What the Magic should do when the lockout ends

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PBT is working its way through what every team in the NBA should do when the NBA lockout ends. See all the teams we’ve done so far here. Today, we talk Orlando Magic.

Last season in Orlando: They had a solid regular season — 52 wins, which was fourth best in the Eastern Conference. But they also clearly were not going to compete with Miami, Chicago and Boston to win the conference, so GM Otis Smith made some moves — out went Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and Marcin Gortat (he was the only one of the three really missed). In came Hedo Turkoglu, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson.

It didn’t help. In the playoffs the Magic ran into a Hawks team that could single-cover Dwight Howard with Jason Collins, and while Howard could still get his it allowed the Hawks to not double as often and stick with the Magic’s perimeter shooters. Jameer Nelson and Turkoglu really couldn’t create shots for everyone and the result was the Hawks bouncing the Magic in the first round.

Then there was panic.

Since we last saw the Magic… Not much has changed. There were all sorts of rumors that Nelson would be traded around the draft, but nothing happened. Orlando traded for the rights to Justin Harper (a projected stretch four) and DeAndre Liggins (good perimeter defender) in the second round. They have big man Daniel Orton, who played some in the D-League before a major knee injury sidelined him last season. All potential nice fits, but not impact guys who are really going to change things.

When the lockout ends, the Magic need to… pray, sacrifice a virgin in a volcano, go down to the crossroads and make a Faustian deal — whatever it takes to keep Dwight Howard in Orlando. That also means is shake up the roster, although that is easier said than done.

Few teams will be as impacted by the final form of the new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement as the Orlando Magic.

If, as has been discussed, there is a “Melo Rule” put in place Orlando’s position improves. This rule is designed to prevent how Carmelo Anthony held Denver hostage last season (at least that’s how the owners see it, I thought he was more up front than LeBron James had been). It would say no team can sign a player to a “Bird rights” extension of his existing deal if the trade happened after July 1 — meaning you can’t trade for Howard in the middle of next season and give him the big, big bucks. It would force Howard to chose next year — sign a max extension with Orlando, pick up his extension and stay another year (at $19.5 million) or take much less to walk away. (How much less, and how much the Magic can sign him for are all part of the CBA talks.)

If there is no ‘Melo rule, Orlando could find itself in the shoes Denver was in last season. And like the Nuggets they will be faced with a brutal choice.

Even if there is a ‘Melo rule, Howard might still opt out and walk if he doesn’t think Orlando can build a winner around him. This much is clear: right now the Magic’s roster needs to be reworked. Jason Richardson is out as a free agent, so that is step one (Orlando is not brining him back except at a drastically reduced price tag).

There likely will be an amnesty deal in the new CBA that would allow the Magic to wipe Gilbert Arenas’ contract off the books (likely both from the tax and the salary cap). If so, that will help. But even without him the Magic have $56.3 million on the books in salary (for nine players). We don’t know what the new cap will be, but last year it was $58 million and it will likely go down, not up. Meaning the Magic can’t just go buy a free agent to fit in. Not that there is a great free agent crop anyway.

GM Otis Smith is going to have to pull a rabbit out of his hat — and it’s got to be a better gambit than the Richardson/Arenas one last year. Can he find some team to take on Turkoglu’s contract (which has two more years at $22.8 million then a $6 million buyout for the third year)? Does someone want Nelson? There likely will be teams looking to get rid of big salary players after they see the new labor deal, there will be some guys cut free in amnesty moves, but getting a real game changer to pair with Dwight Howard will be hard.

But it’s that or trade Howard. A trade is what everyone outside of Orlando wants the Magic to do (so long as Orlando trades Howard to said fan’s favorite team), but in Orlando the clear goal is to keep him. If a ‘Melo rule prevents Howard from basically forcing a trade, Smith will have more options. But still not many good ones. Nobody really will give up much for what the Magic have on their roster, and the Magic need to get another star.

The bottom line is the Magic are still a good team. A second tier contender with some nice role playing parts — J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, even Quentin Richardson. But right now for Orlando, good is not good enough. They need to be contenders with a future where Howard can see competing with Miami and Chicago. If not, he may just walk away.

No team may have a tougher road when the lockout ends than the Magic.

USA’s 78-game international win streak ends at hands of Australia, Patty Mills, 98-94

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Gregg Popovich wanted his USA team to face some adversity. For them to be challenged and see how they’d respond.

He got his wish on a Saturday afternoon in Australia and has to be disturbed by the result.

Australia, behind a red-hot Patty Mills who finished 30 points and drained seemingly every big bucket down the stretch, tore up the USA defense and outplayed the Americans when it mattered most, beating Team USA 98-94 in an exhibition match in front of a raucous 52,000 people in Melbourne.

Team USA had won 78 consecutive games — including both friendlies and in international tournaments — before this loss. The last USA exhibition game loss was in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics (when the Americans took home the bronze).

The USA opens FIBA World Cup play in just more than a week, facing the Czech Republic in their first game on Sept. 1. The Americans enter that tournament as the favorites, but the combination of improved international play and a lot of elite American talent staying home has made the USA’s margin for error very slim. Teams such as Serbia have to see this result and gain confidence.

This loss comes just two days after

“They wanted it more than us tonight,” Kemba Walker said after the game. “Lesson learned for us.”

Those lessons include needing to clean up a defense that still has communication issues, and to find more consistent shot creation outside of pick-and-rolls with Kemba Walker or Donovan Mitchell.

Walker, who came off the bench to score 22, was clearly America’s best player. His ability to penetrate was the only thing all night that either forced the Aussie defense to collapse, or it allowed him to get space for a good shot. Donovan Mitchell, who finished with a dozen points including seven straight late in the game, was able to provide a little shot creation, but the Americans lacked much ball or player movement in this one. Harrison Barnes finished with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Popovich is clearly still experimenting with lineups and combinations, and that is the silver lining of this USA loss. This was not the American’s best foot forward.

But don’t take anything away from Australia, which played a physical and feisty game all afternoon. They put the ball more in the hands of Utah’s Joe Ingles and he responded with 15 points, seven assists, and he and Andrew Bogut set up the offense and were smart with their passes. Bogut finished with 15 points.

Team USA takes on Canada in a final exhibition game in a couple of days, before heading to China for the World Cup.

Report: Dwight Howard gave back $2.6 million in buyout with Memphis, what he will make in L.A.

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Dwight Howard will get his money, the full $5.6 million he opted into this summer. The man is getting paid.

The checks are just coming from two different teams.

To facilitate a move to the Lakers, Howard is giving back $2.6 million in a buyout with the Grizzlies — exactly how much he makes on a minimum contract with Los Angeles. From Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks of ESPN:

My guess is the Grizzlies will just take the cap hit this season to get Howard off the books.

This is exactly how this was expected to go down financially if Howard came to Los Angeles. The risk for Howard is he will sign a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers — they can waive him for whatever reason, pay a small buyout fee, and Howard loses out on the $2.6 million.

That’s motivation for him to follow through on what he promised the team.

 

Former NBA, ABA coach Tom Nissalke dead at 87

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tom Nissalke, who won coach of the year honors in the NBA and ABA, has died. He was 87.

Nissalke passed away at his home in Salt Lake City on Thursday after facing a “series of health-related problems” in recent years, according to the Deseret News.

He was the first coach of the Utah Jazz after the franchise relocated from New Orleans in 1979.

Nissalke was also an NBA head coach in Seattle, Houston, and Cleveland.

Nissalke got his start in the pro ranks as an assistant with Milwaukee and helped guide a team featuring Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to an NBA title in 1971. His work with the Bucks landed him a head coaching gig with the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals. He led them to a 42-42 record in his first season and was named the league’s top coach.

He was hired the next season in Seattle but was fired after a 13-32 start. Nissalke then coached the Utah Stars and San Antonio before returning to the NBA with the Rockets. He won 124 games in three seasons with Houston, twice taking the team to the playoffs and the 1977 Eastern Conference finals.

Nissalke was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year after going 49-33 in 1976-77.

After retiring, he was active with the YMCA and worked as a radio analyst.

Nissalke is survived by a daughter, Holly, son Thomas Jr, and two grandchildren. His wife, Nancy, died in 2006.

 

How Dwight Howard convinced the Lakers to take a chance on him

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Laker fans Friday sounded like your friends after an ugly relationship and breakup, when you suddenly consider taking that person back. Laker nation took to Twitter screaming “ARE YOU SERIOUS? What are you thinking? Are you even thinking?”

The Lakers, however, are entering a second relationship with Dwight Howard with their eyes wide open — he will sign a non-guaranteed contract to be the team’s center (sharing duties with Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee). Howard will have to prove himself, on and off the court. The Lakers have leverage and can waive Howard and move on to Joakim Noah or someone else quickly if things do not pan out.

But how did it even get to this point? How did Howard — who did his annual summer media tour saying “I have changed, I am taking the game and my conditioning seriously, I just want a chance” and league observers shrugged because they have heard the same thing for years — convince the Lakers to roll the dice on him again? Shams Charania of The Athletic laid it all out.

Howard’s message to [Laker assistant coach Jason] Kidd and the Lakers was the same one he delivered to The Athletic in July from NBA summer league: He’s learned from the past several seasons, learned that, at age 33, he is simply one of the guys now. Howard believes he can contribute at a high level for any NBA team, but the eight-time All-Star also understands he has to focus on rebounding, defense, blocking shots, finishing around the rim and simply playing whenever he is asked… Kidd became convinced about Howard’s newfound awakening…

The Lakers then began setting workouts for free agents, and Howard traveled from Atlanta to Los Angeles on Wednesday. His meeting and workout with the Lakers was set for Thursday, but Howard went to the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon for his own training session. The Lakers were surprised to see him, sources said, and many key decision makers were in attendance…

League sources said Howard had a convincing and emotional meeting with the players and Lakers officials, explaining how he had reached rock bottom a season ago and needed to find a new mindset in his life. On and off the floor. He was not the teammate he needed to be in playing for three teams in the past three years. He did not take the game seriously enough, he did not understand what was needed to turn the corner.

Howard has said all that before. Multiple times. To multiple teams and teammates. Maybe this time he has genuinely figured things out, but whatever he did and said was enough to convince the Lakers to buy in…

To a point.

One could argue — and I would make the case — that Noah would be a better fit on the court for the Lakers’ needs in terms of passing and defense, but he comes with plenty of risks as well (health, getting along with LeBron James, and how much he liked the nightlife as a Knick in New York and what that would mean in L.A.). At least with Howard, the Lakers mitigated that risk with the non-guaranteed contract. If Howard will not accept his role and is disruptive (as he has been in recent stops), if he is still eating candy like a bingeing 10-year-old on Halloween night, if he can’t stay healthy, the Lakers can waive Howard and move on. If the Lakers brought in Noah, they would have been smart to have the same non-guaranteed contract (if Noah would have signed that kind of deal).

For now the Lakers have their man, but he’s basically on probation. Howard has to prove in deeds everything he has said in words.