Tag Archives: Central Florida

Is Penny Hardaway a Hall of Famer?

Penny Hardaway is one of the most iconic NBA players on and off the court in the last 20 years, and should be in the Hall of Fame.

This weekend eleven basketball legends will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Iconic names like Tracy McGrady, Rebecca Lobo and George McGinnis to name a few, will take their rightful place in the hallow halls of Basketball Heaven. One name that isn’t in those halls, that should be, is Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

Hardaway was a unique talent. While he played fourteen seasons in the NBA, he’s most known for the six years he spent in central Florida. From 1994-2000, the 6 foot 7 inch point guard for the Orlando Magic displayed an ability to score in an explosive manner like Mike, while also being able to set up his teammates like Magic. His was a rare talent that could do it all, years before the LeBron James’, Kevin Durant’s, Giannis Antetokumpo’s of today.

He reached icon status off the court as well with his alter ego Lil’ Penny and his Air Penny signature shoe line with Nike.

But, injuries robbed him of his prime and longevity at being an all-time great. But make no mistake, there was greatness.

Let’s look at the resume: Four-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA, and 1993-1994 All-Rookie Team selection. 1996 Gold medalist. And when Shaq left the “City Beautiful” for the “City of Angels”, Penny kept carrying the Magic to the playoffs when everyone else thought they would fold.

In his six seasons with the Magic, he averaged 19 points, 6.3 assist, 4.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. When he retired he was third on the Magic career list in assists (2,343)—now fourth, third in steals (718), and fourth in points (7,018)—now seventh.

For those of you who closely look at the advanced numbers, with Orlando, Penny had a PER of 20.2, a true shooting percentage of 56%, grabbed 7.3 rebounds on a 23.9% usage rate.

He also delivered when it counted most, in the playoffs.

In eight playoffs trips with Orlando, Phoenix and the New York Knicks, Hardaway averaged 20.4 points per game, 6.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals in sixty-four games.

But don’t discount the college career, because that’s also valued when a player is considered for the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. So many forget that it’s not just a professional basketball Hall of Fame.

Hardaway was a consensus All-American in 1993, twice awarded the Great Midwest Conference Player of the year (Conference USA) and has his number 25 jersey retired by the University of Memphis State. He did that before they became a national power and dropped the “State” from their name.

Penny’s impact on the Magic’s history is very similar to his former running mate Shaq. Together they led the Magic to their first ever playoff appearance (1994) and NBA Finals (1995). He also drew his share of the national spotlight with his Nike commercials starring Chris Rock as “Lil’ Penny”, Hardaway’s alter ego to promote his signature shoes which are still widely popular and sought after decades after their initial retail release.

If Penny were to get inducted, he would be the first Magic player to go in solely on their exploits in the black and royal blue pinstriped jersey.

Shaq is there for his contributions as a Los Angeles Laker. 2017 inductee Tracy McGrady will be going in mostly for his time as a Houston Rocket. And, if Grant Hill gets in—which he deserves to be—it will be for a combination of his collegiate career at Duke and the six years with the Detroit Pistons where he was LeBron before LeBron.

Longevity during your peak shouldn’t be the end all be all when determining if a player is HOF worthy. Penny’s time with the Magic alone should be enough to get him a coveted orange blazer. Not to be rude, but if Yao Ming can get inducted, you’re going to tell me PH1 isn’t a Hall of Famer? I’m not buying it.

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The Worse Draft Picks & Draft Night Moves In Magic History

The NBA Draft is a time of hope for struggling franchises and their fans bases.

The hope is that with one pick, or many, fortunes will change and fans can expect their team to be one of the sixteen competing for the Larry O’Brien Trophy next spring.

The Orlando Magic has had impressive luck in the lottery in terms of getting the top pick (1992, 1993, 2004). Those picks allowed them to draft Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber and flip him for Penny Hardaway as well as three first round picks, and Dwight Howard.

Those players have defined the Magic franchise in their 28-year history. But outside of those three, they haven’t been nearly as magical with their other picks.

With the draft finally here, I looked back at the worse picks and draft night moves in franchise history …

MARIO HEZONJA (SF), 5th PICK IN 2015

You can’t call Hezonja a bust, yet. So I’m not saying he’s a bad pick like the others on this list. Orlando drafted him because they believe he can be a knock down shooter with the versatility to play three positions. Draft experts said he’s the one guy in the class that could win a dunk contest and the 3-point shootout. In his two-year career he’s only averaging 16.5 minutes player per game. As far as his shooting, he was eleventh on the team in 3-point percentage (.29%) in 2016-2017.

Hezonja hasn’t lived up to being a top 6 overall draft pick. Photo Credit: ESPN.com

What hurts Hezonja is he went one pick after Kristaps Porzingis. Boy, if only the New York Knicks and Phil Jackson would’ve made skipping him one of their many mistakes. But, what also hurts the Magic is Devin Booker went 13th to the Phoenix Suns after he openly campaigned to be selected by the Magic. Booker looks primed to be an All-Star after ascending to be the Suns best player in only his second season.

I get that the Magic already had Victor Oladipo at shooting-guard, but considering the ill-advised move to trade him to the Oklahoma City Thunder, it would’ve lessened the blow if Booker was on the roster. Orlando SORELY needs Booker’s shooting ability.

AARON GORDON (SF/PF), 4th PICK IN 2014

Double-0 AG has shown flashes in his time in central Florida. He’s also a fan favorite for his dunking exploits. The upcoming 2017-18 season is going to be a make or break for him. I think it’s a bad pick because who was selected after him. Zach Levine went number 13 to the Minnesota T-Wolves. Dario Saric, who Orlando selected with their second pick (14th overall) before trading him to Philadelphia for Elfrid Payton, is a combo SF/PF and a better shooter than Gordon. He is also more athletic than some “experts” thought entering the draft process. Saric is a key cog in the 76ers “process” and likely could be the 2016-2017 NBA Rookie of the Year.

DANIEL ORTON (C), 29th PICK IN 2010

Orton, a 6’10” center out of Kentucky, played in sixteen games in his one season with the Magic. He only lasted three seasons in the Association. Much like Gordon, the selection of Orton is a bad move because who Orlando could have selected.

Hassan Whiteside went four picks later (33rd overall) to the Sacramento Kings. Coming into the draft, Whiteside was said to be immature, which led to him being bounced around and out of the league before catching on with the Miami Heat. Of course Dwight Howard and Marcin Gortat were still on the roster, but Whiteside would’ve benefit from playing for Stan Van Gundy and a team fresh off of back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances and an NBA Final.

Clearly depth at that position was a focus, this would’ve solidified that need, especially when you look at how they moved Gortat later that year.

On the other hand they could have selected a playmaking wing. Lance Stephenson should have been considered, especially with the loss of Hedu Turkoglu to free agency the previous summer. The Indiana Pacers drafted Stephenson with the fortieth pick.

FRAN VAZQUEZ (PF/C), 11th PICK IN 2005.

This may be the worse overall pick in team history. There’s not much to say about him since he never played an NBA game. The power forward/center combo choose the Spanish league over playing in the Association.

Danny Granger went six picks later to the Indiana Pacers. He became an All-Star.  If you wanted a post player, you could have chosen David Lee, out of the University of Florida. Lee went thirtieth to the New York. He also became an All-Star and NBA Champion.

JERYL SASSER (SG), 22nd PICK IN 2001

Sasser, a 6’6″ shooting-guard from SMU, played eighty-two games in his two-year NBA career. Orlando desperately needed backcourt help at both positions. Darrell Armstrong, Dee Brown and Jaren Jackson, in their seventh and eleventh seasons respectively, were their key rotational players. Six picks after the Magic selected Sasser, the San Antonio Spurs drafted Tony Parker, three picks after that, the Golden State Warriors picked Gilbert Arenas.

CURTIS BORCHARDT (C), 18th PICK IN 2002.

Who? Exactly!

The seven-foot center was traded to the Utah Jazz for power forward Ryan Humphrey out of Notre Dame. Humphrey played thirty-five games for Orlando before he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies along with Mike Miller. He was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies along with Mike Miller after only playing thirty-five games. Giving up Miller was a terrible move by itself, especially since he just won Rookie of the Year in 2001. In return the Magic received Drew Gooden and Gordon Giricek. Orlando also gave Memphis a 2003 first round pick, and a second round rick in 2004.

As with most of these draft mistakes, it’s amplified by whom they could have drafted. Tayshaun Prince went twenty-third to the Detroit Pistons. Carlos Boozer went in the second round with the thirty-fifth pick. Both became All-Stars, either of those would have improved the Magic drastically.

KEON CLARK (C), 13th PICK IN 1998

The Magic won’t get killed for this pick because the LA Clippers selected Michael Olawakandi first overall. Many call him the biggest number one overall bust in league history.

Nevertheless, Orlando still blew this pick. Nazr Mohammed would have been a better choice. He went 29th overall to the Utah Jazz.

Orlando should’ve selected two power forwards who eventually spent significant time in a Magic uniform in Pat Garrity (19th overall) and Rashard Lewis (32nd overall). Al Harrington, the prep star out of St. Patrick’s high school in New Jersey, was also available. Harrington went twenty-fifth to the Indiana Pacers and played in 981 games in his sixteen-year career.

JOHNNY TAYLOR (SG), 17th PICK IN 1997

Taylor played only seventeen games with the Magic. He was traded to the Denver Nuggets in 1999, and back to Orlando in 2000.

STANLEY ROBERTS (C), 23rd PICK IN 1991

Roberts was the man in the middle before Shaq came along the following draft. Roberts played only one of his eight seasons in central Florida, appearing in only fifty-five games. However his and the team’s overall poor play is how the franchise ended up with enough Ping-Pong balls to win the draft lottery and select Shaq the following draft.

So as you can see, Magic management has been consistent at one thing, getting this draft thing wrong. Hopefully new General Manager John Hammond and President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman can bring some of the fortune they’ve had in their others stops to the 407.

Remember, as important as it is whom you pick, it’s going to be exacerbated by whom you could’ve or didn’t select.

 

 

City Game: Orlando (Central Florida)

Sunshine, theme parks, beaches and great shopping aren’t the only thing Orlando has to offer. There’s a thriving hoop scene here as well. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

When you mention Orlando Florida, most people’s first thoughts go to Disney World, Universal Studios, orange groves, tropical weather with hurricanes and pop-up showers, nearby sandy beaches, great restaurants and shopping.

Sports wise, you think mostly football or spring training baseball. But in the past two and half decades, roundball has also become synonymous with central Florida. Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter are no longer the biggest attractions from the area.

NBA LIVE: 

The Association has been apart of the “City Beautiful” community since 1989. As mentioned in the ESPN 30 for 30 “This Magic Moment,” it was thought to be a terrible idea to place an expansion franchise in Orlando, and Miami as well, because football was king in the “Sunshine State.” Boy were they wrong. The NBA has flourished in central Florida, even through the lean years the Magic franchise had in the beginning and in recent seasons.

It only took three seasons for Magic basketball to receive the National and World spotlights. In February of 1992, former commissioner David Stern smartly brought the All-Star weekend to Orlando, as he did with the other expansion franchises (Miami Heat in 1990, Charlotte Hornets in 1991) in previous years. That weekend would ironically become a celebration of Magic, as in Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who was playing in the game despite having retired before the season began due to finding out he had contracted the HIV virus.

In the spring of that same year the Magic won possibly the biggest draft lottery in league history, giving them the right to select the highly coveted Shaquille O’Neal with the first overall pick. The franchise and central Florida community would never be the same.

Shaq put the world spotlight on Orlando basketball. Photo Credit: NBA

Shaq put the world spotlight on Orlando basketball. Photo Credit: NBA

Shaq “Diesel” turned the small market city into more than a tourist destination. Die hard and casual sports fans all over world wanted to witness the 7 foot 1 dominating center with the millionwatt smile, exuberant charm and boyish personality. Orlando Magic jersey’s with the number 32 were worn from central Florida to the Far East of the globe.

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Penny with Shaq was the new Magic & Kareem. Photo Credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Shaq would lead the Magic to a .500 record (41-41), but they missed the playoffs by one game. It was a blessing in disguise as they won the 1993 draft lottery, a move that allowed them to draft the top prospect in that class, Michigan’s Chris Webber, who they immediately traded for the rights to Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway creating a dynamic duo with O’Neal that would only bring more wins and eye balls to the 407. To use Shaq’s words, they were “Shaq and Kobe before Shaq and Kobe.”

With Shaq and Penny at the forefront, the Magic became the NBA’s hot ticket and were showcased on national television a plenty. From 1993-1996, the Magic won 67.8% (167-79) of their games, two division titles, and the Eastern Conference title in 1995.

The Magic would fade away for a while when Shaq headed West to the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent, and Penny was traded to the Phoenix Suns after growing frustrated with injuries, coaches and losing. The rest of that dynamic team was broken up via trades and retirement.

There was a revival of sorts in the early 2000’s when Tracy McGrady, a native of nearby by Auburndale in Polk County, joined perennial All-Star Grant Hill as free agent’s in the Magic’s Kingdom. While the franchise made it to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons (2001-2003), they would never be able to duplicate the success of the original Orlando dynamic duo due to Hill’s chronic and nearly fatal injuries.

Dwight Howard revived the Magic in Orlando. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson

Dwight Howard revived the Magic in Orlando. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson

In 2004, Orlando would once again win the draft lottery and select Dwight Howard, the number one high school prospect in the country, first overall, but they also traded away McGrady to the Houston Rockets in an attempt to remake the squad around Dwight.

Howard would grow into being the big man Magic fans lost when Shaq bolted for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Howard reignited the national and global spotlight that had been dimmed in the days post Shaq and Penny. D-12 became an All-NBA performer, a leading vote getter in the All-Star game, while also winning the 2008 Slam Dunk contest and earning three Defensive POY awards. His individual success also led to major team success as he, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, and Rashard Lewis under Stan Van Gundy’s leadership won three Southeast division titles from 2007-2011, and the Eastern Conference title in 2009.

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The six-year old Amway Center is the centerpiece of Orlando. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

The success even led to the building of the Amway Center (est. 2010), a state-of-the-art facility that is second to none in any league.

But history repeated itself as Howard, like Shaq, ended up with the Lakers after forcing his way out of the 407 via trade after a couple of disgruntled seasons.

So here the franchise is five years later, still in rebuilding mode like they were when Shaq left in ’96. But this time is different. The Magic are in the midst of the worse five-year period in team history.

BMOC (Big men on Campus):

Central Florida University, better known as UCF, is the main institution of higher learning in the area. In the last decade and a half they have produced several productive NFL players like wide receiver Brandon Marshall, cornerback Asante Samuel and quarterback Daunte Culpepper who were all All-Pro’s at some point in their careers. The UCF Knights hoops squad can’t say the same. It doesn’t have an extensive tradition as a team, but they’ve had a few notables come through the program.

The CFE Arena on the campus of UCF is only 10 years old and has a raucous atmosphere. Photo Credit: UCFKnights.com

The CFE Arena on the campus of UCF is only ten years old and has a raucous atmosphere. Photo Credit: UCFKnights.com

Marcus Jordan, the son of Michael Jordan, is the most recent big name that signed to play for the Knights (2009-2012), his older brother Jeffrey transferred from Illinois to play with him. Marcus made the Conference USA All-Freshman team in 2009 and Second-Team All-Conference in 2011. If it weren’t for Marcus and the controversy surrounding him wearing Air Jordan’s instead of Adidas, who had a sponsorship deal with the school, they’d probably wouldn’t have the lucrative deal they now have with Nike after Adidas decided to drop the athletic program.

Four players from the university have played in the NBA.  Joey and Stephen Graham, Jermaine Taylor in the 2000s, Mark Jones and Stan Kimbrough in the early 1990s.

The biggest name in the program right now is new head coach Johnny Dawkins. Dawkins learned at the feet of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as an assistant and associate head coach for ten seasons after his 9-seasons playing in the Association.

Even though the University of Florida is one hour and forty-one minutes (110.7 miles) away in Gainesville, the Gators are the favored program in central Florida as it is home to a huge group of Gator Alumns. It’s also a major pipeline for top talent. Several local high school prep stars have made their way north on the Florida Turnpike to I-75 to play at the O’Connell Center for legendary coach Billy Donovan, like Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes.

Donovan successfully turned a dominant football school into a basketball powerhouse as well. From 1996-2015 he led them to two National Championships (2006,2007), four Final Four appearances (2000, 2006, 2007, 2014), eight Elite 8 appearances, eight Sweet 16 births, four SEC Tournament Championships (2005, 2006, 2007, 2014) and six SEC regular season Championships (2000, 2001, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014).

Currently nine players are on NBA rosters that played for Donovan, including Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah who in the 2007 draft became the first trio from one school to be drafted in the first ten picks.

PREP GAME:

Nestled 23 miles west of Orlando in the shadows of downtown is the most prominent prep school program in America. Montverde Academy won three consecutive National Championships (2012-2015) and has produced three top two NBA draft picks in three of the last four NBA Drafts (Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell & Joel Embiid). Head Coach Kevin Boyle also coached St. Patrick’s High in New Jersey where he coached Kyrie Irving and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to name a few.

Equally as dominant, but on the state level in recent years, is Winter Park High School. The Wildcats have won three State titles since 2010. L.A. Clippers guard Austin Rivers led the school to back to back titles in 2010 & 2011 while winning Naismith Prep Player of the Year (2011). His younger brother Spencer was a key member of the team that won the title in 2014.

Dr. Phillips High Lady Panthers have won three FHSAA Championships in this decade (2011, 2012, 2013). The Boys’ team has produced several standouts. Most notably former NBA forward Damien Wilkins and guard Shane Larkin.

A couple of other schools in the area have had success producing top talent as well. Amare Stoudermire graduated from Cyprus Creek High in 2002 and jumped from there to the NBA where he won Rookie of the Year and was selected to six All-Star games in his 15-year career.

2004 McDonald’s All-American Darius Washington Junior graduated from Edgewater High and made the San Antonio Spurs in 2007 before having a successful career overseas. Another former Edgewater Eagle, Marquis Daniels played 10 seasons in the NBA, most notably with the Dallas Mavericks where he was selected to the 2004 All-NBA Rookie 2nd team.

Evans High School produced Darryl Dawkins and Chucky Atkins. Atkins played eleven seasons in the NBA for nine teams. Dawkins is one of the first players to go from high school to the NBA back in 1975. “Chocolate Thunder” was known for his colorful, playful attitude and ferocious dunks. He played in three NBA Finals.

Current Memphis Grizzles Vince Carter (Daytona Mainland High) and Chandler Parsons (Lake Howell) also call the Orlando area home.

On the AAU level, Orlando’s “Each 1 Teach 1″ squad has become one of the premier program’s in the country in recent years. Some of their well known alumns are Amare Stoudemire, Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell, Austin Rivers, Brandon Knight, NCAA Champion Allan Grayson (Duke), Daniel Giddens (Ohio State, 2015-2016), Antonio Blakeney (LSU), and 7’5” Tacko Fall (UCF)

RUNS:

Orlando isn’t a big city, but it’s the sum of its parts in the neighboring towns and cities that provide top quality runs. it’s too hot to hoop on concrete, and with the tropical storm season’s pop-up showers, it’s hard to get a full game in without an interruption from Mother Nature. So most runs will likely be indoors.

Despite this amazing scene which exemplifies why Orlando is called the “City Beautiful”, it’s hard to play ball outside with the hot, humid temperatures and pop-up showers. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

The hot spot within the city limits of Orlando is the Downtown Rec Center which was the practice facility for the Magic from 1989-1998. The court still host the Orlando Pro-Am in the summer complete with Magic logos and official NBA three point line. This is where many of you have seen the YouTube highlights of 41-year old Jason “White Chocolate” Williams still busting ankles and serving up dimes. Also centrally located in the city is Barnett Park/Gym. It fits your needs whether you want to go inside or outside.

The Oviedo Rec Center in East Orlando about 8 miles from the UCF’s campus also boast one of the most competitive men’s leagues in the area with rosters that have overseas pros and current college players, most of whom also get it in at open gyms.

North of Orlando in Sanford at the Boys and Girls club you’ll run into more current and former college players working on their games.

But if you must get some run outside and who could blame you, if you come to Florida looking to spend more time in the sun, you can stick around Sanford and hoop on one of the two courts at Fort Mellon Park. The lights stay on fairly late, so you can also cool off and gets some run when the sun goes down. In nearby Casselberry/Winter Park, where Chandler Parsons is from, you can head to Red Bug Lake Park. Here you’ll find several of the top high school players from the area. Also in the Baldwin Park Neighborhood in Winter Park, you can hit up Blue Jacket Park.

HOW WE DO:

Inside the six-year old Amway Center’s Orlando Basketball Hall of Fame. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

Speed, speed, speed. Most of the ballers in the area are dual sport athletes, and that other sport is most likely football. So these cats like to push the tempo at every opportunity. You have former defensive backs playing the guard spots using their ball hawking instincts from their secondary days to lock you up on D and their top line speed to beat you to the cup when they’re on O. The wings are built like linebackers and tall wide receivers running the lane, and center spots are manned by lineman-sized cats who want to bang in the post like it’s fourth and one even if they’re not your traditional 6’7″-6’10” bigs.

Bring your water, Gatorade or whatever your drink of choice is to replenish, because hoop games turn into track meets in the blink of an eye.

The Orlando Magic are still the main attraction in town despite a lack of success on the court. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

Magic Need a Trade, Immediately

Magic fans across central Florida just let out a collective “Duh!” when they read that headline. The team is 18-29 and 5 games out of the 8th seed coming into Friday night’s game against the Boston Celtics. At this point in the season they are in the 13th seed of the Eastern Conference. If that stands, it would be the 5th consecutive season they were disqualified from postseason play. So yeah, they need to make a move.

But ask those same fans what players can they get or, who are the players they’re willing to give up, and all at once they go silent and give a befuddled look.

Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan needs to make a move so quick and impactful or like former Philadelphia 76ers GM and President of Basketball Operations Sam Hinkie, he won’t be around to see his rebuilding process unfold either.

But he also can’t make a trade just to make a trade. When it comes to making moves in the NBA, getting what you want is harder then a teenager getting their parents to buy them the latest pair of $200 sneakers.

But before I go into who Hennigan and head coach Frank Vogel should target, first we must look at what they need and be realistic about who Orlando will have to say goodbye to.

The Magic needs scoring, particularly outside shooting. They are 24th in the Association in field goal percentage (44.1%) and 28th in 3-point shooting (33.4%). Orlando is 26th overall in points per game (99.7). So the players they should target should know a thing or two or three about how to put the ball in the basket.

So who should they be willing to part ways with?

Aaron Gordon. Is the 6’9″ super athletic wing a small forward or power forward? That’s the riddle Coach Vogel and former head coach Scott Skiles have yet to solve when it comes to the third-year pro. But Orlando can no longer waste time trying to figure it out. His display in the Slam Dunk contest at last season’s All-Star Weekend made him a fan favorite, but highlights don’t win games. Moving him would also unclog that long jam they have at the 3-spot.

Nikola Vucevic. “Vooch” is a very talented offensive center, but he’s yet to become a consistent go-to-guy in crunch-time over his five seasons in the 407. Defensively he leaves plenty to be desired as he’ll never be confused as a rim protector. It really is the weakest part of his game, which is why interior defense has been an issue since Dwight Howard left nearly five years ago. Have we seen Vooch’s ceiling? If it is, it’s not enough to get them into the playoffs and beyond in years to come.

Bismack Biyombo. As I just mentioned, this team had a huge whole in the middle defensively, that’s why they traded for Serge Ibaka and signed Biyombo to a huge deal in free agency last summer. So far it hasn’t panned out and offensively he clogs things up for Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier and other guards when they try to slash. It’s better to cut loses now and admit it was a bad fit before going on too long and hand cuffing him to your roster.

Those are the names that will have the most value at the trade deadline. Another name you’ll likely hear thrown out is Mario Hezonja, the 5th overall pick in the 2015 draft. Hezonja has only played in 34 of 47 games this season and his minutes played have dropped from 17.9 per game to 9.5 per game. He hasn’t yet become a proven commodity that GMs around the league would seek. Although, entering the draft his stock rose quickly. So maybe some of them will remember that and be wiling to take a chance on a project.

The Magic’s goal for this season was to make the playoffs. If that’s going to happen they’ll need to target a player that’s either an All-Star or borderline All-Star on a team that is on the verge of just barely missing the playoffs.

With all that being said, here are some realistic options Hennigan should be throwing all the marbles in hopes to acquire.

DeMarcus Cousins, Center, Sacramento Kings. He’s unhappy in Sacramento and both the Kings and he could benefit from a fresh start. A deal for the surly big man would likely need to include Vucevic. It would also likely involve losing Gordon who is from the Northern California area. Cousins is worth it. He’s a dominant low post presence averaging 28 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, which fits into the style Frank Vogel wants to play. He also has expanded his game to the three-point line, connecting on 36.5%. Pairing him up with Serge Ibaka, who is a more of a perimeter big, would give the Magic the physical presence they want on both ends of the court.

CJ McCollum, Guard, Portland Trailblazers. He and Damian Lillard are a good one-two punch and are the second best backcourt to “The Splash Brothers” in Golden State. But with both of them at 6’3″ there are some defensive deficiencies with them in the lineup together. The Trailblazers overachieved last season when they made the second round of the playoffs after losing four guys from their starting lineup the previous season to free agency. They need interior offensive and defensive help and could benefit from taking Biyombo, Vucevic and a draft pick for McCollum. McCollum can create his own offensive, which the Magic desperately needs. He’s averaging 23.5 points per game and is an efficient shooter making 48% of his field goals and 42.1% of his three’s.

Danilo Gallinari, Forward, Denver Nuggets. He’s a stretch four with great range on his jumper, and can create off the dribble and consistently get buckets on the block as well. In the two games versus Orlando this season he showed his value going for 21 points on 5-8 shooting, 2-3 from 3 and grabbing 6 rebounds in Denver’s 121-113 win in the Amway Center on December 10th, and 15 points on 5-11 shooting and 6 rebounds in the 125-112 win over the Magic in Denver on January 16th. He’s averaging 16.8 points per game on 43% shooting from the two and 39% from three. The Nuggets have plenty of young talent on the wings so they should be impressed by an offer of Vucevic or Biyombo, but a deal involving Gordon and Hezonja could be also be very tantalizing to pair with Emanuel Mudiay, Kenneth Faried and emerging big man Nikola Jokic.

Paul George, Forward, Indiana Pacers. This is my long shot, my EXTREMELY LOOOOOOOOONG SHOT. George is a perennial All-Star and Gold Medalist with team USA. The Pacers are underachieving right now at 22-22 and their pieces don’t seem to fit. PG-13 is also getting very frustrated with the decline this franchise is on since competing against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals a few seasons ago. He’s very familiar with coach Vogel and a reunion would do wonders for both player and franchise. The Pacers can benefit from completely moving on to their rebuild.

For the last half decade Magic management has collected assets in young talented players, but not franchise changing players. It’s time to flip those for one. Change is necessary. Not just for the Magic, but also for these guys I mentioned. Getting one of them will help better shape Orlando’s roster and not only get them into the playoffs this season, but also expedite this rebuilding process that has left Magic fans desperate for wins.

What. Is. Orlando. Doing?

That’s the question many NBA insiders and fans around the Nation as well as in central Florida are asking.

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The Magic have quickly gone from a rebuild with young talent, to a jump start with seasoned Vets. Photo Credit: Kyle Jones

Now that the moratorium is lifted and the deals are official, I’ll tell you what they’re doing. What teams in the Midwest and the heartland of America far from the glitz and glamour of the East and West coast have to do. Build a team that is a reflection of the region, city and its residents. Orlando is a young, up and coming transplant city. Meaning many of the people who call it home didn’t grow up in the area, and have migrated here searching for new opportunity and a more laid back life, but still with plenty of variety to suit their many tastes.

That’s what I see in this newly constructed roster. Variety, or in this case versatility, and low key. No All-Stars. No reality TV Stars. No TMZ. Just a bunch of guys who want the opportunity to play ball and be successful at it.

General Manager Rob Hennigan and new head coach Frank Vogel are wise to not waste more time throwing flimsy pipe dreams into the sky hoping they’ll bring back top tier All-Stars in free agency. Nope. Almost three decades of Magic Basketball in central Florida have proven that no amount of talk about no state income tax, great tropical weather, beaches, and family atmosphere pitches are going to sway the premier athletes to come this way. Sure Tracy McGrady did, but remember he was from nearby Auburndale in Polk County down Interstate Four. Yes, perennial All-Star Grant Hill did it in his prime, yet injured when he signed. But, wasn’t his wife, Grammy Nominated Singer Tamia, just as much influential of that decision for her career too? Yes, Rashard Lewis and even Horace Grant made their way to the Magic’s Kingdom, but they came to play Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal, respectively.

The goal is for one of your core young guys to breakout and be the All-Star. Nik Vucevic is a candidate. The high-flying Aaron Gordon is a candidate. 2015 5th overall pick Mario Hezonja is a candidate. And Serge Ibaka, who will turn 27 years old during the season, is a candidate. This is how you attract key free agents, by having a guy already in place that they want to play with.

You also don’t turn things around by holding on to every single draft pick you’ve made. At some point you have to use their value to flip it for something else you value more. Like defensive shot blocking, rebounding and veterans with significant playoff experience. Otherwise you become what the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers are. Floundering in obscurity and futility.

What Hennigan has done with this roster retooling, is send a message to his young guys to step up or sit down.

Did you notice that the three key free agent signees play the same position as the guys that are perceived to be cornerstone pieces? Nik Vucevic is the best offensive player on the team, but with serious defensive flaws. So, they gave Bismack Biyombo 70 plus million dollars, just in case Vucevic doesn’t step up his defense. Aaron Gordon is the preferred starter at small forward, but they signed Jeff Green to a one-year $15 million contract, just in case Gordon doesn’t capitalize on his breakout second half of the 2015-16 season in the aftermath of his Dunk Contest fame. Elfrid Payton is the guy Scott Skiles and Hennigan reportedly didn’t see eye-to-eye on as a true NBA starting point guard—which ultimately led to the blessing in disguise of his resignation—yet Hennigan still signed 8-year pro D.J. Augustine. Of course this jump-start happened by shipping the face of the franchise (albeit a short run) in Victor Oladipo out of town for Ibaka. The young core of guys better get the message, and quick.

But on another note. What if, the Magic got Victor Oladipo to come back as a free agent when he’s available? Looks sort of promising now that the Oklahoma City Thunder won’t be what we thought they would be when he was traded there on draft night. It’s just a thought, but if the Magic get into the playoffs quickly, like say this coming season, why wouldn’t a talent like Oladipo want to come back and join the uprising? Hmmm.

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