Orlando Magic v Indiana Pacers - Game Five

NBA Preview: Orlando Magic


Last season: Oh, what a tangled web we weave…

The Magic won 37 games (to 29 losses) last season because for a stretch in the first half of the season they were one of the top-five teams in the NBA. Dwight Howard was putting up his usual MVP numbers (well, not last season next to LeBron but he should be in the conversation most years), the Magic were defending and on offense knocking down threes.

But from the first days the foundation was going to crumble and it came apart in a way worthy of The Days of Our Lives. Howard and his people were pushing hard for a trade to the Nets, and they had leverage with his ability to opt-out in the summer. Except the Magic were not playing along, wanting a better deal and not to give Howard what he wanted. Then Howard caved and opted-in with the Magic for next season, so they didn’t have to trade him. Then Stan Van Gundy threw Howard under the bus in front of he New York Media. Then Howard’s back injury worsened and he had to sit out of the playoffs.

The Magic got run in the first round of the playoffs by the Pacers, then they fired Stan Van Gundy, then they eventually traded Howard to the Lakers in a four-team deal that netted them essentially five picks (three future picks and two recent players) but none of them lottery picks.

Key Departures: Orlando is going the Oklahoma City model — they are looking to be terrible and get good again through the draft. Dwight Howard is gone. While that is obvious you really need to think through how big a loss that is — he is a three-time defensive player of the year who made them one of the better defensive teams in the league for years, plus he was the hub of their offense. He is arguably the third best player in basketball right now. That’s not easy to replace.

Also gone is stretch-four sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, a guy bordering on All-Star status. Then there is Jason Richardson. That would be three of the top four scorers for the Magic. By the way, numbers five and six on the scoring list last season — J.J. Redick and Hedo Turkoglu — can be yours in a trade for picks and prospects.

Key Additions: The best player they got in the Howard trade is Arron Afflalo, a solid two-way swingman who will be asked to do a lot more scoring than he has in the past but will play well. Through the trade they also landed rookie Moe Harkless, the St. John’s star who has promise but is raw. There also is Gustavo Ayon and Al Harrington, but you get the idea. The Magic did not make this trade trying to get better, they are intentionally going to be bad.

One guy who could catch on, Andrew Nicholson. You didn’t see him play in college unless you watched a lot of St. Bonaventure, but in Summer League he averaged 12.6 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. He will get a chance.

Orlando also added new head coach Jacque Vaughn, who gets thrown into the fire of his first NBA job in charge of a roster Phil Jackson couldn’t win with.

Three keys to the Magic season:

1) When do they trade J.J. Redick, Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis? The Magic are not going to be good this year, but they are going to get worse. Orlando is going with what is now called the Oklahoma City Thunder model of building through the draft. So the second they can unload one of these veterans for picks and prospects they will. Likely it all happens closer to the deadline, but you are going to hear a lot of Magic trade rumors. General Manager Rob Hennigan has a plan and they are not going halfway on it.

2) How many wins does Jameer Nelson get them? With all the roster changes and revamping the Magic brought Nelson back on a three-year deal. He is the one guy still on the roster who has proven he can up points plenty of at the NBA level, although last season he averaged 11.9 points and 5.7 assists per game. The light for Nelson will be green; he is now freed up to shoot pretty much whenever he wants. His career high is 16.7 points per game and don’t be shocked if he bests that.

But he’s not going to get them a lot of wins. (Not that the Magic brass want him to.) This is the guy you pair with an elite player, he is not elite. And his defense has not been impressive at all the past couple seasons.

3) Can Jacque Vaughn get the youth to develop? In the end for the Magic, it’s really about seeing if Moe Harkless and Andrew Nicholson can develop into solid complimentary players to the franchise guy they hope to draft down the line. Same with Kyle O’Quinn and Christian Eyenga. (Afflalo certainly would fit in, he’s proven it.) Right now it’s about developing talent for the long-term and seeing if the guys can fit in. And part of that has to fall to Vaughn to lead and teach them.

What Magic fans should fear: That the plan doesn’t really work. It’s not easy to land three years of consecutive top four picks like the Thunder did, and they were fortunate to have Kevin Durant fall to them. Then they nailed the Westbrook and Harden picks. Cleveland had the series of top picks as well and they have Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, and we’ll see how that plays out. But to get the picks is hard and to get the right guy at spots No. 2 and No. 4 is not easy (sometimes not even at No. 1).

This tear it down and build it back up strategy is the right one, but it’s far from easy or foolproof. And it’s going to take years to judge.

How it likely works out: Orlando will be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season, and Magic fans better be prepared for that. It’s not about wins, it’s about Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel. Expect trades mid-season and a lot of very hard-to-watch losses. Most painful may be that the biggest weakness will be big men in the paint.

The hope is that you see sparks from Harkless, that Nelson and Afflalo can provide some points and the team rallies around Vaughn and is competitive. We saw a lot of losses from the Hornets last season but they played hard for Monty Williams, they defended better, and that’s where the signs of hope will be for Magic fans.

Prediction: 22-60 and a whole lot of ping-pong balls. It’s not going to be pretty in the short term, but that is the plan.

Kevin Durant moshes at Kanye West concert, Steve Kerr calls it ‘great workout’ (video)

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) == Steve Kerr joked around on what became a post-mosh Monday, feeling some of the natural pressure before his Golden State Warriors get going at last with all the weight of trying to win another NBA championship on their star-studded shoulders.

The reigning NBA Coach of the Year said he cut short practice given Kevin Durant‘s jostling in the mosh pit at a Kanye West concert the previous evening.

“He got a great workout last night,” Kerr said with a smile.

Kanye performed at Oracle Arena, where KD will become THE show Tuesday night for the defending Western Conference champions. And MVP Stephen Curry, too, of course.

“We all have pressure. That’s a good thing,” Kerr said Monday. “The alternative is, `Maybe we can win 30 this year instead of 25.’ Who wants that? Unfortunately, a lot of the teams in the league have that, teams that are going through rebuilding stuff, and they’re trying to get where we are. So we’re in a really enviable position. We know how lucky we are to be together with this group. We understand the responsibility that comes with it, and that’s fine. It’s a good position to be in.”

A day away from his highly anticipated Warriors debut, Durant insisted he had no idea just how much daily interest Golden State would generate before the season even began.

How much Durant’s every move would be intently watched – whether it was his concert-going or riding the BART train to get around.

“I never had a chance to get to a show. I was always moving around, Olympics and traveling a lot,” Durant said of attending West’s show. “I’m glad he came through here. I was telling all my friends. I’ve always told them I wanted to get in a mosh pit. It was amazing.”

Durant had no concerns about anything going wrong with all those people in tight quarters.

“I’m covered, man. I’m covered by a higher power upstairs, no matter what happens,” he said.

Four months after squandering a 3-1 series lead and losing Game 7 of the NBA Finals to LeBron James and Cleveland, the Warriors are ready to start fresh without any thought on chasing the regular-season wins record they now hold at 73. They will host San Antonio and Kerr’s former coach and mentor, Gregg Popovich, on Tuesday night.

“It’s the Spurs, so it makes it even more fun,” Kerr said.

Golden State also will honor TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager, who is fighting leukemia, with a special T-shirt for all fans at the opener.

Kerr has said all along Durant would need time to adjust.

“He’s light years beyond where he was three weeks ago,” Kerr said. “He’s embracing the chaos, for sure.”

With Durant and so many new players, Kerr still expects everything to take time before the Warriors really start clicking. Kerr wasn’t even on the bench for last season’s opener, missing the initial 43 games and a record 24-0 start while dealing with complications from a pair of back surgeries.

Next week might be even bigger for Durant, whose former Oklahoma City Thunder visit on Nov. 3. Golden State rallied from 3-1 down to beat OKC in the Western Conference Finals.

Durant’s departure was a big deal. It still is.

“I think they’re just looking for something to grab onto and make it a story,” Durant said. “We understand that. That’s one thing I actually didn’t understand coming in here. Everything’s going to be taken and used as a headline. It’s definitely a learning experience for me not used to all this coverage around a team. That’s just part of the job. That’s why we get paid the way we do and that’s why we are who we are as players. You’re kind of prone to criticism.”

New center Zaza Pachulia got a glimpse of the attention and hype surrounding the Warriors on media day last month.

He’s ready to embrace it.

“We take it as a compliment because it means you’re doing something right. It means you’ve got good talent here, it means that people want to know about you more than anybody else,” he said. “It’s a huge year for us, a big season, kind of what we expected with a lot of expectations, a lot of eyes on us.”

LeBron James responds vaguely when asked about Carmelo Anthony joining Cavaliers

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks battle for position during their game at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2016 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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (and Chris Paul) said they talked frequently about winning another Olympic gold medal together. LeBron and Anthony both said they’d take a pay cut to play with each other (and Paul and Dwyane Wade). In 2014, Anthony reportedly tried to join LeBron on the Heat or get LeBron to join him on the Knicks.

But none of it came to fruition.

LeBron skipped the 2016 Olympics. He also left Miami for the Cavaliers in 2014, and Anthony returned to New York. Again a free agent the last two years, LeBron re-signed with Cleveland.

What about a LeBron and Anthony teaming up on the Cavs?

LeBron, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

“We have a lot of conversations,” James said Tuesday of his relationship with Anthony.

Did any of those talks center on Anthony coming to Cleveland?

“Maybe. Maybe not,” James said.

Anthony can’t opt out until 2018, so he’s not signing in Cleveland anytime soon. Plus, the Cavs will likely still be capped out then.

Anthony holds a no-trade clause, which allows him to dictate when and where the Knicks deal him. Would he be open to Cleveland? A trade based around Anthony and Love makes at least a little sense.

This line of thinking probably isn’t what Love wants to hear, but he at least knows to expect it now. Not even a championship can quash all the rumors that find this team.

It just goes with the territory of being LeBron’s teammate.

Assistant coach: Kevin Durant ‘jealous’ of Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan relationship

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08: Kevin Durant #5, Kyle Lowry #7 and Demar DeRozan #9 of United States celebrate as Jhon Cox #6 of Venezuela  looks on during the Men's Priliminary Round between the United States and Venezuela on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Anything positive Kevin Durant says about the Warriors is interpreted as an insult to Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.

So, Durant has gone out of his way to praise Oklahoma City lately.

But he can’t control the messaging of Rex Kalamian, a Raptors assistant coach who previously worked for the Thunder.

Kalamian relayed a text from Durant about his experience playing with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on Team USA in the Olympics.

Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star:

“Your two guys are the best. I’m jealous of their relationship, the way they get along with each other and the way they play together. The way they enjoy each other, it’s great,” Kalamian said of that text on Monday, as the Raptors finished up their practice. Durant, all the way from the Olympics in Rio, was in awe of the friendship that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had on display with the U.S. men’s basketball team.

“I think it’s kind of what he wants,” Kalamian continued. “He wants that bond with someone . . . and I think he’s going to find that.

“Early on in OKC, we had that.”

“We had that (bond) really with James Harden. He was a connector of everyone. He brought Westbrook, Durant and (Serge) Ibaka and they all kind of connected, they all came together,” Kalamian said.

“James is a big reason and when he left I think Kevin said . . . that trade was the beginning of the end for him and now there wasn’t that connection as much.

“Kevin and Russell, they respect the heck out of each other, no question about it. They played well together, they work well together, they communicate, but I think the connection was lost a little bit for whatever reason.”

This will absolutely be interpreted as shot at Westbrook, and that’s not fair. Lowry and DeRozan share a quirky, trusting and sincere friendship. Even with deep bonds with their current coworkers, who wouldn’t be jealous of that?

Now, there are real signs of fray between Durant and Westbrook. Even if Durant’s text doesn’t necessarily implicitly refer to Westbrook, it might.

Maybe losing James Harden caused problems between Durant and Westbrook. Beyond his ability to – as Kalamian put it – connect, Harden also made the Thunder better. Winning cures all ills.

Durant will win plenty with the Warriors. That will smooth any rough edges in his friendships with Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and everyone else.

But even if Durant has all his dreams come true in Golden State, he can remain jealous of Lowry and DeRozan. Their connection seems special.

Warriors embrace villainy in hilarious cartoon (video)

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors joke around while they pose for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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I find most of these corny, but “Super Team: A Warriors Musical” is fantastic.

Obviously, Draymond Green‘s character provides plenty of comedy. But the entire roster – from Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant to even Ian Clark – is used in the gags.

The breakout stars: Klay Thompson and Rocco.

Well done, Bleacher Report: