Dwight Howard is a monster. He’s the most dominant center the league has seen since Shaq was half the size he is now. He’s ridiculously athletic and a monster of a defender.
And the Orlando Magic won’t win with him on their team.
The Magic are in the worst place a team can be. They’re pretty good, but not good enough. They’re on the cusp of being on the cusp of great. They can see the light. And that light can be blinding. It will make GM Otis Smith, coach Stan Van Gundy, and the fans naturally think “we’re right there… we just need ONE… MORE…. PIECE…“
So Smith will retool again. He’ll search for a slasher that can create his own shot (which is what Jason Richardson was supposed to be). He’ll search for a small forward mismatch (what Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu part 2 were supposed to be). He’ll search for something to compliment Dwight’s growing offensive arsenal.
But in the end, it won’t work. Because Orlando needs more than just one piece. It needs to be retooled. Too many players can’t do what they’re supposed to do and the team doesn’t have the financial flexibility to bring in players than can. Otis Smith needs to have the guts to see that he’s not knocking on heaven’s door. He’s in purgatory. And it will take a bold move to tear Orlando down so it can properly be rebuilt.
Orlando’s saddled with some pretty bad contracts. Gilbert Arenas is due $19 million next year and he’s got a $21 million player option the year after that… followed by a $22.3 million final year in 2013/14. I think its safe to say he won’t opt out. Turkoglu will make $10.6 million and $11.4 million before his player option of $12.2 million kicks in in 2013/14. I’m sure he’ll pick that up too. The Magic need to get rid of those contracts somehow. And the only way to shed one of those deals is to tie it to Dwight in a trade to get the right role players, draft picks, and salary cap flexibility to rebuild.
Don’t worry, I won’t call up ESPN’s trade machine to start mapping out absurd scenarios. I don’t know what the deal will be. It will probably be very complicated and involve more than one team.
I know very well that Dwight is a once-in-a-generation player. And it’s almost unthinkable to even consider trading him. But Orlando is in an extremely difficult position. They acknowledged they had serious problems with the mid-season trade that re-tooled their roster. That trade didn’t work out and now they’re at a fork in the road.
Do they stay, re-tool, and frustrate their fans as they fight for a middle-seed in the playoffs? Or do they suck it up, explain to their fans that tough decisions will have to be made? Because if those tough choices are made now, the Magic of three or four years from now will have a better chance of being further along than the “stay the course” Magic.
And, sadly, the only real asset the Magic have is Dwight Howard. A player who could bolt for a better situation in the near future anyway. The team needs to turn that one big asset into some smaller ones that can work together, play good team basketball, and grow into a contender. In the NBA, that’s the only way to escape purgatory.
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