NBA Preview: Orlando Magic

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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.

Can Stephen Curry shoot the ball into the sun roof of a car? Did you even need to ask?

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Stephen Curry has been getting up buckets the past week, working on his game. Sort of. It’s been a bit unconventional.

First, he finished off an alley-oop pass from Tony Romo on the American Century golf course in Lake Tahoe.

Then on Thursday he was filming an Infinity car commercial and had to shoot one into the sun roof from what looks to be 15-20 feet away. He drains it.

Of course he made that, he’s basically the Meadowlark Lemon of a new generation, but without the hook shot.

Celtics sign 2016 first-round pick Guerschon Yabusele

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When you think of the best-run organizations in the NBA — think Spurs or Warriors right now — they not only have elite players helping them win now, but also have a couple of roster spots for younger players they are trying to develop.

The Boston Celtics are trying to be that kind of franchise, and the signing Thursday of Guerschon Yabusele fits that trend.

Boston took Yabusele with the No. 16 pick in the 2016 draft, which means he is on the rookie scale and at least the first two years are guaranteed.

Yabusele is an explosive but very raw 6’8” power forward out of France who the Celtics had get a year of seasoning in the Chinese Basketball Association. He’s a project and may not be able to contribute this season to the Celtics, but he’s got the athletic potential to at least be a rotation player in the league. That the Celtics signed him means they must think that potential is real. He didn’t play at Summer League because he is coming off surgery to remove bone spurs from his foot.

Interestingly, with the Celtics’ signings of Shane Larkin and Daniel Theis in the last 24 hours, Boston now has 16 guaranteed contracts on the roster. They can only go into the season with 15 players on the roster (plus two two-way contracts, but we’re not talking about those deals). Someone is going to be cut and be paid not to play this year, or be traded.

One year after attempted murder charge dropped, Eric Grifin signs two-way deal with Jazz

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — One year after having an attempted-murder charge against him dropped, Eric Griffin signed a two-way contract with the Utah Jazz.

Griffin was a member of the Jazz during NBA summer leagues in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. He averaged 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in Vegas.

The 6-foot-8, 205-pound center/forward played for Hapoel Galil Gilboa in the Israeli Basketball Premier League last season, averaging 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds.

This is the first time the Jazz have used the two-way contracts implemented by the NBA for the upcoming season.

Teams can sign two players to these deals in addition to the 15-man roster. The contracts allow NBA teams to better compensate Gatorade League players expected to spend time with the big league team. Griffin can spend up to 45 days in the NBA.

Warriors fans will need to buy “memberships” to then pay for season seats in new arena

Image courtesy Golden State Warriors
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Going to NBA games — particularly playoffs and NBA Finals games — at Oracle Arena in Oakland is a joy because it is loud and filled with exuberance and love of the sport. It feels more like a college atmosphere (with beer) than it does the more staid feel of many modern NBA arenas. I hope the Warriors don’t lose that when they move into their new arena in San Francisco in the fall of 2019.

What I do know: It’s going to cost some serious bank just to have the right to buy season seats in the new building.

The Warriors are making teams buy “memberships” for the right to buy season tickets — just don’t call them “personal seat licenses.” The San Francisco Chronicle has the details.

The team is calling it a “membership” program, and it will require season-ticket buyers to pay a one-time fee that will enable them to buy their seats for 30 years. In a unique twist yet to be used in any pro sport, the Warriors promise to pay back that fee after 30 years.

Golden State’s ticket plan represents the latest evolution of a business trend that has deep roots here in the Bay Area, where Al Davis and the Raiders were pioneers in selling “personal seat licenses,” and where both the Giants and the 49ers used similar strategies to help finance their new stadiums. The twist the Warriors are stressing is that, unlike PSLs, which required a one-time cost allowing a customer to buy season tickets every year, this plan involves a refund at the end.

How exactly does this work?

If you want to own Warriors season tickets, you would pay a one-time fee for the right to purchase your seats every year for the next 30 years. You can do that in one lump sum, or finance the payments. That’s a big commitment, but the team says memberships will be transferable and can be sold, but only through a marketplace run by the team.

How much are they? The Warriors say about half the memberships will be less than $15,000, the other half scale up from there.

In the Bay Area, there was zero chance the Warriors would be able to get public funding to help them build this new $1 billion arena (as it should be everywhere, but that’s another rant for another time). This is the Warriors’ way to essentially get an interest-free loan to help pay for part of that arena. This is not a plan that will work in every market, but with the money available in San Francisco they can pull it off.

This arena is going to generate a lot of new revenue for the team outside of just this membership fee, and those fattened revenue streams are something Warriors ownership is counting on to help them keep the best — and soon to be the most expensive — team in the NBA together.