Tag Archives: Elfrid Payton

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.

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Magic’s Up & Down 1st Half of ’15-’16

Coach Skiles has this young team headed in the right direction, UP. Photo Credit: Orlando Magic.com

The Orlando Magic finished the first half of their season Wednesday night with a record of 20-21 after a 96-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Amway Center. While the All-Star break on February 12-14 is the NBA’s official mark to the end of the first half of the season, Orlando has already completed the first half of the 82 game schedule.

This season has already been filled with a handful of ups and down. Win 6 of 7, then lose 8 of 9. There has been a max win streak of 5 games, and two 4 game losing streaks. With a young team—Orlando is the 5th youngest in the league with an average age of 24.9—you have to expect several growing pains. But, there have been more positives than negatives. 

For perspective, the Magic didn’t win their 20th game last season until game 63 on March 6th, 2015. They finished the season with 25 wins. Check this out from the last 3 seasons:

  • 2014-15: 20th win came in game 63 on 3/6/15, and they were 14-27 after 41.
  • 2013-14: 20th win came in game 72 on 3/25/14, and they were 11-30 after 41.
  • 2012-13: 20th win came in game 79 on 4/10/13, and they were 14-27 after the first 41.

Matter of fact, they haven’t won 20 or more games this early since the lockout shortened season of 2011-2012 when they went 37-29 the last season Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard were in the Magic Kingdom. After that season, Coach Van Gundy was fired, Dwight was traded, and the rebuilding process began.

The Magic are on pace to win 40 games, a mark the franchise hasn’t reached or passed since the 2010-2011 group that won 52 games. Currently this team sits one game out of the 8th and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. If they make the playoffs, they would avoid tying the longest playoff drought in franchise history from 1989 to 1993, which was their first 4 seasons in the NBA.

Their December record of 10-5 was good enough to earn 1st-year Magic Head Coach Scott Skiles the honor of Eastern Conference Coach of the Month. At the end of November on the 25th, they started a 5-game winning streak, their longest of the season thus far, that ended on December 5th.

Nik Vucevic is the budding All-Star at the forefront of the Orlando rebuild. Photo Credit: Orlando Magic.com

Fans of the NBA outside of central Florida may be wondering who is their star. The last time Orlando had success, they were anchored by a budding superstar in Howard, and he was a known commodity before the three Defensive Player of the Year awards, Dunk Contest Championship, playoffs and NBA Finals appearance. He had become a marketing magnet that even the casual NBA fan knew about.

Ironically or not, the face of this rise in the Magic Kingdom is another big man, the one in which Orlando got in exchange for Howard, Nik Vucevic.

“Vooch”, as he’s known by his teammates and Magic fans, scores 16.8 points a game while shooting 51.5% from the field and pulls down 8.5 rebounds a game. He is a double-double machine. This season he already has 17. Last season he finished the season with 45, which was good enough for 5th in the Association, and in 2013-2014, he had 36 in the 57 games he played. He was 3rd in the NBA during the 2012-2013 season with 46 out of 77 games in his first season in Orlando.

“Vooch” is surrounded by versatile players who can either knock down threes in the case of Evan Fournier (13.6 ppg, 37.9% 3PT) and Channing Frye (40.7% 3PT) or slashing playmakers in Tobias Harris (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.2 apg), Elfrid Payton (11.2 ppg,5.2 apg), Victor Oladipo (13.5 ppg, 4.9rpg, 4.0 apg) and Aaron Gordon (7.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 48.6% FG). This group is loaded with long, athletic talent. They could be this season’s Milwaukee Bucks.

Payton sets the table for this young talented team. Photo Credit: Orlando Magic.com

Unlike many young teams, they have shown no signs of selfishness. The Magic are 9th in assists per game at 22.5, and have 5 guys averaging double figures with Vucevic being the leading scorer.

Expectantly, under the defensive minded Skiles, the defense is drastically improved. The Magic are 7th in the Association in opponents points per game at 98.7 and 11th in forcing turnovers at 15.1 a night. They’re also holding their opponents to 44.2% shooting from the field and 34.% from 3 point range which both are good for 12th in the NBA.

Unfortunately right now they’re in one of those down periods. Since the calendar turned to 2016, they are 1-8, and in the midst of their second 4 game losing streak of the season. This is the first time they’ve been under .500 since November 25th when they were 7-8. In the month of January, they’re only averaging 88.7 points per game, which is down from 100.1 ppg in December, 100.6 in November when their record was 19-11 in that 30 game span.

Like most inexperienced teams, they have a losing record on the road at 8-11, and of their 21 losses, 7 (Washington (4), Phoenix, Sacramento & Philadelphia) have come to teams with worse records than them.

If this team is going to make the playoffs, possibly before, or at the trade deadline on February 15th, they will need to add a veteran to help this young unit become more consistent and climb higher in the Eastern Conference seedings. Adding key veterans from 2006-2009 like Tony Battie, Adonal Foyle, Anthony Johnson and Ty Lue helped this team make the postseason six consecutive seasons. And fans in central Florida may remember, the 2008-09 Magic that made the NBA Finals, added established veterans like Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston mid-season, along with the aforementioned vets to mix with the young talent in Howard, Jameer Nelson, Courtney Lee and J.J. Redick to help aid their growth.

I’m not saying this team is ready to compete for an NBA title, but so far the rebuilding process that started three seasons ago is working. The playoffs are in clear sight, and General Manager Rob Hennigan should do whatever is necessary to see that the fans in central Florida get a chance to witness postseason basketball A.S.A.P. It’s time to reward their patience.

The Much Improved Orlando Magic

The 2015-2016 Orlando Magic will make the postseason! You can book it, guarantee it, bet on it, whatever.

The young Magic are poised to bring playoff basketball back to Central Florida. Photo Credit: @OrlandoMagic/Twitter.com

Yes, I’m aware we are only two games into the season. You’re correct, they lost them both. And, I know they haven’t made the playoffs since the 2010-2011 season. I’m well aware that they’ve had 3 consecutive 50+ loss seasons (62 losses in 2012-2013.) All those are very important points. But, I trust my eyes, and after watching this team struggle the last three years of the post-Dwight era with a lack of talent, then a lack of chemistry and confidence, I now see they’ve reached a breakthrough point.

Friday night this team went toe to toe with the last two NBA scoring champs, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and the team many “experts” have picked to represent the Western Conference in the 2016 NBA Finals. Even though they lost 139-136 in double overtime, It’s very likely that last season’s team, or the last three for that matter, wouldn’t have even been in the game to force overtime to begin with.

Victor Oladipo registered a triple double, 21 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Photo Credit: @OrlandoMagic/Twitter.com

6 players reached double figures—in regulation—for the Blue & White. 4 had 20+, with Tobias Harris leading the way with 30. The Magic have shown—through two games—they can get easy buckets inside by playing through center Nik Vucevic, who made his first 9 shots and finished 10-14. Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris continue to slash defenses for lay-ups and mid-range jumpers. This team can also stroke the three ball with Evan Fournier, Channing Frye and rookie Mario Hezonja.

Coach Scott Skiles has them playing with the tenacity and hustle that he was known for during his 10 year playing career. There was no slouching  when the Thunder cut their 18 point 4th quarter lead to force overtime. Then, they kept fighting in the first OT down five points with no made field goals before Victor Oladipo tied the game with a three at the buzzer.

Defensively they are a better team. They forced the Thunder into 20 turnovers and the Washington Wizards into 17 on opening night.

The Magic’s biggest weakness right now is defensive rebounding. Oklahoma City beat them up on the glass 62-49. Against both OKC and Washington they had significant 4th quarter leads before ultimately losing in the last moments. Learning to hang on to them will come with experience as they’re in more close games. That wasn’t the case in season’s past because they were getting blown out.

Again, I know it’s only two games, but something is different with this team. You can’t tell me you don’t see it. Maybe, just maybe, this Orlando team will be this season’s Milwaukee Bucks of a season ago or the Boston Celtics, and bring playoff basketball back to the Magic Kingdom. The schedule doesn’t get any easier. Next up for the Magic, at trip to the Windy City to face Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. Orlando’s next four games are against playoffs teams from last season.

How to Fix: the Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic’s 2014-2015 season comes to an end tonight. This is the third consecutive season they’ve finished with one of the top five worst records in the league. But hey there has been a little improvement. 20 wins in 2012-2013, 22 in 2013-2014 and 25—before tonight’s game at Brooklyn—this season. Can you sense the sarcasm?

This third season in the rebuilding of the Magic Kingdom in the aftermath of the Dwight Howard implosion/indecision was supposed to bring at least a lower seed playoff spot. But, the losses have piled up while the wins are more scarce than snacks at a Fat Camp. This was the year the Magic were supposed to be what the Boston Celtics are right now, battling for a lower seed well into the final week of the season. 

A couple of years ago, the organization  used the slogan “The time is now” in its marketing campaign; they may want to revisit that one, because there are several key pieces already in place that can and should jolt them into an Eastern Conference playoff team. Still, there are a few missing variables that need to be filled before that playoff equation can be solved. 

• First, no more experiments with first time head coaches. Three years ago this job was a perfect place to groom a rookie, but in order to move from rebuilding to winning, you need a veteran. Just like you need them in uniform and on the court, you need one patrolling the sideline and leading the huddles. My choice: Mark Jackson.

Jackson rebuilt the Warriors from the Western Conference pit, to the penthouse. Courtesy: Getty Images

With the way the Golden State Warriors have flourished in the aftermath of his mutual parting of the ways, firing or whatever you want to call it, many seem to have forgotten the job Jackson did turning a 23 win team in his first season (2011-12, which was shortened by the lockout) into the Championship contender they are now. His second season he led them to 47 wins and a first round playoff series win in the vaunted Western Conference. His third and final season produced 51 wins and another playoff berth. Overall he is 121-109 (.526),  not bad for a guy who took over a franchise that made the playoffs once in seventeen seasons before his arrival.

It’s his foundation that has allowed the “Splash Brothers” of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to blossom into the All-Star backcourt they’ve become. Jackson also can be credited with the steady improvement of Draymond Green, who is a key contributor for the Warriors and will be a highly sought after free agent this summer. I bring up Jackson’s Warriors past to highlight his great ability to groom young talent, which Orlando has plenty of. 

In Victor Oladipo and Nik Vucevic, the Magic have two budding stars with All-Star ability. Rookie Elfrid Payton, who is a triple double waiting to happen, has the look of a young Rajon Rondo and is the kind of facilitating point guard that Jackson, a former point guard can help accelerate his growth.
The wings are loaded with long, agile, athletes in vets Channing Frye and Tobias Harris (more on him later), Maurice Harkless and rookie Aaron Gordon. All of these guys—except Frye—are in their mid 20’s and younger, perfect for what Coach Jackson has proven he relates to.

Skiles to the Suns, Bulls and Bucks to the playoffs in his 13 years as a coach. Courtesy: Bucksbasketball.com

If you can’t get Jackson, former Magic point guard Scott Skiles (1989-1994) would also make a great coach for this young squad. In his time in Phoenix, Chicago and Milwaukee, he revived those struggling franchises and led them back to the playoffs while compiling a record of 443-433 (.506). 

Skiles played five seasons in Magic pinstripes. Courtesy: NBA.com

Skiles is known for having a tough defensive minded philosophy that is similar to the style in which he played during his ten-year career. This Magic team desperately needs an infusion of that.

I hear the Billy Donovan rumors and supporters wanting to try this union again, but this is like an ex-boyfriend and ex-girlfriend that’s considering a reconciliation; there’s a reason why it didn’t work out the first time. As Drake and Jay said on the Blueprint III album, “On to the next one.”

• Orlando will likely be selecting in the top five of the draft again come June. The Magic’s biggest need is a tough defensive minded, agile post man who does the dirty work, like Draymond Green is to Golden State, DeAndre Jordan is for the Clippers and Tyson Chandler is for the Mavericks, you get my point. 

Unless they get some magic… I said unless the get some magic, it won’t be a top three pick, so that means no Jahlil Okafor from Duke or Karl Anthony Towns from Kentucky, the top rated big men in this class. But that’s okay, because there is another guy who fits Orlando’s need and will be a perfect complement to fellow post man Nik Vucevic.

In order for this team to make the playoffs in 2015-16, It’s imperative that this selection is someone who you can plug-in as a game one starter. Willie Cauley-Stein the Junior 1st Team AP All-American big man from Kentucky can be that guy. And if by chance the ping-pong ball doesn’t bounce Orlando’s way to a top five selection, WCS is likely to still be available around picks number 6,7 and 8 according to the multitude of mock drafts available via the Internet. 

 

At 7-0 240 pounds, Cauley-Stein is the elite shot blocking, defensively versatile big that Vucevic isn’t. He can guard centers and stretch power forwards and stick with guards in the pick and roll game, plus he has superb leaping ability to control the defensive backboards and get after it on the offensive glass. Maybe he and Elfrid Payton can mimic the “Lob City” play Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan have perfected in Clipperland.

 

The negative on Willie is his unpolished offensive skills, but that won’t be as highlighted or a team weakness playing next to the current dominant big man in central Florida. There’s a possibility organization brass will let backup power forward/center Kyle O’Quinn walk in free agency, so this selection would kill two birds with one stone.

The current mock drafts—there are more than two handfuls—are split between the Magic selecting Stanley Johnson a 6-7 forward out of Arizona or the 7-0 Kristaps Porzingis stretch power forward out of Latvia if they earn a top four pick. Both players are more known for their offensive skills and could be a key in stretching the floor for Vucevic to dominate the post without double teams, while also keeping driving lanes open for Oladipo and Payton to slash. 

The only concern selecting another wing would be a log jam at the four spot. The Magic’s hope is to keep Tobias Harris, and you also have Channing Frye and their top pick from last year in Aaron Gordon who all play that position. But, when you’re picking in the top five three years in a row, you need all the talent you can get.

• As soon as possible, resign Tobias Harris. Harris was a steal for the Magic when they began this rebuilding process (acquired 2/21/13 from Milwaukee for J.J. Redick). 

While Harris has been often injured in his short time in central Florida, his skill set is just the type that causes matchup nightmares night after night. He has an inside-outside offensive game that compliments both cornerstones in Oladipo and Vucevic. 

 

Defensively he has the ability to guard a Kevin Durant or LeBron James on the perimeter and in the post. Harris gives the Magic versatility that more than half the NBA covets. 

The other key variable about Harris is he’s a vet, and this roster doesn’t have many who are actually playing major minutes. You need that experience on the court as much as his physical ability.

The Magic have potential and talent that GMs across the league salivate over, but there needs to be a breakthrough in development individually and collectively in order for this team to accelerate this rebuilding process or they’ll be back to square one. They’re already one step closer having bounced their coach.  If the Magic don’t make a significant jump in this coming fourth year of rebuilding, it may be time to push that big reset red button and start from scratch, again.