Monthly Archives: April 2016

’15-’16 Magic: Promising Start, Ugly Middle, Hopeful Finish

How does the saying go?  Take one step forward, then two steps backwards? Yeah, that’s the story of the 2015-2016 Orlando Magic.

IMG_3534

The Magic took a big step forward in 2015-2016, but are still a long way from where they should be. Photo Credit: Magic.com

Year four of the Magic rebuilding plan looked headed toward a date in the postseason, early on. They reached as high as the 5th seed in the standings in late December, and were the 6th seed in the eastern conference with a 19-14 record on New Year’s Day. But that was short lived.

A horrific 2-12 month of January started a dismal second half of the season that had them looking like a team headed back to the top three of the draft lottery. The team finished with a second half record of 15-26.

Orlando was supposed to be this season’s version of the 2014-2015 Milwaukee Bucks. Get in the playoffs, then either win a series or push a team to 6 or 7 games. Instead they went down quicker than the Titanic or the Hindenburg.

Sure there have been some positives. This team won 35 games, 10 more than last season, and the most since the abbreviated 2011-2012 season when they won 37 of 66 games in Dwight Howard’s last season in central Florida. They also finished strong, going 6-4 in their last 10, with three of the teams they beat in that stretch playoff bound.

Aaron “Air” Gordon’s aerial assault in the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star weekend in Toronto and in the games to follow finally brought some positive attention to the franchise on the court. He’s enjoying a Vince Carter-like boost into the National spotlight without having even winning the contest.

Gordon is by far the most improved player on the Magic this season as he constantly improved each game with more and more playing time. Something I started begging for in the first month of the season.

gordongetty

Gordon is a corner stone piece for the Magic’s return to the postseason. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

With this being his de facto rookie campaign since an injury limited him to 36 games in his true first season in the Association, Gordon looks to have the makings of being a franchise cornerstone piece along with Nik Vucevic and Victor Oladipo. Outside of those three, the rest of the roster is expendable. Which is why Orlando should be a major player in free agency.

Last summer the Magic tried to address their obvious needs for an All-Star veteran with significant playoff experience. There was a strong flirtation with Atlanta’s Paul Millsap when they offered him a 4 year/$80 million contract that he seriously considered. This summer they’ll have some very good options, and cap room to spend.

Lake Howell Grad and former Florida Gator Chandler Parsons will be a free agent, as well as Atlanta Hawk power forward and 2-time National Champion Florida Gator Al Horford. Both would provide the veteran leadership this team DESPERATELY needs. Parson has only played in 13 playoff games in three of his first four seasons in the NBA, but averaged 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game.

Horford has played in 64 playoff games averaging 12.9 points and 8.7 rebounds a game while shooting 49%. The 4-time All-Star in 9 seasons, has led the Hawks to the playoffs 8 times. Something that was unfathomable for that franchise when the Hawks drafted him 3rd overall in 2007. He’s a high character guy, that provides steady leadership and toughness.

Another Florida connection that should be on the Magic’s radar is Horford’s 2006-2007 National Champion teammate Joakim Noah. Noah is coming off a season where he missed 53 games with a shoulder injury, but from a defensive and leadership standpoint, the former 2014 Defensive Player of the Year has EXACTLY what Orlando’s young nucleus needs. Neither he or Horford are long-term options, but this team needs to get to the playoffs and for a 3-year plan, adding one or two of the three would go a loooong way in achieving that goal.

As far as the rumors of a Dwight Howard remarriage, I’m not onboard, and true Magic fans shouldn’t be either. That cut is too deep. Dwight’s indecision was worse than LeBron’s Decision.

But if D12 wants to reclaim his throne in the Magic Kingdom and Magic Management are seriously interested in signing him, he needs to realize he won’t be the number one post option on offense. That’s Vucevic. Sure Dwight should get more than the 4-8 shots a game he seems to average with Houston, but he’s not the same player that bolted for L.A. in 2012. At this point in his career, Dwight’s best bet is to mold his career into that of one time Magic player, and Detroit Piston defensive great Ben Wallace.

However, Howard’s defense and rebounding are a fit for Orlando. At 30 years old Dwight can still protect the rim at a high level. The Magic were 11th worse in the NBA in opponents field goal percentage at 46%, 13th in opponents points per game at 103.7, 15th in points in blocks (5.1 ppg), 13th in points allowed in the paint (43.5 per game). Dwight’s presence in the paint could be enough to steer those numbers in the favor of Orlando.

Maybe one of the guys I named could do for this unit what Horace Grant did for the Shaq-Penny teams of the 90’s. This Magic team has potential, and with the right veteran or two, this team should be in the 2016-2017 playoffs. They must. They have to make the playoffs next season. The rebuilding can’t continue any longer or everyone must go.

The Best NBA Teams TO NOT Win a Title

 

chapter-12

Shaq and Penny were supposed to be the 1990’s version of Kareem and Magic.

The 1994-1996 Orlando Magic were one of most popular teams in NBA history in the last 35 years. As they are immortalized in the most recent ESPN 30 for 30, which was an excellent time capsule of my favorite team from my childhood.

It’s hard to believe this team led by Shaq and Penny didn’t stick together and win several Larry O’Brien trophies. As Shaq said in the film, they were Shaq and Kobe, before Shaq and Kobe. At the time in the mid-90s, they were often affectionately called the new version of Magic and Kareem.

IMG_3879As I’m watching the film, I can’t help but think of other great teams that didn’t win a title. In addition to the Magic of the 90’s, here are my best teams of the last 35 NBA seasons to not win a title.

The 1992-1995 Charles Barkley led Phoenix Suns. In 1992-1993, his first season in the desert, “Sir Charles”, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle won a league high 62 games and Barkley took home league MVP over Michael Jordan. The Suns lost in a tough 6-game series to the Chicago Bulls—a theme that will be repeated a couple times on this list—in the NBA Finals that included an epic three-overtime game 3 victory. That would be the closest this group would come to a championship.

In 1993-94 and 1994-95, after winning 56 and 59 games respectively, the Suns would lose in the Western Conference Semifinals to eventual Champions the Houston Rockets and NBA MVP Hakeem Olajuwon, after leading both series 3-1.

The 1996-1999 Stockton to Malone Utah Jazz made back-to-back NBA Finals in 97 and 98 before losing to…. Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in 6-games. Those teams won 64 and 62 games, respectively. Like Barkley in 1993, Malone took home the NBA MVP over Jordan in 1997, a loss MJ took personal since he had just led the Bulls to a 69-13 regular season. With Jordan retired, the Jazz were the overwhelming favorites to win the championship in the 1999 Lockout Shortened season following their two Finals losses. Utah won 37 of 50 games that season, but went out in the Western Conference Semifinals 2-4 to a Portland Trailblazers team that lost to the eventual NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

The 1985-86 twin towers of Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon led Houston Rockets. No one can blame this team for losing in the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics in 6-games (2-4). The original Celtics Big 3 of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish are arguably one of the greatest teams of all-time. The hold the record for home wins in a season at 40-1, and won a league high 67 wins that year.

The Rockets won 51-games this season and knocked off the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s in 5-games (4-1).

Following the 85-86 season, Houston would take several steps back. In 86-87, they won 42 games and lost in the Western Conference Semifinals 2-4 to the lowered seeded Seattle Supersonics, followed by four consecutive 1st round series losses. Ralph Sampson’s promising career was derailed by injuries, and “The Dream” had to change his name to Hakeem to get his two rings (’94 & ’95) and 1994 NBA MVP. I’m joking.

For you young fans, the father of rising Minnesota Timberwolves superstar Andrew Wiggins, Mitchell, was a key reserve on this team.

The 1993-1994 Shawn Kemp-Gary Payton led Seattle Supersonics won a league best 63 games, and were primed to take over the title left by Michael Jordan’s first retirement to play baseball. Instead, the Sonics became the first number one seed to lose to an eighth seed in the playoffs 2-3 back when the first round was a best of five series.

The Sonics would bounce back and finally make the NBA Finals in 1996, but ran into a rejuvenated Jordan and the 72-10 Bulls. After going down 3-0, Seattle rallied back to lose in 6-games. They followed their Finals appearance with back-to-back Western Conference Semifinals loses after winning 57 and 61 games respectively, even after trading Shawn Kemp away to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1997 offseason. They would miss the playoffs in the 1999 season, and the closest they’ve come to a title since, was the 2011-2012 Oklahoma City Thunder who lost to the Miami Heat 1-4.

The 1990’s Patrick Ewing led New York Knicks’ chances began and ended with the start, and emergence of two of the greatest dynasties the Association has ever seen. Like a few others on this list, that guy Michael Jordan and his Bulls—told you there was a theme—curtailed any chances of them winning a title by beating them in 4 grueling, physical series in the decade (’91 1st. round 0-3, ’92 Semifinals 3-4, ’93 Conference Finals 3-4, ’96 Semifinals 1-4).

When 23 in red and black retired in 1993, many assumed Ewing would lead them to New York’s first title since 1973. While they finally made it to the Finals, they would go on to lose to Olajuwon’s Rockets in seven games (3-4) for their first of two ‘chips.

Then MJ returned, and knocked them out again. In 1999 during the Lockout shortened season, with an injured Ewing sitting out, Latrell Sprewell, Larry Johnson and Alan Houston led Knicks became the first ever 8th seed to make the Finals where they ran into Tim Duncan and David Robinson’s San Antonio Spurs and lost 1-4. New York hasn’t made it past the Conference Semifinals since ’12-13.

The Jason Kidd led New Jersey Nets of the early 2000s. Kidd came over from Phoenix in a 2001 offseason trade for Stephon Marbury and immediately transformed the lowly Nets from a 26 win lottery bound team into title contenders. New Jersey boosted their win total to 52 games and took home the Atlantic Division title. But like their tri-state area companion Knicks, they ran into two dynasties.

Their first Finals appearance was a 4 game sweep at the hands of the Shaq-Kobe Los Angeles Lakers on their way to their third consecutive championship. The following season, the Nets made it back to the Finals after winning 49 games in the regular season, but ran into Tim Duncan, David Robinson and the Spurs. San Antonio beat the Nets in 6-games (2-4) on their way to their 2nd Championship, they would go on to win 5 total. The Nets returned to the Conference Semifinals where they faced a Detroit Pistons team they knocked off twice on their way to Eastern Conference titles. The Piston went on to win the championship that season, the Nets haven’t made past the conference semifinals since.

The 2009 LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers. LBJ miraculously led the 2007 Cavs to the NBA Finals after beating a Detroit Pistons team that had appeared in seven consecutive Eastern Conference finals, winning a title, and 2 Eastern Conference Championships along the way.

The ’09 Cavaliers won a league high 66 games, LeBron won the first of his four NBA MVP’s in a landslide, and appeared headed towards a highly anticipated matchup between James and Kobe Bryant in the Finals. Cleveland swept the first two rounds of the playoffs, But the Orlando Magic led by Dwight Howard, fresh off their 7-game series victory over the Kevin Garnett-less defending Champion Boston Celtics, dominated Cleveland and won the series in 6-games (2-4). The following season the Cavs won 61 games and LeBron another MVP, but they lost in the conference semifinals to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics.

In the offseason following that loss, James made his “Decision” to go to South Beach and the Cavs suffered through four losing seasons where they won as little as 19 games and as many as 33, before James returned and took them back to the Finals in his first season back in “The Land”, finishing with a 6-game series loss to the Golden State Warriors.

Don’t Go Back To Pharaoh 

We’ve all been there. You know the place. It’s where desperation and anxiety starts to overtake faith and hope; leaving you longing for what you once had, even though you know it was, and still is bad for you. It’s what we have in common with the Israelites.

 “That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”  ~ Numbers 14:1-4

The Israelites wanted to go back to Pharaoh and Egypt where they were slaves and badly mistreated. After escaping with the help of Moses, they wandered in the wilderness discouraged for forty years in route to the Promised Land. If you’ve spent any amount of time in church in your life, you know the story.

The journey should’ve be an eleven day trip. Several of them died out there without seeing, and receiving God’s best for them. They complained often about everything, including God’s Holy Manna He sent from Heaven when they were hungry. The reason many of them seriously contemplated going back to Egypt was because it was at least better than where they were, or so they assumed.

Many of you are in a similar situation. You have finally stepped out on faith and left a toxic job, relationship or are chasing a lifelong dream. You have become so discouraged you’re ready to go back with your tail between your legs to where you were, because it was better in your mind than where you are seemingly stuck now. You’re in your wilderness

Whatever you do, DON’T GO BACK! I believe going back to your Pharaoh gives the Lord a bad reputation. Since you rightfully stepped out on faith in Him, by going back you’re essentially saying “God wasn’t enough to help me see it through.” We all know that’s never the case.

Returning to the situation will give your oppressor greater power over you to harm, mistreat and shortchange you. They will view you as someone who can’t get along without them. Therefore the conditions will be worse than before you left, because they now know you’ll put up with anything, just to have…well, anything. Even if it’s less than you deserve.

For example: returning to work at a job where you got passed over for a promotion time after time and your work was never appreciated, will only cause them to value you less because they know you’re settling. The same goes for reuniting with a bad girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse or friend. They know you’ll accept the abuse, neglect and manipulation because now you’re signing up for it. It’s not a surprise now, you knew exactly what you’re getting and they will try to get away with doing worse.

“As a dog goes back to its vomit, so a fool repeats his stupidity.”  ~ Proverbs 26:11

More importantly, going back to Pharoah shows you have a lack of faith and trust in the Lord about the hopes and visions for your future He put in your heart. There’s a reason God gave you that dream or made a way for you to get out of that situation, relationship or job. It’s because He truly has something better for you.

It’s not happening yet because either you’re not ready, or He’s not finish readying the next stop for you. Instead of giving up and going back to the “devil you know”–as I’ve heard many say–focus on preparing yourself for what you expect the Lord to do. The time passing by isn’t to hurt you, but help you be at your best when you get to your Promised Land. Remember, the Israelites’ Promised Land was already occupied. They had to wait, and be ready to face the challenges to come with taking it over. The same goes for you. You know the saying “new level, new devil!” Take this time to get yourself ready for that.

Another VERY IMPORTANT note, don’t complain too much. Read Numbers 14: 20-45 to see how the Lord dealt with them for doing so. Just from reading, it’s clear, you don’t want those kind of problems.

Whatever you do, DON’T GO BACK to Pharaoh.

The Evolution to Steph

As popular as Steph Curry is with hardcore and casual fans, he and his Golden State Warriors teammates run through the record books isn’t as well received by those who were a major factor in writing those records. The defending champions’ dominant 2015-2016 season has brought out the curmudgeons and so-called “purists” who long for the way the game was played yesteryear.

In February when 11-time NBA World Champion coach Phil Jackson tweeted….

It created a small brush fire through the sports world and media, but it was nothing compared to the inferno unleashed by Hall of Fame great Oscar Robertson when he called out today’s coaches and players for not coming up with better game plans and execution to defend Curry.

In a scathing tone, the “Big O” said on ESPN’s Mike & Mike, “[Curry] has shot well because what’s going on in basketball today. In basketball today, it’s almost like if you can dunk or make a three-point shot, you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread…If I’ve got a guy who’s great shooting the ball outside, don’t you want to extend your defense out a little bit?… These coaches [today] do not understand the game of basketball, as far as I’m concerned.”

Mr. Robertson sounded like grumpy old Mr. Wilson scolding Dennis the Menace after catching him throwing the ball to close to the cars in his driveway.

While Phil’s tweet badly missed the mark he was shooting for, he may be on to something. Yes, no one has done it as efficiently and with the same flare as Steph, but several have in small doses. He is now what the point guard position has evolved into.

The dictionary defines the term evolution as the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form. The following names are the players from the past who Wardell Stephen Curry got the ingredients for what he’s cooking.

Bob Cousy, the “Houdini of the Hardwood”, was the first showman in the history of the Association with his slick ball handling and flashy passes. Cousy wasn’t just style, he was substance, winning the 1957 NBA MVP and helping the Boston Celtics win 6 championships and averaged 7.5 assist per game for his career.

“Pistol Pete” Marivach was a scoring machine with Harlem Globetrotter-esque handles, and before his time creativity with his shot taking and making. His scoring exploits began with a stellar 3-year career at LSU {freshman were ineligible to play varsity during his time} where he scored 3,667 points, averaging 44.2 points per game for his collegiate career.

In eleven professional seasons, the “Pistol” averaged 24.2 points per game on 44% shooting from the field and 67% (10/15) from three {the 3-point line was instituted in 1979-80 season} and 5.4 assists per game for his career.

Nate Tiny Archibald, the first diminutive player—by comparison to his opponents— to dominate the NBA in scoring while still having the innate ability to set up teammates. He’s the only player in history to lead the Association in scoring and assists in the same season at 34.0 points and 11.4 assists per game on 49% shooting for the Kansas City Kings.

Isiah Thomas, had the handle to put his opponents on skates, right before elevating into his deadly mid range jumper that was as lethal as Curry’s deep 3’s. Thomas averaged 19.2 points and 9.3 assists per game for his 13-year career with the Detroit Pistons. Four consecutive seasons Thomas averaged 20+ points and 10+ assists per game, leading the Association in assists with 13.9 per game in 1984-1985.

Ray Allen. People forget about Milwaukee Bucks/Seattle Supersonics Ray when they annoint Curry as the greatest shooter ever. In his first seven seasons in the NBA with the Bucks, Allen averaged 19.6 points per game on 45% from 2-point range and 41% from beyond the arc. When he was traded to the Sonics and became the number one option, he averaged 24.6 points per game on 44% from 2’s and 39% from downtown. The 6’6″ Allen, in his prime, did much of his damage taking defenders off the dribble and sinking pull up J’s from mid-range and deep, albeit not with as many attempts as Steph. The most three’s he attempted in a season was 653 (8.4 per game) in 2005-2006. The last two seasons, Steph has averaged 8.1 and 11.1 3-point attempts per game, and has shot more than 600+ 3-pointers for the last four seasons

Dell Curry. I can’t ignore half the DNA in which Steph comes from. As the saying goes, “he is his father’s son.” The Curry’s elite shooting ability is similar to the Manning’s passing skills in the NFL. The father Curry was considered a dead-eye shooter at 40% from 3-point range and 48% from the field during his 16-year career with the Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors. His best years came in Charlotte, but his career best 48% 3-point shooting percentage in 1998-99 with the Bucks led the NBA. He obviously shared his knowledge, work ethic and skills with his sons. Even younger brother Seth with the Sacramento Kings has the gift. He’s a career 47% 3-point shooter in his 46 games played over 3 seasons in the NBA. 

I’m not saying any of these guys are better than Steph or not. It’s just they have similarities in certain areas or skills. I do agree with LBJ’s overall point. Never before have we seen anyone DO IT in the way Steph is doing it. As time goes on, many will try to emulate him as the game of basketball evolves.

Just like with those before him, one day we’ll be looking back at Steph as another plot point in the evolution of greatness.