ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: The Orlando Magic

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Last season: It was a season of transition. The Magic started out near .500 (12-13) but when Glen Davis got injured things fell apart. The Magic won 8 games the rest of the year and by the trade deadline they had fully embraced the rebuild, meaning J.J. Redick was the first out the door in a six-team trade that brought Orlando Tobias Harris. The Magic ended the season with just 20 wins, the worst record in the NBA.

Signature highlight from last season: Not a lot to choose from, but how about some Tobias Harris.

Key player changes: It was a pretty quiet summer. The biggest addition this offseason was Victor Oladipo, who was drafted No. 2 and is expected to be key to whatever is ultimately built in Orlando (that doesn’t mean I think he’s the point guard of the future). They also brought in Jason Maxiell as a free agent. Gone are Al Harrington, Josh McRoberts, Dequan Jones and Beono Udrih.

Keys to the Magic’s season:

Just how good is Tobias Harris? Orlando is all about player development the next few years and there may be no bigger test of that than Harris.

He showed a little promise but could barely get off the bench in Milwaukee, then he comes to Orlando, gets an opportunity and averages 17.3 points a game. He was a revelation. That said, his shooting efficiency numbers were just average (he shot 45.3 percent overall, 31 percent from three with a true shooting percentage of 52.4 percent for Orlando). It begs the question: Is he a legitimate future All-Star player or is he a nice player just putting up numbers on a bad team? Is his ultimate role really gunning sixth man on a contender or something more than that? His game has holes, for example his defense on the perimeter needs work, also he needs to attack more and not settle for jumpers on offense. He’s going to get a lot of minutes this season and we will see how his game develops. We’re going to find out just how good he is the next couple years.

When do Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis get traded? We can probably throw Arron Afflalo on that list, too. The Magic are rebuilding and guys who are not part of the long-term future are going to get shopped around (Nelson has already admitted he knows he’s on the block). Davis could be hard to move with that contract ($6.6 million the season after this one) unless he shows his foot is fully healthy, but we know by the middle of the season there are contenders always looking for big men who can help them out.

Also, how do all the trade rumors that will swirl effect this young team?

Can Jacque Vaughn build a winning culture amid all the losing? It is all about player development with the Magic — how does Victor Oladipo come along? Andrew Nicholson? Nikola Vucevic? Tobias Harris? Mo Harkless? There are interesting pieces.

The key is keeping them working on doing things right amid all the losses that will come — they cannot let losing infect the team culture.

Vaughn seemed to do that last year — Orlando played hard for their coach. Not well, but the effort was there. If felt like a foundation was being laid for the future. Now they need to take a step forward and keep building on that — if the defense or effort slide that will be the problem. They are not going to be good this season but you can see where something good can come in a few years if they keep developing. If the losing infects the culture then Orlando has real issues.

Why you should watch the Magic: They have some interesting young players — Oladipo, Harris, and even Mo Harkless. How they use them, how they develop them are the questions, but these players are intriguing.

By the way, the Magic may not be as bad as we expect. If they can get everyone healthy (we’re looking at you, Glen Davis) their starting five to start the season is Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris, Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic, with Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson and Mo Harkless off the bench. That’s potentially pretty entertaining.

Prediction: 25-57. Call it rebuilding, call it organizational tanking, call it whatever you want, this team is all in for the upcoming draft. Whether it ends up being Wiggins or Randal or Smart, they are going after some big talent in the top five of the draft board. The Magic have some interesting young pieces to develop, they could be a team on the rise in a couple years, but they need one more big piece and they are going after it through this draft.

LeBron James: “I suck from the free throw line right now”

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LOS ANGELES — With the Lakers down one at home and just :21 seconds left in the game, LeBron James drove the lane and was fouled by rookie Omari Spellman. LeBron walked up calmly to the free throw line…

And the first shot clanked off the rim and bounced out.

Then LeBron missed the second free throw, too.

The Lakers escaped with the win thanks to Kyle Kuzma keeping the ball alive with offensive rebounds, eventually allowing LeBron to make up for his misses with a putback dunk that proved to be the game winner (aided by a Tyson Chandler dunk).

But LeBron missing clutch late free throws is a thing this season.

LeBron is owning it.

“I’m garbage,” LeBron said sitting in front of his locker postgame. “I suck from the free throw line right now. I’ll get my rhythm back but I thank Kuz [Kuzma] for giving us another opportunity. He gave me another shot so I tried to get him another shot.”

LeBron has had free throw and shooting slumps before, and he will snap out of it. The Lakers have won three in a row in spite of that, but against teams they should beat right now (stumbling Minnesota, Sacramento, and Atlanta). Things get tougher Wednesday against Portland and heading out on the road after. The Lakers margins are slim right now and if LeBron doesn’t shake out of this slump at some point it will come back to bite them. Of course, he knows that better than anyone.

Watch Jimmer Fredette’s 75-point game in China

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BEIJING (AP) — Former BYU star Jimmer Fredette scored 75 points in a Chinese Basketball Association game Sunday, the last 40 in the fourth quarter of the Shanghai Sharks’ 137-136 loss to the Beikong Fly Dragons.

Fredette gave Shangai a two-point lead on a layup with 7.2 seconds left, but Pierre Jackson countered with the winning 3-pointer for Beikong. Jackson had 63 points.

Fredette was 24 of 34 from the field, going 7 of 10 from 3-point range, made 20 for 21 free throws and had eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals in 43 minutes. He set a league record with the 40-point fourth quarter.

Fredette is in his third season in China. His previous career high of 73 came in a double-overtime game in his first year with the Sharks. He played for Sacramento, Chicago, New Orleans and New York in the NBA.

Report: Pelicans rebuffed Wolves on Jrue Holiday in Jimmy Butler trade talks

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The Minnesota Timberwolves finally found a trade partner for Jimmy Butler in the Philadelphia 76ers. The league is expected to finalize the deal early this week and get Butler on his way back to the Eastern Conference.

Before everything went down with Philadelphia, the question on the lips of just about everyone in the NBA was why something hadn’t happened sooner regarding Butler. Between the Houston Rockets and the Miami Heat, there appeared to be suitors abound.

Rumored offers notwithstanding, one team that reportedly tried to get into the mix was the New Orleans Pelicans.

According to a report from ESPN, the Pelicans tried to get Butler in conversations with the Wolves, but rebuffed when Minnesota asked for Jrue Holiday back in return.

Via ESPN:

Minnesota desperately tried to cobble together trade offers in the past week, including extensive discussions with New Orleans, league sources said. The Pelicans are limited on tradeable assets, but desperate to find star power to keep Anthony Davis for the long run. The Pelicans wouldn’t include point guard Jrue Holiday in its offer, nor multiple draft picks, league sources said.

Robert Covington and Dario Saric were the eventual package that the Timberwolves got in exchange for Butler, which is completely reasonable and helps Minnesota be less top-heavy with their rotations moving forward.

Asking for Holiday and multiple picks seems like a bit of a stretch, but it’s not surprising given the rumored negotiating tactics by the Timberwolves front office over the course of this entire saga.

Good for New Orleans for not budging on Holiday, even as the rumor of Anthony Davis potentially exiting their franchise via a trade demand seems to be ramping up lately.

I don’t know how Butler will fit with the Sixers, but I’m glad this story appears to have reached its final chapter.

Report: Wolves considered firing Tom Thibodeau, Scott Layden this summer

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Tom Thibodeau should have never been given front office responsibilities when he was made head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2016. Wolves owner Glen Taylor didn’t pay attention to countless examples in NBA history of the dual positions of executive and head coach coming with poor results.

Now things have turned horribly sour in Minnesota and it’s hard to see how Thibodeau keeps his job much longer. The former Chicago Bulls coach will likely remain with the team through end of the season, but it’s been so tumultuous leading up to the Jimmy Butler trade with the Philadelphia 76ers that a future between Thibodeau and Minnesota seems unlikely.

According to a report from ESPN, there was even some consideration given to firing both Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden earlier this summer.

Via ESPN:

Taylor considered firing Thibodeau and Layden in the summer — well before the Butler situation escalated — and has continued to consider possibilities to eventually replace both of them, league sources said. There’s immense pressure on Minnesota’s management structure to see dividends on this trade.

This seems like a perfectly professional way to say that both Thibodeau and Layden could be on their way out after the Wolves fail to make the playoffs come April.

It’s entirely possible that the players Minnesota gets back in a trade with Philadelphia could help them make a push post-Butler. Robert Covington and Dario Saric are both guys who can help space the floor and bolster a top-heavy Timberwolves lineup. It was a reasonable return.

But we don’t know how the remaining players on Minnesota’s roster feel about Thibodeau, and whether the situation is salvageable. Is Karl-Anthony Towns going to stop quitting mid-game? Is Andrew Wiggins going to hone his shot selection?

These items are still of concern as we watch this Wolves team rise from the creaking embers left behind after the Butler situation’s extinguishment.