Justin Harper

Magic waive Quentin Richardson, eat his $5 million salary

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There’s not a lot of drama in NBA training camps, who is toing to make the team because contracts are almost all guaranteed. The ones that are not are a couple guys at the very end of the bench, guys who could bounce down to the D-League for much of the season.

Which is why what the Magic did was such a surprise — they ate $5 million in salary to waive Quentin Richardson. From the Orlando Sentinel:

The Orlando Magic made three moves Saturday that enabled them to keep their most athletic player. By waiving wing Quentin Richardson, combo forward Justin Harper and wing Chris Johnson, the team created a space for undrafted rookie DeQuan Jones, an explosive wing who offers potential as a defender….

“All throughout the preseason, we evaluated everything, and we made the decision that, yeah, financially we’re going to have to make a decision that impacts us in that way. But we feel that the decision was [best] for the organization and the culture we want to start to set (said Magic general manager Rob Hennigan).”

It makes some sense — the Magic are in complete and total rebuilding mode and Richardson is not part of the future. Jones might be. They have the time to find out, to let Jones develop. The only cost was money, and if they are willing to spend it — $2.6 million this year and $2.8 million next year — this seems like a good long range-play.

The Magic would be worse for it this year, but that is really part of the long-range plan as well.

Richardson will be a free agent that can be picked up by any other team.

Orlando is in trouble now because it’s not good at drafting

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More and more research is showing, if you want to build a sustainable winner in the NBA you need to do it on draft day.

Look at the teams still playing. Miami had to draft Dwyane Wade, which made it possible to bring in Shaq to get them one title (and LeBron James doesn’t come there without Wade). The Thunder are an obvious and easy example with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all drafted by the franchise. The Spurs not only drafted Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, they found Manu Ginobili late in the second round and have rebuilt their roster with youth through the draft. The Lakers drafted Andrew Bynum and made a draft-day trade to get Kobe Bryant. Boston drafted Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.

Orlando drafted Dwight Howard in 2004 and that set the tone for the past seven years, including one trip to the finals. But what they have done since then to build a team through free agency and not the draft has left them in a bind this summer, scrambling to find a trading partner to get a big piece to go next to Howard (good luck with that) or maybe having to move Howard.

Why don’t they have the pieces. Look at their draft since 2004: First rounders are Fran Vazquez (11 overall), J.J. Redick (11), Courtney Lee (22) and Daniel Orton (29). That’s just four first round picks in seven years and only one who panned out for them (Redick, although Lee had moments). The second rounders are all misses. By the way, who was drafted after Orton in 2010? Landry Fields, Devin Ebanks, Jerome Jordan, Luke Harangody and Jeremy Evans (not rock stars, but guys who might contribute).

Why the problem? Alex Kennedy has details at Hoopsworld that should make the stomachs of Magic fans turn (read the whole post about what the Magic need to do next).

The main reason that Orlando hasn’t been able to draft contributors is because they don’t put much time or effort into the pre-draft process.

When Orlando drafted Orton, they hadn’t seen him work out in person. Nearly every other team in the league had witnessed Orton struggle in workouts and knew of his knee issues. The Magic selected him sight unseen, and Orton isn’t the exception. Justin Harper had never met or interviewed with Orlando before they traded for his draft rights last year.

Rival executives openly joke about the Magic’s approach to the pre-draft process. Most teams interview and work out everyone on their draft board. Some teams will even bring in a player multiple times to make sure they have a good read on his personality and game. The Magic’s lack of preparation has hurt them and a new regime must have a better approach to the draft.

You can expect the Magic to deny the report in 5…4…3…

Whatever happens with Howard, Jameer Nelson and the rest of the circus this year, the change in the approach by the new regime is key. (We say that like it’s going to happen because we don’t imagine both coach Stan Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith lasting much longer.) If you are going to win and stay on top, you do it through the draft. It is how good teams stay on top.

Winderman: Why Orlando has to trade Dwight Howard

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That’s a pretty impressive piece of trivia that Stan Van Gundy is about to be attached to, if you believe the scuttlebutt: the first NBA head coach to be fired by both Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard (if you accepted the speculation back in December 2005 with the Heat).

But if we actually decide to move past the conjecture and deal with the cold, hard numbers, it never will get to that.

The Magic have to deal Howard. The payroll offers no other option.

Amid increased speculation and some actual quality reporting along the way, it is clear this is dysfunctional relationship beyond repair. Riding it out is looking more and more like riding it out until July.

And, by the numbers, that would leave the Magic essentially with zero wiggle room, not nearly enough for any type of efficient salvage mission.

So let’s get the numbers out there, the official numbers, of what the Magic payroll would look like for 2012-13 without Howard.

• Hedo Turkoglu: $6 million guaranteed ($11.8 million total contract).
• Jameer Nelson: $8.6 million guaranteed.
• J.J. Redick: $0 guaranteed ($6.2 million guaranteed after July 8).
• Glen Davis: $6.4 million guaranteed.
• Jason Richardson: $6 million guaranteed.
• Chris Duhon: $3.3 million guaranteed.
• Quentin Richardson: $2.6 million guaranteed.
• Earl Clark: $1.2 million, player option.
• Justin Harper: $762,195.

That’s $34.2 million when including allowing Turkoglu to walk (likely) and Redick to walk (not nearly as likely).

Working off the current $58 million cap, and factoring in the requisite cap holds to flush out the roster, that would leave the Magic with a hideous remaining seven-player contingent of Nelson, Davis, Duhon, Clark, Harper and a pair of Richardsons.

It is why even if the Magic trade Howard for less than market value, the value in any deal would be losing some of the bad remaining money, as well, starting at least with Turkoglu’s guaranteed share and then perhaps the money of Nelson or Jason Richardson, as well.

As ludicrous as it sounds, losing Howard for next to nothing now would be far, far, far more advantageous than losing Howard for nothing in July.

Wind up with Howard walking for nothing in return, and you arguably wind up in an even darker place than the Cavaliers (Anderson Varejao, Mo Williams) when they lost LeBron James or the Raptors (Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon) when they lost Chris Bosh.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.