PBT NBA Draft Preview: The Orlando Magic

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Picks: 4, 12

Needs: Everywhere. No doubt there are a few nice young players on the Magic roster — Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, and Kyle O’Quinn grew on me — but none of them is a franchise anchor piece.

There is no place on the court the Magic could not use a talent upgrade, they need to take the very best player available. Regardless of position.

Trade possibilities: There has been no serious talk of the Magic trying to move up into the top three picks and it’s likely the assets that Cleveland or the Bucks would want are the kind of longer-term projects the Bucks are not yet ready to give up on.

But in the wake of the Joel Embiid injury, a team may want to move up into the Magic’s slot and snag him. For example, it has been rumored that the Celtics still want Embiid and might trade up. If Orlando got Boston’s No. 6 pick and a sweetener (a young player or Boston’s 17th pick) that may do the job. It depends on if the Magic are in love with any players and if they think said player would be there at 6. Sources had told me a week ago that the Magic were big on Marcus Smart, but there have been more recent reports that feeling has cooled.

Orlando has trade assets, starting with Arron Afflalo, who apparently the Timberwolves covet and Denver would like to get as part of their package for the elite power forward (the Nuggets have the No. 11 pick). If not Denver a number of teams will have interest in Afflalo. Also on the roster that could draw interest are Andrew Nicholson, Jason Maxiell and maybe Ronnie Price. fa

Predictions: The Joel Embiid injury has blown the top of the draft wide open and put the Magic in a very interesting spot — Embiid very well might fall to them. By all reports they are gathering a lot of information on the foot injury and what that could mean. This is potentially serious, this is the same spot on the foot Bill Walton and Yao Ming suffered breaks and were never quite the same after.

But if he is there at No. 4, the Magic need to take him. Yes, it’s a risk, but this is a league where you need elite players to reach the highest levels of the game and Embiid has the potential to be one of those guys. There are reports the Magic liked Dante Exum (now not likely there at 4) and Marcus Smart (likely still on the board) but Embiid is the potential franchise changer and you need to roll that dice, even if you sit on him for a full year. Didn’t seem to slow Blake Griffin much.

At No. 12, it depends on who is still on the board. If Elfrid Payton falls that far they should snatch him up as the point guard of the future (I’m very high on him). Likewise if Aaron Gordon or a good shooter fell that that far they’d have to consider it (Gary Harris and Rodney Hood may well still be available and good fits). But there is more and more buzz they may take Bosnian Josuf Nurkic, a true center but one expected to be stashed overseas for a couple years to mature. Watch for that pick.

Stan Van Gundy backs off feud with ESPN ahead of televised Pistons game

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Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy said he wouldn’t give ESPN its usual access – a private pre-game meeting and an in-game interview – in the aftermath of ESPN publishing LaVar Ball’s negative comments about Lakers coach Luke Walton.

The first test of Van Gundy’s new policy comes with today’s Pistons-Wizards game on ESPN… and Van Gundy is mostly backing down.

Van Gundy, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

“I got an email from Rick Carlisle of the coaches association and they want me to cooperate, so my whole idea was to boycott the thing in support of coaches,” Van Gundy said. “If the coaches don’t want that, then it would be a selfish thing, sort of a grandstanding thing.”

“I’m certainly not looking to do extra stuff with ESPN.com when those guys call and want to do things,” Van Gundy said. “They want to put themselves out there as a journalistic enterprise — they’re clearly not. They don’t have any journalistic standards. I have no obligation to do anything extra.”

Many media members have quoted Ball on a variety of issues. Coaches threw a fit over this one because they’re sensitive to coaches being criticized. It wasn’t about journalistic ethics or the source. Van Gundy and other coaches simply didn’t like Ball’s conclusion.

I’m so glad Van Gundy is no longer grandstanding. [extreme sarcasm]

He’s not obligated to speak with ESPN reporters, but when Van Gundy rails on journalistic standards as cover for disagreeing with the opinion a journalist published, he sounds a lot like the guy he loves to criticize.

Pistons’ Jon Leuer to undergo season-ending surgery

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Jon Leuer‘s ankles survived this.

But apparently they’re not invincible.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

After suffering a sprained ankle on Oct. 31, the symptoms worsened, as an exam revealed bone fragments and other issues. Leuer has missed the last 35 games and has decided to have season-ending ankle surgery, he told The Detroit News on Friday.

Leuer, 28, has scheduled the procedure to remove bone fragments for next Friday and will have a four-month rehabilitation process.

The Pistons have applied to the NBA for a disabled-player exception

The Pistons have been without Leuer for a while, and they’ve done fine without him. Anthony Tolliver is a capable backup stretch four, and Henry Ellenson adds even more insurance there. Detroit misses Leuer as a stretch center, providing a different style behind Andre Drummond, but Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic have at least decently handled those reserve minutes.

The bigger issue: The Pistons are paying Leuer $10,497,319 this season and owe him $19,510,724 over the next two years and don’t miss him that much. He’s a luxury they don’t need and maybe can’t afford.

Perhaps, they’ll deal him before the trade deadline, as they look to upgrade the roster for a playoff run. Detroit could send Leuer and a draft pick or young player (Stanley Johnson) for a better player on a more favorable contract. How about Leuer and a first-round pick to the Bulls for Nikola Mirotic?

A disabled-player exception (DPE) would be worth $5,248,660, half Leuer’s salary. It could be used to sign a free agent for the rest of the season or trade for a player in the final year of his contract.

But the NBA grants a DPE only if a league-appointed physician rules the player is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15. The reported timeline would have Leuer back in May.

Still, the league tends to be lax with giving out DPEs. Detroit has a chance to get one.

The Pistons are just $2,745,417 below the luxury-tax line. So, they’re unlikely to use a full Leuer DPE to acquire another player (and would still need to clear a roster spot). But it could be helpful in facilitating a bigger trade.

PBT Podcast: All-Star starters mock draft, picking reserves

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The votes are in, and LeBron James and Stephen Curry are your All-Star captains.

For the first time in NBA All-Star history, that means they are picking their own teams, playground style, first from the pool of starters, then the pool of reserves. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports take on the roles of LeBron and Curry and pick their All-Star starters, from James Harden through Kyrie Irving.

Then the pair gets into who should be the All-Star Game reserves — and choosing among the Western Conference guards is brutal. Do they leave out Damian Lillard? Lou Williams? Klay Thompson? And that’s not even getting into Paul George being a bubble All-Star in a deep West.

Kurt and Dan break it all down, plus talk some Kemba Walker trade scenarios.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Aaron Gordon forgoes desperation attempt to win, sinks halfcourt shot instead (video)

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The Magic were in dire straights near the end of their game against the Cavaliers last night. Orlando trailed 104-103 with 0.2 seconds and a jump ball to be tossed at center court. By rule, the Magic didn’t have time to catch-and-shoot, let alone recover the jump ball then shoot. Aaron Gordon had to tip the jump ball through the hoop from halfcourt – nearly impossible, but technically possible.

Instead, Gordon grabbed the jump ball – a violation – then sank a halfcourt shot. What an ironic end.

Cleveland then harmlessly inbounded the ball to seal the win.