Monthly Archives: June 2016

A 2016 Magic Free Agency Wish List

 
The NBA Free Agency period, also known to some as Christmas in the summer for NBA players and fans, tips-off at 12:01 am on July 1st. The Orlando Magic will have nearly $37 million dollars in cap space to lure key free agents to central Florida to help catapult the franchise back into the playoffs.  

Thanks to the draft night trade of Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis, the 11th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka, the Magic have filled their biggest glaring need for a strong defensive power forward that can also knock down perimeter jump shots to keep the space open down low for Nik Vucevic. But, that trade along with other roster moves have created other needs that can and should be filled immediately. Here’s my wish list for Orlando. 

Shooting guard Courtney Lee. General manager Rob Hennigan has already extended a qualifying offer to starting shooting guard/small forward Evan Fournier and it’s expected he will sign it to remain in central Florida. But there’s still a need for depth at the position. Even though they just traded for Jodie Meeks from the Detroit Pistons, it’s rumored the team would like to add another shooting guard. A player of Lee’s caliber could definitely help.  

The former first round pick of the Magic in 2008, shot 45.4% from the field and 37.8% on 3-pointers last season for both the Memphis Grizzles and Charlotte Hornets. At 6’5″, the 30 year old is an above average defender and signing him would also steal him from a division rival and 2016 Playoff team. His addiction would bring another steady veteran presence in the locker room with extensive playoff experience. He was a rookie starter on the 2009 team that made the NBA Finals. Lee also still lives in Orlando in the offseason, so maybe he’d like to be around permanently. 

Reports, or rumors, also have mentioned Jamal Crawford of the L.A. Clippers and Eric Gordon of the New Orleans Pelicans as potential targets. Crawford is 36 years old and more likely to stay in L.A. or sign with a proven championship contender. Gordon is only 27 years old, with 8 years of NBA experience. While he would be a good fit, he’s likely to ask for more money than the Magic will be willing to give.

Small forward/power forward Chandler Parsons. Parsons is a local kid having played high school ball at Lake Howell and for Billy Donovan in Gainesville at the University of Florida. Parsons has had a bout with the injury bug since signing his last free agent deal with the Dallas Mavericks in 2014. The 27 year-old has made some rumblings on social media lately that things aren’t so great in “Big D.” Maybe a return home would do wonders for his health and happiness. At 6’10 he shoots 49.2% from 2-point range and 41.4% from 3. Adding his versatility to go along with Fournier, Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon would make Orlando one of the most, if not the most versatile team in the league.  

Plus with the news that power forward Andrew Nicholson, the Magic’s current longest tenured player, won’t be receiving a qualifying offer making him a unrestricted free agent, the Magic need to find more depth on the frontline. Signing Parsons will fill that need. 

Shooting guard/point guard Austin Rivers, if you can’t resign Brandon Jennings who was acquired in the Tobias Harris trade or get Lee. Rivers, another local kid from nearby Winter Park High School, improved by leaps and bounds as Chris Paul’s backup with the L.A. Clippers. It was a shock to many he opted out of his contract with the team where he also plays for his father Doc Rivers, but when you look at the potential money that will be thrown around this summer it shouldn’t be that shocking. Orlando should definitely throw him some. Rivers is only 23 years old, and set career marks last season in points per game (8.9), field goal percentage (43.8%) and 3-point percentage (34%) while only playing 21.8 minutes a night. Plus, more importantly, Rivers has significant playoff experience having been in the Conference Semifinals and first round of the Western Conference the last two seasons. Rivers would fit in perfectly with a group of guys under the age of 26 years and ready to blossom.

If the Magic can sign one or two of these guys, it will be Christmas in the Spring of 2017 for central Florida hoop fans, because they’ll receive the gift of playoff basketball for the first time in five years.

Oladipo-Ibaka Trade Isn’t a Restart. It’s a Jumpstart

 

New Magic coach Frank Vogel (left) and GM Rob Hennigan pulled off an unpopular trade that should propell the young Magic into the 2017 postseason. Photo Courtesy: OrlandoMagic.com

 
Now that I’ve had nearly twenty-four hours to process it, I don’t like the Magic’s trade for Serge Ibaka in exchange for Victor Oladipo. I LOVE IT! It signals a change in strategy, not a restart of a rebuild. It means Orlando Magic management are seriously making a push for the playoffs now. Not just talking about it, or waiting until whenever the young talent develops.

Let me set this up for you. I’ve always said that what Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan was trying to build in central Florida was the Eastern Conference version of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I have made that comparison for a few reasons.  

One, Hennigan came from there as the Assistant GM to Sam Presti, who came from San Antonio were he was the assistant to GM R.C. Buford. The second was that all three teams are “small market” teams who would have to rely on building through the draft because it was believed to be highly unlikely to get free agents to move to San Antonio, OKC and Orlando in their primes. My third was because Hennigan’s first major draft choice at the helm in Orlando was Victor Oladipo, who is similar to a guy he was instrumental in drafting to OKC in Russell Westbrook. Don’t believe me? Just compare Oladipo’s stats to Westbrook’s after their first three seasons. But now Oladipo is gone to the Thunder where he will likely be Westbrook’s backup, and maybe replace him if he bolts in free agency next summer. 

So what does all this have to do with the Magic? Hennigan has realized that what makes the Oklahoma City and San Antonio model work is they have once in a generation players in Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan that attracted talent to play with them. Orlando doesn’t have that, and won’t have that if they continue to improve just enough to smell the playoffs, yet not get a taste. So Hennigan traded away his “Westbrook” realizing his original plans won’t work, but in hopes fast tracking them to the playoffs by netting his first big free agent of 2017. You read that right. I know it’s still 2016.  

Serge Ibaka will be a highly coveted unrestricted free agent next summer, and Hennigan, who has history with him from their days in OKC, just filled a void that wasn’t going to be available this summer. So why waste another year of being in the bottom of the lottery to only draft a player who wouldn’t make an significant impact, when he could go get a player who is a three-time 1st-team All-Defensive player, in the last year of his deal and motivated to prove he deserves another major deal? 

Hennigan is rolling the dice he can convince Ibaka to stay with the Magic past this season. This move is unpopular with fans, but when playoff basketball returns to central Florida in the spring of 2017 for the first time since 2012, they’ll get over it. Thanks to Hennigan’s success drafting (Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja, Aaron Gordon) and acquiring (Evan Fournier) talented perimeter players, the need for Oladipo is lesser than the need was for a defensive stud like Ibaka. We all saw how soft this team was in the middle last season. The only thing softer on Earth was baby food.  

Oladipo may have been Orlando’s most popular player, but Nik Vucevic is their best player. You need to build around him to highlight his pros, yet cover his cons. Ibaka’s strengths are Vucevic’s weaknesses. I equate this move to when the Golden State Warriors traded Monta Ellis in his prime to the Milwaukee Bucks for Andrew Bogut. The Warriors would’ve never won a title without Bogut—as proven in the 2016 NBA Finals—and Klay Thompson would’ve never become the All-Star he is. The Warriors decided their best player was Steph Curry, and decided to build around him. Flipping Ellis for Bogut started their rise to Champions. Ellis is by far a better player than Bogut, but Bogut was more valuable to the Warriors than Ellis. The same is true for the Magic now. Ibaka is more valuable to the Magic than Oladipo due to their weaknesses inside. 

The goal with new Head Coach Frank Vogel, who has a hard-nosed, gritty defensive mindset to go along with an inside-out offensive scheme judging from his days with the Indiana Pacers, is to get to the playoffs now. This newly constructed roster can do that, even if it’s a 7 or 8 seed. Once you’re in the playoffs, you can attract bigger top tier free agents who are interested in your young talent, I.E. the Boston Celtics. 

Will you all be complaining about trading away Victor Oladipo if Hennigan could sway a say, Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant to Orlando? Remember he was apart of drafting them to OKC as well. It’s not as far fetched as once thought.

Magic Fans, This is the Right Move

Oladipo and Ibaka traded for each other during the 2016 NBA Draft. Photo Credit: Orlandomagicdaily.com

The Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder stole the show at the 2016 NBA Draft on Thursday night. The two teams agreed to a deal that will send Serge Ibaka from Oklahoma City to Orlando in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the eleventh pick in the 2016 NBA Draft Domantas Sabonis, the son of Pro Basketball Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, to OKC.

To say this move angers Magic fans is as understated as saying the 2016 Presidential Campaign is a circus. Social media is on fire with fans killing the deal and Magic executives. 

Victor Oladipo is by far the most popular Magic player since, dare I say Dwight Howard. There are several reasons for VO’s popularity in central Florida, but topping the list is his athleticism with his highlight dunks and aggressive defense, as well as being a major contributor to the community since being drafted out of Indiana with the number two overall pick in the 2013 draft. 

The other reason so many Magic fans are sad to see him go is because he was the first major pick after the Dwight Howard saga that tore up an organization that seemed like it was on the verge of delivering a world title that seems to be twenty years in the making. So many relate Oladipo to the new era. And I understand their frustration.  

But this is the right basketball move. Domantas Sabonis is an unknown so there’s no need to cry over that spilled milk. The Thunder probably won’t use him for another three years while he develops. That would’ve very likely been the case if he stayed with the Magic. Ersan Ilyasova was brought in for the sole purpose of catering to former head coach Scott Skiles because of their history with the Milwaukee Bucks, which I believe is the same reason that got they guy he was traded for, Tobias Harris, sent to the Detroit Pistons. Ilyasova did nothing of value in his 22 games with the Magic. He averaged 8.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg. He was a throw in as far as I’m concerned. 

What this deal really comes down to is trading Ibaka for Oladipo.  

This move fills the hole at the power forward position that has been a weakness since former All-Star Rashard Lewis was traded away during the 2010-2011 season. General Manager Rob Henningan has been in desperate need of someone to be a reliable defensive inside presence to pair next to Nik Vucevic. Ibaka is ONLY 26 years old, even though he just finished his seventh season. The three-time 1st-team All-Defensive Team member blocks 2.5 shots a game for his career while pulling down 7.4 rebounds a game. He’s the compliment to Vucevic that had many wondering if a reunion with Dwight was imminent. This move rules that out. That should be enough to satisfy Orlando fans. 

While Ibaka will clean up several defensive mistakes by his new teammates, offensively he will also open up room for “Vooch” to work on the blocks. Using advanced stats, Ibaka’s win share was 5.5 in 2015-2016, and he averaged 12.6 ppg while shooting 48% on 2-point field goals on 9.9 shooting attempts per game, his second lowest total in his career. Remember, he played with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, he didn’t get as many opportunities in his last few seasons with the Thunder as many would’ve liked. When they used him, he produced. 

The Magic also had to solve their logjam on the perimeter. When you draft in the lottery four consecutive seasons, you should have acquired some desirable talent. GM Hennigan did that, now you have to flip that to get out of this tailspin. 

Now you get to resign Evan Fournier who had a career year last season. 2015 top pick Mario Hezonja gets more minutes and so will new fan favorite Aaron Gordon. The wing players still on the roster can supply the necessary offensive duties Oladipo left behind. What Ibaka brings, you weren’t going to find in this draft or in this upcoming free agency period. How about this for a starting lineup on opening night of the 2016-17 season; Elfrid Payton (PG), Evan Fournier (SG), Aaron Gordon (SF), Serge Ibaka (PF) and Nik Vucevic (C). Orlando’s path back to playoffs just got brighter.

Dwight Wants to Return to Orlando. Okay, I Guess…

 

Dwight Howard dunks on Kobe Bryant in 2009 NBA Finals. Photo Credit: NBA

 
As expected, Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard opted out of the final year of his contract ($23.2M) to become a free agent this summer, and rumor has it, he and the Orlando Magic are warming up to the idea of a reunion according to Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report.

So the 8-time NBA All-Star, 6-time All-NBA and 3-time Defensive Player of the Year wants to return to the franchise that drafted him number one overall first pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, that he led to the 2009 NBA Finals while becoming its all-time leading scoring and rebounder among other statistical categories, four years after his “indecision” sent them into their current rebuilding spiral.

Sure. Okay. I guess that could make them a better team.

Let’s not get it twisted. This isn’t LeBron James returning to Cleveland after successfully chasing championships on South Beach, or Michael Jordan returning to the Chicago Bulls after a stint chasing his childhood dream—and his late father’s—of being a professional baseball player. James and Jordan both delivered a World Championship in their heroic returns. 

But Howard’s story is the equivalent of an unhappy spouse who wanted out of his marriage to go be with his sidechick, because he thought she was prettier and would make him happier, only to comeback after realizing he walked away from the best he already had or ever will have.

Sure the Magic need a veteran with playoff experience, and desperately need one that could provide a defensive presence in the paint next to the offensive minded Nik Vucevic. But before central Florida gets its hopes up that their prodigal son can return to right the wrongs of his past, there are some questions that must be asked of and answered by the 30 year old (he’ll turn 31 during the season) with a body in steady decline after serious back, shoulder and knee injuries.

Is he willing to accept a role where he is not the first, second and maybe even third option? Is this for the long-term? Will he be a leader or the locker room cancer he’s been labeled? And like any jilted partner, can Magic fans trust him again?

This move makes plenty of CENTS for Dwight financially long-term and in terms of public relations. He spent the beginning of his offseason after the Rockets lost to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs on an image damage control tour. 

But does it really make SENSE for him at this stage of his career, or for an Orlando team that has shown improvement over the last season, and is trending upwards after the blessing in disguise that was Scott Skiles resigning opening up the coaching seat for Frank Vogel?

I’m not trying to bash Dwight, but he’s no longer the self-proclaimed “Superman”, he’s more Clark Kent. 

On a playoff team like the Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets and even the most disappointing team of the 2015-2016 season the Washington Wizards, Howard could be the difference between a 4 or 5 seed in the East or a top 2 seed. On one of those teams that is hoping to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown in the next three seasons, he could be their DeAndre Jordan or fellow former defensive players of the year Tyson Chandler and Ben Wallace. Both of whom were key spokes on the wheel of championship teams.

The Magic are 3 to 4 years from being in the position of the teams I previously mentioned. Thus my point, neither really helps the other accomplish their overall goal. That is why at the end of it all, this reunion would be just… Ehh, and Magic fans should feel the same way.

Grant Hill Was LeBron Before LeBron. Y’all Just Forgot!

Hill was the first player to with the perfect blend of Magic & Michael. Photo Courtesy: NBA

LeBron James is the best all-around player in the NBA. He has been for the past decade. I even have him on my All-Time NBA Mt. Rushmore. I have really enjoyed watching his game the last couple of seasons, especially in the last two NBA Playoffs and NBA Finals versus the Golden State Warriors.

In 2015, James averaged 35.8 points 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the six game NBA Finals series. In the 2016 Finals he went for 27.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists per game. LeBron led the Cavs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and minutes played. That had NEVER been done in NBA History.

In the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors, he moved into second place all-time in most playoff triple–doubles. He now has fifteen, Magic Johnson who’s in first place has twice as many. James just missed being the first player in over twelve years to average a triple-double for a series (Jason Kidd, 2003).

LBJ’s exploits have left fans, peers and past greats of the Association mesmerized. Year in and year out he is proving he can be both Michael and Magic as he has captured three NBA titles and brought the city of Cleveland it’s first pro championship in over a half century. Seeing LeBron at his peak has left me wondering what could’ve been, because nearly a decade before he entered the Association out of Akron Saint Vincent–Saint Mary High School (OH), Grant Hill was that guy. 23 in wine and gold is what Grant Hill should have been.

These days Grant Hill is remembered or known one of three ways. People above the age of thirty remember him as the standout All-American at Duke, that played in three Final Fours, won two National Titles, and started one of the greatest moments in NCAA Tournament history….

Till this day he’s still probably the least hated Duke player in their history because of the class and humility he exhibited amongst a group of guys who had the aura of snobby, pampered, silver spoon fed preppies who thought they were in titled. I’m pointing directly at you Christian Laettner and J.J. Redick.

They’ll also remember the guy who was a seven-time All-Star, five of which came in his first six seasons in the NBA. The only reason he wasn’t six for six is because the NBA didn’t have an All-Star game in 1999 due to the lockout. He was a five-time All-NBA selection, First-team All-Rookie (1995) and Co-Rookie of the Year in 1995.

Those around 15 years of age or so, especially the ones living in the Central Florida area, may remember him as the often injured former All-Star who was a shell of himself after he signed the big contract with the Orlando Magic in 2000. Some of those fans are still angry at him for what they deem as him “stealing money” from the organization. He missed 374 games out of a possible 574 in seven seasons with Orlando.

And, many now mostly know him as the guy who has successfully transitioned from retired professional athlete to broadcaster, staring on the reincarnation of the popular 1990’s hit NBA show “Inside Stuff”, while also doing in game analysis for NBA TV and NBA on TNT telecasts.

Grant was the first successful “Next MJ.” Photo Credit: NBA

But, what all three forget is that in the mid 90’s he was the next Michael Jordan on and off the court. And, unlike others who were labeled the next MJ or Baby Jordan, he took the mantle and was running smoothly with it while also setting a new standard. He was his “Airness” and “Magic” combined, looooooong before anybody knew who LeBron James was. And, he was one of the first to be tagged with the “Point Forward” label.

From 1994 to 2000 he was clearly the best small forward in the game, I mean that with no disrespect to six-time NBA Champion and one of the 50th Greatest Players of All-Time in Scottie Pippen. During his time in Detroit, Hill averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.6 steals in 39.1 minutes per game while leading a Pistons franchise, that was in rebuilding mode after the “Bad Boys” era when it drafted him with the third overall pick in the 1994 draft, to the playoffs four times.

He won a gold medal as a key member of Dream Team II at the 1996 Summer Olympic games in Atlanta. During the 1996-1997 season he collected thirteen triple-doubles which was the most in the Association that season. He finished with twenty-nine in his career. More importantly, he never played fewer than seventy games, except for the lockout shortened season of 1998-99 when he played all fifty on the schedule. We’ll get to why that’s important later.

Even when his team wasn’t playing he was still on television endorsing products like Peyton Manning has been for the past five years or so. Hill had the Sprite commercials, was on every magazine cover from GQ to Ebony to Sports Illustrated. And, like MJ when he first came into the Association, he was carrying the hopes and dreams of an entire up and coming, but lesser known shoe company (FILA) and doing it well.

  

Grant was my guy. His crossover was sick enough to make Allen Iverson and Tim Hardaway “ooh and Ahh.” Then he could posterize the best shot blockers in a way that could make Vince Carter and LeBron James jump out their seat. Oh, and his mid range jumper, was as pure as Steph Curry’s three-point daggers.

Even though I wasn’t 6’8 225 like Grant, I’m 6’3″ 205I molded my game after him. Like I mentioned before, he was, and by all accounts still the classy, humble guy his former NFL Pro Bowl running back father Calvin and successful attorney and consultant mother Janet—who is was the college roommate of 2016 Democratic Presidential Nominee, former U.S. Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton—raised him to be.

But, his career isn’t the fairytale that it looked as though it was headed to be. Instead of being named alongside Jordan, Magic, Bird, Kobe, LeBron as one of the top five or ten players to ever play, most will list him along with Bill Walton, Penny Hardaway, Brandon Roy and even guys from other sports like Gayle Sayers, Terrell Davis and Ken Griffey Junior who’s careers were cut short or injury plagued in their primes.

G-Hill played the 2000 NBA playoffs on a sprained ankle, that eventually got worse while trying to gut it out for his team. Reference Grant Hill next time you want your favorite or franchise player to suck it up and play through injuries, because some don’t realize or ignore the fact that his injuries almost cost him his life, forget his career.

After several surgeries to repair his chronic ankle issues, Grant contracted MRSA in 2003, an infection that could’ve led to his death had it not been quickly treated. After all that, at times he struggled to walk normal, who would’ve thought he’d ever play again?

But like the triumphant hero in your favorite movie, he returned and even made the All-Star team in 2005. He never returned to his pre-injury form, but he was still a significant contributor on playoffs teams with the Magic, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.

He finished his 18-year career at age 40 with per game averages of 16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists in 1,026 games. How about that for a guy who many thought was done at the age of 31? He didn’t win an NBA Championship, but the hero in this story had his triumphant return by just being able to play the game he loved again.

They say nice guys finished last, but I don’t think this will be one of those times. I’m confident in saying Hill will be in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, hopefully on the first ballot when he is eligible in 2018. I just hope his career gets the fanfare that it deserves. This is my attempt to make sure it does.

For The People of Central Florida, My Extended Family

Orlando will rise beyond the hate and live up to its nickname, The City Beautiful


“Hate will not define us. And hate will not defeat us, because we are one Orlando,” – Mayor Dyer.

I’m angry! I’m sad! I’m heartbroken and stunned. It’s taken me the last day and a half to get to this point where I could react in the only way I can, which is with my written words.

Orlando, Florida. The City Beautiful. The site of this weekends horrific tragedy, has a special place in my heart. It is my adopted hometown. And the place I hope to return and make my permanent home one day. 

I moved to central Florida in April 2007 for a better job, a chance at greater opportunities and to grow and see beyond what I saw in my birthplace of Columbus Ohio where I lived the first 26 years of my life. Central Floridians welcomed me and several of them selflessly helped me accomplish more than I had ever hoped for; from a chance to grow my career in the media, graduating from grad school and other personal achievements. In my four and a half years living there I found it and the people to be the most accepting and inclusive of anywhere I’d ever been. I assume it was the same for those who are apart of the LGBTQ community. I was able to grow from a 26 year old boy, who never lived on his own away from the nearby comforts of my family, to a 30 year old man who was better ready to handle the struggles life would throw me. 

But I don’t want to make this about me. I want this to be about the people of Orlando/central Florida. The friendly, lovely, kind and gracious people of “The City Beautiful”. The same people who will not allow this city to be defined by the deadliest terror attack since September 11th. This city and these great people, will rise up and band together like those in New York City did 15 years ago and remind the world what’s so great about their home. Our home. Central Floridians will remind everyone what’s so beautiful about the area and its people. This hate that has all of us shedding tears and at a great loss will only bond us together. We’ll all be stronger. United as the hashtag suggest. #OrlandoUnited. Hate won’t win. Love, peace and acceptance will. You watch and see. We are already seeing it in the way so many have come out in droves to donated blood for the wounded and other necessities, as well as lender their time to help and hug the victims families. And, there’s only going to be more acts of selflessness and kindness as time goes on.

I pray that the Lord brings peace, comfort and understanding to the families of the victims, the wounded and everyone affected. And that He also show us the way as a Country to keep senseless acts like this from ever happening again.

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me.” ~ John 14:1

“Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children.” ~ Ephesians 5:1 

#OrlandoUnited outside the Dr. Philips Performing Arts Center in Downtown Orlando. Photo Courtesy: OrlandoSentinel.com