How they can win it all: The Orlando Magic

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I’m going to get a few jokes out of the way before we start this, okay? I want to give the Magic their due. I do. And I will. I just have to get a few of these out of the way. See, I’ll even use bullets to keep it short.

How the Magic can win it all:

  • Use the time-traveling technology from the “Terminator” series to send Chris Duhon back (he’s expendable) and warn Otis Smith about Vince Carter/Gilbert Arenas.
  • Create magical formula to boost 3-point shooting efficiency by 700%, bringing them to a top five team.
  • Put Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson in a blender for six to seven minutes and hope a legit well-rounded power-forward comes out of it.
  • LET THE BEARDS PLAY!

Okay, so realistically what has to happen?

Shots Gotta Fall

The “Live by the three, die by the three” thing is played out. It really is. Every great team needs to hit some perimeter shots, and the Magic don’t shoot ill-advised threes (most of the time). It’s a product of their system. But that only works for them when they actually, you know, hit. The Magic are a great defensive team, but their postseason success has been defined by hot shooting. Gilbert Arenas absolutely must get hot if the Magic are going to have a chance. Ryan Anderson will help, as will a healthy J.J. Redick. But if Arenas is getting as many minutes as he does and still taking terrible threes and missing even worse, Orlando doesn’t have the weaponry it used to.

Dwight has to prove it

A lot of people think Dwight Howard should be the MVP over Derrick Rose. If he wants to make an Olajuwon like statement about his inevitable snub, now would be a great time to. Howard has the ability to take over a game and just overwhelm teams with his physical abilities. He has to put that kind of effort in, consistently, if the Magic are going to win it all. It has to be one of the great offensive showcases by a center in NBA history. I wish I was exaggerating. It has to be legendary. If he just goes through his 20-12 motions, it won’t be enough for the Magic to advance past the second round.

SVG has to keep their heads

SVG will lose the team eventually. That’s not a knock on SVG. He’s one of the top three coaches in the league in any given year. He’s a brilliant tactician, patient, motivates his guys and gets consistent effort. But if this team, whose chemistry is still an unknown, starts to drift, things will come apart. 2009’s success for Orlando was determined by faith in themselves, faith in the system. SVG has to keep getting his guys to buy in night after night.

In reality, there’s not a lot Orlando can do to win it all. Chicago’s defense will stifle them on the perimeter, Boston would pound them on the interior, the Heat would overwhelm them with firepower, and the Lakers, well, we’ve seen that act before. The window closed on Orlando despite their best efforts. The window was firmly open, and then just like that, it closed. If the Magic were to make the Finals and win, it would be one of the biggest upsets in NBA history.  The fact that the Magic were in the Finals just two years ago shows you how fast these things can change.

But if they get hot from the perimeter…

Rumor: Tension between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

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Chris Paul sacrificed $10,083,055 last season by opting in to facilitate a trade to the Rockets rather than opting out and signing somewhere for a max salary.

He expects to be made whole. And by most accounts, Houston understands the arrangement.

But here’s a rumor otherwise.

Undisputed:

Chris Broussard:

From what I’m told, there is tension now between Houston and Chris Paul. Because there was definitely some type of handshake, wink wink, “we’re going to max you out” last summer. But here’s the thing: Now, they’re not so sure. Houston, with good reason, doesn’t want to do that. But they’ve got an out, because they have new ownership. So, Daryl Morey can go to Chris Paul and be like, “I want to do it, but we’ve got the new owner doesn’t want to give you five years, four years.”

Former Rockets owner Leslie Alexander committed to big expenditures. New owner Tillman Ferttita has talked about his spending limits – for good reason. He sunk so much of his personal wealth into buying the team. He might not be able to afford outrageous luxury-tax bills.

Starters Clint Capela and Trevor Ariza will also become free agents this summer. Houston definitely wants to keep Capela. A large contract for Paul would be prohibitive.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. Already 33, he almost certainly won’t produce enough on the court to justify that amount. Players that age just decline and face greater injury risk.

But the downside of not paying him that much could be losing him. Even playing hardball could offend him given the circumstances that brought him to Houston. The Rockets are contending. A bad contract a few years down the road would be worth it if they win a title, and Paul is instrumental to that push.

This could be a delicate situation, and Morey can probe at least a little if he chooses. Would Paul be understanding of the ownership change? What options will Paul have better than a large, but sub-max, contract from the Rockets? Would Paul take a discount if Houston got his friend LeBron James?

But push too hard, and would Paul bolt to play with LeBron on the Lakers?

There has been too much insistence that Paul re-signing with the Rockets was assured to completely trust Broussard’s report. But it’d also be a mistake to completely ignore the possibility talks have broken down.

Hawks GM: We might have traded up with Bucks if their draft pick didn’t leak first

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Let’s pick up with the No. 16 pick in last night’s NBA draft.

The Suns were on the clock and planning to pick Donte DiVincenzo. John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

But then 76ers called Phoenix about trading No. 10 pick Mikel Bridges for the No. 16 pick and a future first-rounder. The teams agreed to the deal (causing this heartbreaking moment), and the Suns picked Zhaire Smith for Philadelphia.

The next three picks:

17. Donte DiVincenzo, Bucks

18. Lonnie Walker, Spurs

19. Kevin Huerter, Hawks

Atlanta general manager Travis Schlenk on 95.7 The Game, via ESPN:

“Last night, for instance, we had the 19th pick, and we’re coming down and we’re actually talking to Milwaukee on the 17th pick, talking about trading up to get a guy we like,” Schlenk said. “There’s were a couple of guys we felt really good about on the 19th pick, obviously Kevin [Huerter] was one of them, and it leaked who Milwaukee was going to take.

“So, all of a sudden, we were able to pull back out of that deal and keep the draft pick instead of packaging picks to move up because we knew that, two guys on the board we felt really good about and only one team in between us, so that was beneficial to us last night.”

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports and Jeff Goodman of ESPN reported the Bucks picking DiVincenzo at 9:18 p.m.:

The pick became official at 9:22 p.m.:

Clearly, Atlanta wanted Huerter or “Mystery Player Not Named Donte DiVincenzo.”* Once they learned Milwaukee would take DiVincenzo at No. 17, the Hawks knew at least one of Huerter or “Mystery Player Not Named Donte DiVincenzo” would be available at No. 19.

*I think there’s a good chance it was Walker, whom San Antonio picked No. 18.

That saved the Hawks an asset(s) and cost the Bucks an asset(s), though perhaps Milwaukee couldn’t have gotten DiVincenzo at No. 19. Maybe the Spurs would’ve selected him at No. 18.

Still, the Bucks didn’t protect their internal plans well enough. Maybe that’s an organizational flaw. But this also could have been a fluky sequence of events. Perhaps, after hearing Phoenix would take DiVincenzo, someone in Milwaukee felt comfortable sharing that the Bucks wanted him. Then, when he surprisingly fell, it was too late. The information was already out there – allowing Atlanta to stand pat.

Danny Ainge unwittingly leaks Celtics’ draft pick on call with Terry Rozier during live show (video)

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Terry Rozier takes solace in how much Danny Ainge believes in him.

But I didn’t appreciate how deep their bond went.

Appearing on Bleacher Report’s live draft show, Rozier was asked to predict the Celtics’ No. 27 pick. So, Rozier called Ainge to ask. Shockingly, Ainge answered – with Boston on the clock. Almost certainly not knowing the call was public and live, Ainge revealed the likely selection:

Good thing the Celtics stuck with Robert Williams. That would have been extremely awkward otherwise.

As is, it was only a little awkward. Williams said today he doesn’t like to be called Bob.

Report: Rival teams expect Paul George to consider 1+1 contract with Thunder

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Paul George has openly stated the appeal of playing for his hometown Lakers. He has also openly stated the appeal of staying with the Thunder.

That has created significant confusion about his upcoming free agency.

Could George find a compromise outcome?

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

More than one rival team has suggested to me that they expect George to strongly consider a two-year deal with the Thunder at $30.3 million next season and $32.7 million in 2019-20 that includes a player option to return to free agency next summer.

This makes sense on paper.

A 1+1 contract would give George more time to determine whether he and Russell Westbrook can win together in Oklahoma City without getting stuck there long-term if they can’t. The Thunder were starting to put it together when Andre Roberson got hurt. Perhaps, Roberson getting healthy would swing Oklahoma City’s fortunes.

George would also be eligible for a higher max salary in two years – 35% of the salary cap, up from 30% if he signs now. So, a short-term contract would allow him to maximize his potential earnings.

But George said he wanted to sign somewhere long-term this summer. He also suffered an extremely gruesome leg injury just a few years ago. He might not want to bypass guaranteed money to gamble for a little more later.

Are these rival teams just looking at the general outlook for a player in George’s position without considering his specific circumstances? Or do they know something? George could have informed teams he might become available in 2019 or 2020 so they should prepare.

I’m skeptical this is more than speculation by opposing teams. But the possibility that they’re basing their expectations on inside information makes this worth monitoring.