The rest of us saw a guy just past his prime. Not Magic GM Otis Smith, who traded for Gilbert Arenas (and his massive contract) last season because he thought Arenas could change the fortunes of the franchise.
Dwight Howard saw the same thing.
The Magic’s best player and the guy they desperately want to keep next summer said he thinks Arenas wasn’t used right by Stan Van Gundy, he told Hoopshype.
“I don’t think our coach used him the right way, but I think he can do a lot of great things for our team,” Howard said. “He promised me this summer he was going to get better, physically and mentally, so he can come back and have an awesome year. I’m looking forward to that.
“I just felt like he didn’t get the opportunity to play his style but also play with me. I think he needed to. I think he got a couple of opportunities to do it in the playoffs, but it was kind of too late. So I think he will be great for us.”
Howard didn’t throw Van Gundy totally under the bus.
“I think Stan did a good job coaching this year,” Howard said. “He’s had us prepared for every game, for every playoff series that I’ve ever been in… He’s made sure that we were well-prepared. I like what he did.”
But he added he hasn’t talked to Orlando management or coaches since his exit interview at the end of the season.
Thing is, Van Gundy didn’t use Arenas because as much because he shot 34.4 percent in Orlando, 27.5 percent from three. He was not good on defense. Arenas didn’t earn playing time, with Howard or anyone else.
Looking at the numbers, Howard and the Magic were pretty much the same whether Gilbert Arenas or Jameer Nelson was running the show (stats via 82games.com and the NBA.com Stats Cube). Howard’s shot attempts, shooting percentage, pretty much every stat was the same regardless of whether Arenas was in the game or not (in the playoffs, Howard did shoot 70 percent with Arenas in, 61 percent when he sat).
Arenas, on the other hand, shot less and scored less with Howard on the court. The one big jump was that Arenas was +6.7 points per 48 minutes when Howard played and -2.8 per 48 when he sat, a stat basically true of every Magic player.
As for lineups, the five man lineups with Nelson and Arenas at the helm (and Howard in the game) were about the same, the only difference being Arenas played better with Hedo Turkoglu.
Using Arenas “right” didn’t make much of a difference in the Magic.
But Arenas will play a large role in whether or not Dwight Howard stays with the Magic — his contract limits the moves they can make to improve the team around Howard.