

Washington Wizards guard John Wall dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh off scoring 51 points against the Washington Wizards, reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry praised John Wall, who dropped a quiet 41 against the Warriors.

“He’s a top-tier point guard,” Curry said, “and it’s like that – not his caliber every night – but obviously at the point guard position you’re going to have some talent on the other side of the ball most nights.”

Wall has never played better in what is now a point-guard league.

It doesn’t stop with Curry. The talent pool includes Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, to name a few.

“I think I’m having a career year,” Wall said. “I can say I’m playing my best basketball, but not the way I want to play because it’s not equaling up to wins.”

Wall is an All-Star for the third time but gets lost in the packed field of “top-tier” point guards. His 20.1 points a game are sixth at the position, while his 9.9 assists are third behind only Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo and Westbrook.

But some nights there is just no denying his talents.

Like Tuesday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Wall had 28 points and 17 assists to lead Washington past the Knicks. It was another showcase performance during a season that hasn’t gone the way he or the Wizards have wanted.

The Wizards will be a sub-.500 team and outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture at the All-Star break. Injuries to sidekick Bradley Beal and many others have hampered Washington this season.

But Wall is holding up his end and is playing like a top-five point guard.

He has an all-around game – the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, to spot up, pass, use his court vision and rebound. As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said recently, “you have to pick your poison” when defending Wall.

“Being able to shoot the ball off the pick and roll with great consistency – that’s what makes defenses choose what to do next,” Stevens said. “He’s been a great passer off the pick and roll.”

There’s no shortage of admiration around the league for Wall, who Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown deemed “the fastest guard in the NBA.” Brown compared Wall to a Maserati sports car and said the 25-year-old has improved because “you learn how to drive your Maserati better.”

Much of Wall’s game has improved in his six pro seasons since he was the first overall pick out of Kentucky in 2010.

“His speed is probably second to none in the NBA. … He’s a one-man fast break and it’s crazy because he logs so many minutes,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “His midrange jumper is also so much improved. You can tell he’s been working on his game a lot, and you like to see that from guys.”

Wall doesn’t get the headlines like Curry, Irving or even Thomas, of late. He has only scored the most points in a game he’s played in eight times this season, but Wall is the kind of player that teams have to game-plan against.

“You’ve got to build a wall against Wall,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “You let him play in open court one-on-one, he’s too fast, he’s too strong. He’s going to put your defense at bay.”

Opponents have tried to close off Wall’s drives to the basket and force him to take jump shots. At times, it has worked, like when the Trail Blazers limited him to 4 of 17 shooting in a victory last month.

“When you’re playing against an All-Star-caliber player like him, you work as hard as you can, you try and contain his penetration and hope he misses some jumpers,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

More often than not, Wall makes the most of his time and space. Even so, Washington coach Randy Wittman believes Curry should get more recognition than Wall because of team results.

“John’s body of work has been pretty good; he’s been recognized with that,” Wittman said. “You’ve got to go out and play, you’ve got to go out and win. Those are the two things in our league. You want recognition? Be a winner and play your butt off. That’s how you get recognition, and John’s gotten it.”

NBA writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

Report: “Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics”

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The Boston Celtics have assets, a collection of good role players but lacking the true stars, the alpha, the No. 1 option that any team needs to really win in the NBA.

How about Al Horford?

The Hawks are testing the waters for Horford, and as you can see in the video above, Chirs Mannix of Comcast Sportsnet New England (as well as The Vertical at Yahoo Sports) sees a fit.

“I think Boston, Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics. I think that is one of the guys across the league that Danny Ainge is the most excited about. He is a four man that would fit right into what Boston is trying to do. It would cost a lot of money to re-sign him in the offseason, but I think Boston is willing to play it, because they haven’t paid a lot of money for players in recent years.”

The question here, of course, is the cost going back. All sources around the league right now say the Hawks are asking for the moon (as Mannix mentions). The givens in this kind of deal would be David Lee‘s expiring contract (for salary reasons), and the Nets unprotected pick. But it’s going to take more. Jae Crowder? Marcus Smart? Avery Bradley? Kelly Olynyk? Isaiah Thomas? It’s going to take a couple of those guys on top of Lee and the pick.

But if you’re the Celtics, that’s the move — you have put together all these assets, now you need to consolidate them into a couple of stars. Horford’s good-at-everything will fit beautifully in Brad Stevens’s system.

Just something to keep your eyes on. Unless the Hawks decide not to move Horford at all. Which is still a possibility, they may not break this thing up.

Damian Lillard added to Team USA Olympic roster pool

Damian Lillard
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If you’re looking for a point guard who can flat-out score the rock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better than Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers’ guard is averaging 24.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, with an above-average true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent, and a very high usage rate of 30.9.

He’s the kind of guy who might have a place on the Team USA Roster.

Which is why USA Basketball has added him to the pool to be considered for the Rio Olympics summer. The reason for the change is both Lillard’s level of play this season, and the fact he called USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo to ask for a spot, as reported by Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Lillard deserves consideration, but there are two key reasons he likely doesn’t make the team:

1) He is still a terrible defender.

2) The list of guards for the USA Roster is ridiculous: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Klay Thompson, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook. And now Lillard. That’s 10 guys for likely five spots. It’s hard to see Lillard making that cut.

But he deserves consideration.

Kings co-owner Shaq: Vivek Ranadivé told me George Karl would coach rest of season

Shaquille O'Neal
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Kings general manager Vlade Divac said keeping George Karl as coach was right move “for now.”

How long is “for now”?

Shaquille O’Neal, a Kings minority owner, shares insight.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

This would mean a little more if Vivek Ranadivé weren’t prone to wild swings. Remember, the Kings said Tyrone Corbin would finish last season as coach before firing him for Karl.

Divac also said in November that Karl would coach the rest of the season, and that came up for debate fewer than three months later.

Shaq’s revelation is as likely to embarrass the Kings in a few weeks as it is to signal Karl’s job security.