Monday, April 23, 2012

Dwight, Please Stay: We Need You

Dwight, you're laying down in your hotel room in LA right now healing from back surgery. Your teammates went out tonight and laid a gigantic egg in the second half against the Denver Nuggets. Much like you, they're worn out, beaten down, and tired from this marathon of a season that the NBA has tried to fit inside of a sprinter's window.

Your buddy, Jameer Nelson went down today after taking a knee to his calf. They call it a calf contusion and for your team's sake, I hope that's true. They've already lost their muscle, with Jameer they lose their heart.

But none of that really matters right now because I'm talking to you. Chances are that you never read this but I'm talking to you none the less. I'm sitting here, not as some kid on his knees asking him mom to go to the movies without an adult, but as someone who is sitting across the table from you, looking you dead in the eye and saying "we need you."

Being an Orlando Magic fan is tough. We watched our hero in Shaquille O'Neal leave for the bright lights of Hollywood. We watched Penny Hardaway's body fall apart sending us into the famous Heart and Hustle year lead by Daryl Armstrong and Ben Wallace.

Right now you're probably thinking your reputation has taken a hit, that you may not be able to fix it here in Orlando. I'm here to tell you that you're wrong. In 2001, after the aforementioned H&H year, Tim Duncan toured the city with Tiger Woods (you know, the most famous golfer ever), he was a signature away from becoming an Orlando Magic before a heart-to-heart with David Robinson changed things at the last second. A decade later, his wavering is forgotten and he's looked at as the symbol of loyalty and the rock of a basketball dynasty that's still going strong.

Without Duncan, the Magic moved ahead and signed Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill. Unfortunately, Hill's ankle could never get right and we were robbed of one of the elite wing duos basketball has seen in quite some time. After the 2003 season, T-MAC demanded a trade and we granted him one. We got in return an all-star in Steve Francis and a solid Cuttino Mobley. Once again, we were robbed of something as you were drafted that exact off-season. A duo of TMAC and Dwight Howard could've been something special assuming Tracy stayed healthy.

You see, Dwight, from Nick Anderson's missed free throws to Courtney Lee's missed layup, there's been a lot to "cry over" per say being a Magic fan. But you have a chance to change all of that. I know you're mad at Stan and Otis and possibly feel slightly betrayed by Alex Martins but you need to understand this. Otis and Stan will be gone next year, Martins has always been on your side, and this city and this fanbase is behind you.

I have owned three basketball jerseys in my life. The first was McGrady's, the second was an Eddy Curry jersey I found at a thrift store, and the third is your #12. The first purchase I ever made on EBAY was a Dwight Howard trucker hat with your sticker from the Vegas Dunk Contest plastered on the front. I have a picture of you dunking on Lebron James on my wall. I've seen you play in person twice; once being a demolition of the Lakers and Andrew Bynum last March. I remember you throwing out the first pitch at the Tampa Bay Rays game and making Jeff Neiman look small.

Dwight, you will never be loved like you are here. Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon; when they return to Chicago or LA or Boston or Houston, how do you think they feel? I can bet it's not the same as Shaq feels when he returns to one of his six teams or the way Wilt felt when he returned to one of his three, or Lebron will feel when he returns to Cleveland or Miami when his career is over.

There is only one team that drafted you; and that's the Orlando Magic. This is your team. This is your moment to really prove that you aren't Lebron or Bosh or Carmelo or Amar'e or Deron. This is your chance to prove that you're bigger than them, that you're going to finish what you started here. You're going to lead others down to Orlando instead of following them to Brooklyn or New York or Los Angeles or Dallas. Like they always say, Dwight, "there's no place like home". This is YOUR Metropolis.

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Top 10 NBA Players (4-7-12): Familiar Face Missing

10 - Andre Iguodala
9 - Rajon Rondo
8 - Derrick Rose
7 - Chris Paul
6 - Russell Westbrook
5 - Dwyane Wade
4 - Kevin Love
3 - Dwight Howard
2 - Lebron James
1 - Kevin Durant

Breakdown - On my list, I have two front court players in Dwight Howard and Kevin Love. They're probably the two best rebounding and scoring bigs in the game which is why they crack the top 10. I'd agree that Love may be a little high but his rebounding, shooting, and passing make him an elite player from the PF spot and if Rubio hadn't gone down, I believe there'd be some MVP discussion. I have 4 point guards on the list. CP3 is the best all-around, but I think Westbrook's ability to run through defenses and go for 40 while a teammate goes for 50 makes him the best in the league at his position. I've always thought Rondo was a product of those around him, but there isn't a better pure passer in the league sub-Nash.

The "Elite" - I think that KD, Lebron, and a motivated Dwight are in a class of their own. To me, these are the three best two-way players. KLOVE is great on O, slack on D. Dwade is good on both sides but there has definitely been a slip in his game. Russ is out of control and shaky on D, CP3 has height issues, Rose sometimes plays D, Rondo can't shoot, and Iggy can't score on his own. That's what separates the top three is that they make everyone around them better while dominating the game on both ends. There isn't a more physically gifted player in the league than Lebron. He's 6'8, 240 pounds, probably has the highest vertical outside of Gerald Green, and at his absolute best, he's probably the best wing player the game's ever seen. Durant is second in the NBA in points per game (more on that later) while leading the NBA in defensive FG%. That means the guy he's guarding shoots a lower percentage than anyone in the league. Dwight is Dwight. Leads the league in rebounding, near the top in blocks, points, and double doubles. Even when he doesn't block shots he locks down the paint while being surrounded by the worst perimeter D in the league (Nelson and JRICH and Hedo, oh my!)

Where's Kobe? - Yes, that's right; Kobe Bryant does not appear anywhere on my list. Laker fan will argue that he leads the league in points per. I'd argue that he shoots 4 more shots per game than anyone else in the top 10 while shooting a lower percentage than anyone in the top 10. Laker fan will argue that he has to carry his team. I'd argue that Laker fan is delusional because Bynum and Gasol are both AT THE WORST 18-10 players. I've ragged on Bynum more than anyone and I even believe it's time for Kobe to hand over the keys and fall back into the role he had while Shaq was in Tinsel Town. Laker fan will also point out that John Hollinger's PER has him ranked number 5. Yeah, well Rajon Rondo is 30th behind the likes of Marc Gasol, Kyrie Irving, and Demarcus Cousins. For anyone that's seen Kobe play this year, he's turned into well, a more shot-happy Carmelo Anthony. Notice how Melo isn't on this list either? Only reason Rose makes it is because he's the reigning MVP and he had (has) his team with the best record in basketball. In case you missed it, the Mamba started a game 0-15 the other night and kept shooting. The Lakers are in disarray right now and a lot of that falls on the shoulders of Mr. Bryant. Andrew Bynum is ticked that he's a second or third or fourth option when really anyone unbiased can tell he should be number 1. I like Kobe and dislike Bynum and even I can see it. Bryant is no longer a top 10 player and the moment Mike Brown realizes it is the moment the Lakers become a contender again.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Orlando Magic Need a Change

I would take this time to bash Otis Smith but at this juncture in time, there's no point to that. Otis will be gone in the off-season, and the team will move in a different direction. I'm going to instead direct this "assault" per say at Stan Van Gundy. Not many coaches in today's NBA have been to the Conference Finals three times with two completely different systems. Not many coaches have had as many 50-win seasons as Stan has. Not many coaches have handled controversy as well as Stan handled the Dwight saga this year. But Stan is far from perfect and the current mess in Orlando is indicative of his faults.

The Magic have been criticized as old, slow, and lethargic. As a fan who has watched nearly every game this year, I most certainly would agree with all three of those adjectives. A line-up that has NBA experience of 8, 11, 12, and 8 years will probably be a little worn down. In fairness, one of those 8 year vets is 26 years old. Ryan Anderson, the 5th starter will turn 24 in about a month. The team has miles on it, and that really can't be argued.

In my opinion, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson have run out of miles. Toronto realized Hedo was done, Phoenix realized Hedo was done, and now it's time for Stan Van Gundy to realize it too. Jason Richardson has had knee issues the last few years (a la Vince Carter - way to go Otis) and his explosiveness is absolutely gone. The former dunk champion now struggles to reach the rim when he lays it in on a fast break. Almost everyone who has watched this team this year will tell that these two just don't have it any more. Add Chris Duhon, who never had it to begin with to this list. He's shooting roughly 40% from three but that's because he only takes them when he is uncontested from 10 feet. He shoots H-O-R-S-E 3's at 40%; not all that impressive.

Where I think Van Gundy misses the mark is his continuous use of these three. He says we need them if we're to make a run in the playoffs. Well, 99% chance this ends in an embarrassing flame out as opposed to the 1% chance Father Time gives them new legs. I'd rather see Van Gundy use the young guys on the bench. Ish Smith, Deandre Liggins, Earl Clark, and Von Wafer have all shown to be athletic, quick, and energetic. Liggins and Clark have also shown the ability to step up and guard any player of any stature. I think their energy would be a great addition to the Magic roster that already gets enough shooting from Jameer Nelson,  JJ Redick, Anderson, and Quentin Richardson.

The worst that could happen is these guys come in, make rookie mistakes, Orlando slips and flames out in the first round. The best that could happen is that these young guns provide a spark and an energy element that that team has sorely missed since Matt Barnes left two years ago, Mickael Pietrus was traded to Phoenix, and Rafer Alston lost his mind. In my opinion, there's a wide range of other possibilities such as just one of them proving to have some trade value. Maybe package a young wing defender in Clark or Liggins along with the RFA rights of Ryan Anderson to bring in a Josh Smith type player or Monta Ellis.

Staying the course with Turkoglu and Richardson and Duhon has the same worst case scenario, a first round flameout. I also don't think the potential is as high. The in between? There really isn't one because of the contracts these three have (Richardson being the only remotely tradable piece).

The way I look at it, the Magic will not be winning a title this year the way they're currently constructed. No team outside of Charlotte gets blown out like they do. If you're Stan Van Gundy, you really need to ask yourself, "what do I have to lose?"

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dwight Howard: He Did Good

LeBron James made a mockery of a small market organization in an ego-filled crusade to join his “bros” (“homie” would be racist) in big market South Beach. ESPiN not only refused to attack him for acting like an arrogant jerk, they aired his TV special and hyped the hell out of the “Big 3”. Dwight Howard decides to waive his early termination option (all about language) to stay with small market Orlando and ESPiN throws a hissy fit and demands that he apologize to the Nets, apologize to the NBA, and apologize to the media; yes, you read that right. ESPiN wanted an apology. I’m getting annoyed just writing this. Let’s start from the beginning.

Fecal Fegan  
This tale starts with Dwight Howard’s slime of an agent, Dan Fegan, and his organization Lagardere Unlimited. If you believe ESPiN and the other news agencies that get their information from the agents, Fegan is a great agent. He just want(s)(ed) what’s best for Dan Fegan Dwight Howard. In this case, that was a move to Brooklyn to join up with Deron Williams and the NBDL all-star team Nets. you listen to RealGM, HoopsWorld, and other “blogs” that tend to have actual connections with players and people who know players on a personal level rather than a checkbook level, a different picture is painted.
            See, Fegan was not Dwight’s agent when he signed his last deal. Thus, Fegan makes no money off of Dwight (at least from the Magic) while he is still on his current contract. If Dwight signs a new deal, Fegan gets his cut. It would make a lot of sense then for Fegan to pursue a new deal. Now, you may be sitting there asking yourself why would he want a move to Brooklyn if Howard would receive a larger paycheck from the Magic? Well, this is where this story starts to smell.
            Amongst Fegan’s roughly 20 players represented in the NBA, two share a common bond; they were supposed to be cornerstone players for… you guessed it, the New Jersey Nets. Before becoming the Rockets’ favorite trade bait, Kevin Martin was a young scorer poised to eventually take over for an aging Vince Carter. The other, Yi Jianlian. Yi was selected in the lottery by the Milwaukee Bucks before eventually being traded to the Nets. Unfortunately for all parties, Yi was/is not very good at basketball. One’s nothing, Two’s a coincidence, Three’s a trend.
            Beyond Fegan is the company he works for, Lagardere Unlimited. If you want to be real diabolical, you would say that Dwight to the Nets has been brewing since LeBron went on TV and announced to the world that he was taking his talents to South Beach. Interestingly enough, that was around the time (a matter of weeks) that Dwight Howard signed with Fegan and Lagardere. And two months later, Lagardere posted a press release regarding professional tennis coming to Brooklyn (ummm). To be more specific, professional tennis was coming to the brand new Barclay’s Center. In case I forgot to mention, the Barclay’s center is where the Nets are slated to play their home games once they move from Newark. Quoted in the press release is New Jersey Nets CEO Brett Yormark.
            Fegan also has a long-standing habit of “promoting” friends or relatives of players to positions that get them amply paid. In Dwight Howard’s case, it was his cousin. John Wall’s AAU coach was selected by Fegan to control Wall’s marketing. Anderson Varajao’s brother was named Fegan’s Vice President of International Basketball. Now, I’m sure this is a common practice, but is it totally out of the question that Fegan uses these confidants to gain access to the player while making side deals with those close to them?
            Dwight said in his press conference that his heart has been in Orlando and that he was receiving “bad advice”. Who was this coming from? Was it his mom who loved Orlando and publicly stated that she wished for him to remain in a Magic uniform? Was it from his dad who is a retired teacher and policeman, the an embodiment of blue-collar attitude and loyalty? Or was it Fegan and Howard’s aforementioned cousin? He mentioned those around him thinking from a “business side” while he decided to go with “loyalty”. Who in this beautifully clear picture is sided with his business ventures? Possibly the agent whose company works hand in hand with the Nets and the Barclay center? Possibly the cousin who has lined himself with Fegan and the benefits that Fegan brings him? Crazy, huh?

E(SPiN Machine)
            Against all odds though, Dwight chose to give the Magic a chance. (As a bit of a conspiracy theorist, Dwight didn’t sign the long-term extension because he’s about to drop a hammer on Fegan and he doesn’t want him touching a penny) The way ESPiN covered this story, you would’ve thought what Dwight had done was unheard of. Stephen A Smith (who still believes LeBron will be a Knick) went on an emotion-fueled tirade against Howard and the Magic. It must be noted that Rick Bucher agreed with Smith’s sentiment, but his explanation lacked the emotion that Smith’s had. What went un-touched was that Chris Paul had done the same thing to the Clippers just a few short months ago. However, LA is a big market and CP3’s move was looked at as giving the Clips a chance to prove they could contend. Orlando isn’t LA and apparently the Clippers are better title contenders than Orlando despite what the standings say. In reality, though, Stephen A(ss) was just ticked that his beloved Big Market just got a giant middle finger stuck to it.
            Smith also attacked Howard for playing the victim card and had the audacity to claim Howard needed to apologize to the media. Apparently Smith didn’t get the memo that this whole fiasco was media driven. Howard, under direction from Fegan, asked GM Otis Smith for a trade. However, after talking with Magic brass, Howard said that he’d be open to staying if Orlando could put a winner around him. Well, apparently having the NBA’s 5th best record, sitting comfortably as the 3 seed in the East, and taking 2 of 3 from the Heat and splitting with the Bulls, proved to Dwight that he was in a winning environment as he officially took his trade request off the table after a recent win against Miami.
            Before that though, Dwight never once said anything other than “RIGHT NOW, I’m with the Magic. All I want to do is win,” or something along those lines. Well the Magic won, Dwight kept his mouth shut, and any intelligent person would’ve left it alone. Not the media though, especially not ESPiN. Every day they had some report saying how Howard was gone. LeChris Broussard, Stephen A., and the other loud mouth talking heads came on every day and talked about how he was gone and heading to New York. It’s like they didn’t listen to HIM. Well, actually they didn’t. They listened to Fegan and the crap he and his associates spewed.
            Dwight’s focus has always been on basketball. Sure he’s been intrigued by the idea of a big market, but who wouldn’t be. Dwight at times this year has looked distracted, not disconnected. He’s having the best statistical season of his career aside from his awful free throw percentage. The Magic are winning and finally beating good teams. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone level headed that Dwight told the world he wanted to finish the season the other night.
            Of course ESPiN had to spin this as Dwight wanting the Nets to keep assets  so that he could join them at the end of the year and be on a more complete team. Well, if that was the case, you think he was just noticing that? It’s not like the Nets have had anywhere close to a respectable season. Maybe, just maybe, it could’ve been because he saw his team as a title contender. Remember, he did say that he wanted to leave because of basketball reasons., any level headed fan can tell you that Otis Smith would make any star player want to leave (Turkoglu and Duhon and JRICH contracts are disasters that never seemed like good ideas). Well, the Magic has jelled better than Howard thought they would and so he says he wants to stay. I know I’m repetitive right now, but that’s because I’m trying to hammer down the point. Dwight told the truth. Did Fegan or his associates? Probably not, but the reason Dwight was going to leave was basketball! ESPiN just can’t accept that.

Alexander the Great
            The third element of this story is Howard’s budding relationship with new Magic CEO, Alex Martins. Martins took over for Bob Vander Weide after Vander Weide drunk-dialed Howard asking to stay in December. Martins had 3 months to do what couldn’t be done in 7 years; convince Dwight to sign another extension.
            Martins called Howard on a near daily basis to talk with the star, convince him to stay, but more importantly, build a relationship with the 26-year-old kid. For those that don’t know, relationships are big for Howard. Jarrod Rudolph from RealGM, who the Orlando Sentinel called Howard’s “closest writer-friend” was the first to break that Dwight was going to waive his ETO. Martins needed a similar relationship with Dwight to do his job.
            From the start, Martins job was never to get Dwight to agree to an extension. It was to get Dwight to waive his ETO, a move that almost never occurs (again though, happened twice this year). Through his daily phone calls (many including Magic owner and Howard father figure Rich DeVos), Martins got to know Howard on a deeper and more personal level than Vander Weide or Otis Smith ever had. About a week ago, Martins made one final pitch, an in-depth presentation of the Magic’s 2012-2013 marketing plan. You’d think for such an occasion, the catering would include steak or lobster or something that the 1% munches on. Martins went another direction. The meal consisted of French fries, chicken fingers, skittles, and donuts; Dwight’s favorite foods).

He’s Just Different
            Dwight is different. While LeBron has been on Saturday Night Live and GQ, Dwight has written a children’s book and appeared on the Disney Channel. While LeBron goes out of his way to handle things poorly, Dwight ends up being viewed negatively because of the people who represent him and those who release information to the media. If you actually read Dwight’s quotes over the last 3 months, it’s very easy to see the conflict between what he wanted and what others wanted. I think his press conference did a better job of clarifying that.
            Dwight wants to be loved, he wants to fit in, and he wants to have connections. Before the last two years, his twitter was one of the best to follow in the league because of his interactions with fans. Since the Fegan era started, Dwight has changed. He’s seemed torn, broken, frustrated.
            The Dwight that Magic fans know is the one who loves the limelight but for things such as dance offs during all-star weekend, spot on impersonations of his coach, and Superman dunks. He’s just not a villain. That role will never fit him. He’s immature and childish; no one will argue that. But one thing that Dwight Howard has proven, is that he’s different. He has given his organization a chance to surround him with talent (more on that later), he has turned his back on the wishes of his agent and the business opportunities that New York may present (I’d argue Florida offers the same). He’s shown that those who thought they knew his mindset were wrong. He’s shown that he never made up his mind. He’s shown that he told the truth when he said he had basketball concerns and that Orlando had a shot to keep him. If you’ve watched ESPiN lately, you’d be under the impression that Howard has ruined the league. Well, if honesty and loyalty are ruining the league, then maybe it needs to be ruined.

Quick Hits
·      Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks signing with Tampa are big deals. Josh Freeman has two pro-bowl guards and a pro-bowl tackle along with a pro-bowl receiver to add to his already solid core. No excuses.
·      Peyton Manning may sign with the Broncos? If there’s one player I’d like to see Tebow learn from (if he’s willing – both Peyton and Tim) it’d be Manning. Hopefully, Elway doesn’t turn this into a war.
·      Orlando is in a much better position than people think to acquire help for Dwight. One, they have Ryan Anderson becoming a free agent this summer. Ryno has had a big year and should garner some big bucks. Orlando can either re-sign him (RFA) or use him in a sign and trade deal to acquire Josh Smith from Atlanta or maybe Deron Williams if the Nets don’t see him returning. Also, Steve Nash will be a free agent this summer… hmm. Jameer Nelson and JJ Redick are will be free agents in the summer of 2013. Expiring contracts with the value of Nelson and Redick as players may provide to be solid trade chips.

Credit To:
·      BarnetteJ from TrueBlueNation – He gives a more interrogative look at Fegan here
·      Orlando Sentinel – Lots of good pieces on Martins’ involvement
·      Satan – for producing Stephen A. Smith