Tag Archives: Serge Ibaka

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.

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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.

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.