31 May 2007

It's Official: Donovan Agrees to Terms, Will Sign with Magic

The speculation can cease now.

Billy Donovan has accepted the Magic's offer of five years and $27.5 million to become the franchise's latest head coach. He'll be introduced at a news conference tomorrow at 11:00 AM EST.

Kudos to the Magic for pursuing a big name. With all due respect to Stan Van Gundy, I doubt hiring him as the franchise's next coach would have made ESPN's front page. It's right in the center of the following screen grab:

And that's just what the Magic need: buzz. With all this attention, they should be able to get a new arena built. More importantly, they should be able to better attract free agents. Prior to today, the Magic could offer the opportunity to play alongside Dwight Howard and to make near-maximum money. Now, they can offer playing for one of college's most respected coaches.

A housekeeping note: In honor of Donovan's signing, I've added a "Billy Donovan" label to each post in which he appears, which will make those posts easier to find. I've also removed the "Brian Hill" label, although posts about him are still labeled under "Coaching".

Orlando Sentinel: Donovan to Sign With Magic

I'll file this one under "C" for "Coaching Developments, Most Surprising"

According to a report on the Orlando Sentinel's website, Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan will sign to be the next head coach of the Orlando Magic.

I'm speechless. This hiring is going to be a hit with many Magic fans. I just hope Otis Smith made his decision based on what's good for the team, not for the franchise as a whole. By that, I mean I hope he made the move because he's sure that Donovan will legitimately improve the Magic, not because he wants to get a new arena built for the team.


I have to wipe egg off my face now. I wrote this paragraph only yesterday:

I wouldn't get too excited about this news. Billy Donovan is no dummy; he knows that the more he talks to pro teams, the more money UF will have to throw at him. Shaquille did the same thing to us ten years ago. The second he became a free agent, he knew he was going to sign with the Lakers. He told them that he was still undecided, which caused them to raise their offer. Then he left us. And that was all she wrote.
Well, he did what Shaq did, all right. But, contrary to what I first thought, UF was being strung along, not us.

30 May 2007

Report: Iavaroni to Sign with Grizzlies

ESPN.com is reporting that the Memphis Grizzlies have agreed to a three-year deal with Phoenix Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni. The signing is expected to be announced tomorrow.

The Magic got permission from the Suns to speak with Iavaroni, but it's unclear as to whether or not he was ever interviewed. The hiring of Iavaroni narrows down the Magic's short list to Stan Van Gundy, Larry Brown, Billy Donovan, and others.

Orlando Sentinel: Magic Contacted Billy Donovan's Agent

I'll file this one under "C" for "Coaching Developments, Least Surprising."

According to Tim Povtak of the Sentinel
, the Magic have contacted the agent who represents Billy Donovan. The Magic want to know if he is interested in leaving the University of Florida, where he won back-to-back national championships, for the NBA. This news comes despite of reports that Donovan is close to signing an extension with UF.

I'm not thrilled at the prospect of hiring Donovan. College coaches rarely enjoy success in the NBA. John Calipari, Tim Floyd, Lon Kruger, and Rick Pitino are just four college coaches who jumped to the pros and failed miserably. However, it could be argued that none of those coaches had a pro roster as talented as the Magic's right now, so Donovan might succeed here more than I expected. Former Magic head coach Doc Rivers, currently with Boston, agreed with that sentiment when he said the following:

"I've never bought into that thinking that they can't make it in the NBA. It's still just basketball. If you're a good coach and you have talent, you can be successful."
Fair enough, but I still doubt Donovan would leave UF under any circumstances. He has everything he wants there. With the Magic, he'd only be the head coach, because there's no way Otis Smith would ever relinquish his GM duties to him.

I wouldn't get too excited about this news. Billy Donovan is no dummy; he knows that the more he talks to pro teams, the more money UF will have to throw at him. Shaquille did the same thing to us ten years ago. The second he became a free agent, he knew he was going to sign with the Lakers. He told them that he was still undecided, which caused them to raise their offer. Then he left us. And that was all she wrote.

For another fan's take on the Donovan situation and what it might mean for Stan Van Gundy, I recommend reading this post by Black and Blue at his blog.

One more note: the Sentinel's report today mentions that Larry Brown, who has coached every basketball team in the history of the world at least once, told the Sentinel that he would consider returning to coaching. If the itch is still there, Larry should scratch it. Just not here. He already has a testy relationship with Darko Milicic and Trevor Ariza, both of whom he buried on the bench while choaching Detroit and New York, respectively. His inability to connect with younger players caused the U.S. Olympic team he coached in 2004 to win only a bronze medal. In short, he's not fit to coach the Magic, and I do not endorse his candidacy.

I need to return to Seven Seconds or Less, the book about the Phoenix Suns to which I alluded in my last post, now. I hope to have my impressions on Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni posted by tomorrow night.

28 May 2007

Irony Strikes: Iavaroni More Defensive than Offensive

Earlier this evening, I bought Jack McCallum's book Seven Seconds Or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin' and Gunnin' Phoenix Suns in an attempt to gain more insight into the mind of Marc Iavaroni, the Suns assistant and potential next Magic head coach. The Suns have been the best offensive team in basketball over the past several seasons, which is why the scoring-challenged Magic so covet Iavaroni.

I sat down to read the book, but I made sure to read the section in the beginning that identifies the Suns' players, coaches, and staff. Here's what McCallum wrote about Iavaroni (emphasis mine):

MARC IAVARONI (I-VA-RO-NEE) - [Head Coach Mike] D'Antoni's lead assistant; handles defensive strategy; won one NBA title as a player; nobody works harder on film study but has a sense of humor.
So we're interested in this guy for offense, yet the reporter who spent an entire season with him and his team describes him as a defensive coach. I'm not really dismissing Iavaroni after reading a blurb in a book I haven't yet started, but is Stan Van Gundy still on the line?

One bit about Van Gundy before I sit down to read: Bethlehem Shoals of FreeDarko wrote this small piece for AOL , in which he writes "I can't stress enough, though, how amazing [Van Gundy] coaching the Magic would be." Since I gather that Iavaroni is the favorite candidate of most Magic fans, I thought I'd pass along a dissenting view.

Anyway, I'll have my thoughts on the book posted once I finish it.

'Round the Coaching Carousel: Iavaroni, Van Gundy, Carlesimo, and... Dennis Scott?!

The Magic only fired Brian Hill on Wednesday, yet the team has wasted no time in searching for his successor, as it wants to have a coach in place by July 1. This post will sum up all the information I've been able to find about the coaching search.

The Arizona Republic reported on Friday that the Magic asked for permission to speak with Phoenix Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni. The Suns granted the Magic that permission. Iavaroni is the lead assistant for the Suns, the highest-scoring team in the league. Under his offensive-minded tutelage, point guard Steve Nash has won two MVP awards and center Amare Stoudemire has blossomed into an All-Star and All-NBA First Team member.

My take: Iavaroni is the Magic's best bet. They were 27th in scoring last season and Iavaroni's track record indicates that he knows offense. From a coaching standpoint, I think he's a can't-miss. Although Iavaroni would not create as big a buzz around the team like big-name coaches Larry Brown or Lenny Wilkens, Otis Smith said recently "I am not trying to win press conferences; I am trying to win a championship." Thus, Iavaroni's relative no-name status should not factor in to the Magic's decision.

Also mentioned as a possible candidate for the Magic's coaching vacancy is former Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy. An article from Friday's Sentinel quotes Van Gundy as saying, "I'm hopeful. It's a situation I'd definitely be interested in [....] It's a situation, obviously, where they've got some great young pieces in a desirable place to live." Van Gundy has not yet been contacted by the Magic.

My take: Stan Van Gundy is another solid candidate. He compiled a record of 112-73 (.605) in two-plus seasons in Miami before Pat Riley forced him out. Like Iavaroni, Van Gundy is offensively minded, as the Heat improved their scoring average from 90.3 points per game to 101.5 points per game from his first year to his second. That increase in team scoring coincided with Dwyane Wade's individual scoring, which jumped from 16.2 to 24.1 in the same period. It seems to me that Van Gundy would be a good fit for the Magic, as he might be able to hone the offensive skills of Jameer Nelson and Trevor Ariza.

An item posted on the web yesterday and originally appeared in the San Antonio Express-News mentions that the Magic have contacted current San Antonio Spurs assistant P.J. Carlesimo, who has previously coached the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors. In a different report, Carlesimo told the Sentinel that he would not discuss any coaching positions until the end of the playoffs.

My take: Unfortunately, Carlesimo's entire coaching career has been overshadowed by an incident he was involved in as coach of the Golden State Warriors. During a practice, Latrell Sprewell choked him and made threatening comments. What I do know about Carlesimo, apart from that incident, is that he's defensively oriented; just look at the Spurs and their style of play right now. I don't know that he'd be a good fit here, considering that Brian Hill was similarly inclined to emphasize defense, but at least it shows that Otis Smith doesn't have a one-track mind.

Finally, an item in the article about Iavaroni in yesterday's Orlando Sentinel mentions that former Magic star and current Atlanta Hawks color analyst Dennis Scott, has expressed interest in the coaching position. Scott is also the general manager of Atlanta's minor-league basketball team, the Vision of the American Basketball Association. He has no head-coaching experience.

My take: With no disrespect intended, I think 3-D should stick to announcing. He has no coaching experience and should not be given control of a team.

This coaching carousel is spinning too quickly for my liking. If I hear "coach" and "Magic" in the same sentence again, it'll be too soon.

25 May 2007

Mike Bianchi Calls Out Otis Smith

The Otis Smith Era began only yesterday, yet he's already facing criticism from at least one journalist: Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel.

I don't always agree with Bianchi. Consider this column he wrote defending Brian Hill, in which he asserted "[t]he game's greatest coaches would be .500 with this roster," which I think is a totally bogus statement. If we had, say, Jerry Sloan coaching this team last season, we only would have won one more game? Please.

But this post does not concern that old column. Rather, it concerns this one, published today, in which Bianchi concludes not only that it is now up to GM Otis Smith to improve the Magic, but also that Smith should be fired if the club doesn't show significant improvement. In other words, Bianchi wrote today what I wrote yesterday, only he did so far more eloquently. Some excerpts:

Let there be no doubt about it, this is now Otis Smith's team. And the clock is ticking, the fuse is burning and the keg of dynamite is now sitting underneath a cartoon panel that says, "GM's Job Security."
Make no mistake about it, the firing of Coach Brian Hill was all Smith's idea. Sure, [Magic President and CEO Bob] Vander Weide had to sign off on it, but he signed off because Smith was adamant the Magic needed to move in another direction. Smith is the one who travels to nearly every game with the team. He's the one who talks to the players and deals with the coaches. He's the one who didn't like the way Hill was coaching and developing this roster.
Hill has received most of the public criticism over the last two years, but Smith should be held just as accountable for the Magic's mediocrity. Smith claims Hill didn't make the most of the talent he was given. I would argue Smith has an inflated opinion of the talent he gave Hill.
That last excerpt is particularly striking to me because I've always felt that the Magic weren't as talented as Smith was boasting. I also believe that it's the responsibility of the GM, not the coach, to provide the team with talent. Smith didn't quite do that this season: The Magic went 5-14 from January 12th, a loss to the Lakers in L.A., to February 22nd, the day of the trade deadline. That stretch dropped our record from 22-14 (.611) to 27-28 (.491), yet Otis Smith said "I like our team," and refused to make a deal. To be fair, hardly any teams made moves at the deadline, so Smith wasn't alone in his inaction. The whole lack of movement at the deadline disgusted Bill Simmons enough that he wrote a column, entitled Welcome to the No Balls Association, in which he graded each team and how their lack of activity hurt them. The whole piece is hilarious and worth reading, but here's what Bill had to say about the Magic:
ORLANDO: F-minus-minus-minus
I like Otis Smith's philosophy here: We don't own a 2007 No. 1 pick, our team is sinking like a stone, we have Grant Hill's expiring deal ($16.9 million) to move for an asset and save our season, we desperately need scoring ... screw it, let's stand pat. Hey, that's one way to keep your job -- just don't do anything. How can the Magic fire you if you don't do anything? I'd like to see how long Otis could keep this strategy going -- Orlando's owners probably won't catch on for another 2-3 years.
It's eerie how life imitates art in this instance.

The folks over at FireBrianHill got their wish fulfilled. Maybe the hypothetical owners of FireOtisSmith will get theirs next.

24 May 2007

Just Say No to Bob Hill and His Promise of Rashard Lewis

Well, that didn't take long.

A day after Brian Hill was "reassigned", former Magic assistant Bob Hill contacted the organization about its head coaching position, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Last season, Bob Hill coached the Seattle SuperSonics to a 31-51 record. He was fired during the offseason.

But that's not where the story ends. In addition to asking about the job, Hill also told the Magic that he could bring Seattle free-agent Rashard Lewis with him.

I get the impression that GM Otis Smith likes what Hill has to say. Apart from dropping Rashard Lewis' name, the Sentinel reports that Hill said the Magic would play at a faster pace under his tutelage. Smith has said one of the factors leading to Brian Hill's firing was his slow-paced, grind-it-out offensive strategy. It sounds like Smith wants to see the Magic "run and gun" like the Phoenix Suns, and Bob Hill has picked up on it. Like everyone else following the NBA, Hill also noticed the Magic's need for scoring, as they finished 27th in the league in that statistic last season. Lewis provides offense, as he averaged 22.4 points per game for Seattle last season. As a bonus, he shot well from the free-throw line at 84.1%.

In short, Bob Hill wants to run, he knows our flaws, and he can bring with him a 27-year-old swingman who can score. We'd be stupid not to hire him, right?

Wrong. Way wrong.

Let's not wear rose-colored glasses here. I know I mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating: the Sonics were 31-51 last season under Hill. Granted, they suffered injuries to Ray Allen and Lewis, but the Magic also suffered injuries to key players and they still managed to win 40 games. Also, although bringing Lewis in would add a star perimeter player to complement Dwight Howard, it would also use up valuable cap space. Lewis will almost certainly command a max salary, meaning the Magic would not have enough money to re-sign Darko Milicic.

We need to re-sign Darko Milicic.

His modest numbers this season mask the fact that he came off the bench when he should have been starting. He was also used ineffectively, as Brian Hill and the Magic coaches envisioned him as a traditional, back-to-the-basket big man. While his post skills have certainly improved, he's much more effective as a distributor and jump shooter in the vein of Chris Webber. And at 21, he's much younger than Lewis is. Further, a frontcourt tandem of Dwight Howard and Darko Milicic would prove formidable, especially in the meek Eastern Conference.

In short, Rashard Lewis is good for the short term, but Darko Milicic has more potential for long-term success. Thus, he would be the better signee, and Hill's offer of Lewis doesn't persuade me that he would make a good coach for this team.

There also has to be a question of character being raised here. It's one thing to contact an employer to inquire about a job opening; I would know, as I've spent plenty of time doing just that over the past month. However, it's quite another to contact an employer to inquire about a job opening AND dangle a carrot in front of it. It smacks of desperation and amateurism on the part of Bob Hill, and the Magic would be wise to turn down the offer.

23 May 2007

Orlando Sentinel: Brian Hill Out as Head Coach

Contradicting the post I made yesterday, in which I wrote based on word-of-mouth that Brian Hill might return as the Magic's coach next season, Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel reported this afternoon that Hill has been fired. Here's the lead from that story:

Brian Hill will not return as head coach of the Orlando Magic the Orlando Sentinel learned this afternoon. The club is soon expected to announce that he will be offered a position with the organization.
I'm sure Hill will accept the other position, which will likely only include ceremonial duties like occasionally showing up at practice and posing in the team photo. I think the other job offer is the Magic's way of avoiding any public outcry. "We didn't put him out on his ass," they can say. "We gave him another job!"

Not that anyone's going to complain about this loss. I don't think it's a wise move, at least not at this point, because this team is composed of young players who need consistency. That said, Brian Hill's grind-it-out offensive philosophy is not greatly suited to this team, which would probably benefit from playing at a faster pace. I wouldn't call this move a surefire way to improve the Magic, but I don't think the team will regress. Young players don't typically get worse. If nothing else, the Magic broke even here.

Otis Smith is going to have a lot of explaining to do if this team doesn't show significant improvement next season. He's already fired the coach and will have to make some tough decisions regarding free agents in the offseason. The firing of Hill marks, at least in my mind, the official beginning of the Otis Smith Era. If the team fails, it's on him.

22 May 2007

Portland is the new Orlando: Thoughts on the Lottery and its Ramifications for the Magic

Earlier tonight, when NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver revealed that the Portland Trail Blazers won the NBA's draft lottery, I immediately flashed back to my elementary school days in the early-to-mid 1990s, better known to Magic fans the Shaq and Penny era. Why?

With the top pick in the draft, the Trail Blazers will likely select Ohio State center Greg Oden, who many experts have touted as the next Patrick Ewing. The ESPN broadcast of the lottery this evening said as much, which means that Oden is regarded even higher than Shaquille O'Neal was.

So Oden is Portland's Shaq. Who's their Penny? Look no further than Brandon Roy, Portland's representative at the lottery and this season's Rookie of the Year, who shares Penny Hardaway's skills as a good shooter and ballhandler. It's not farfetched to imagine Oden and Roy combining to make Portland an exciting and dynamic team next season in the same manner that Shaq and Penny did so in the 1990s. You can be sure that I'll pay close attention to the Blazers as those two electrifying young players develop. It'll be like a trip through the Wayback Machine.

Sadly, this lottery means very little to today's Magic team, at least for the moment; qualifying for the playoffs eliminated the Magic from lottery contention, and their pick this season goes to Detroit as part of the Darko Milicic/Carlos Arroyo trade in 2006. Seeing as how this draft class is the deepest in many years, I'd like to see the Magic make a move to pick somewhere in the top 15. What are their options?

The possibility that immediately jumps out is trading Jameer Nelson and one of three second-round selections to the Atlanta Hawks for the 11th overall pick. While the Hawks would certainly hate to part with the 11th pick, making this trade would give them the young starting point guard they so desperately need. They also would keep the 3rd overall pick, which they could then use to draft a center or power forward, perhaps Yi Jianlian or Brandan Wright. Meanwhile, with the 11th pick, the Magic could draft a better point guard, such as Mike Conley Junior, Javaris Crittenton, or Acie Law IV. Trading a fourth-year point guard for a rookie one seems risky at first, but Conley, Crittenton, and Law each have more potential than Nelson does.

If the Hawks aren't interested in Nelson, the Philadelphia 76ers might be. Nelson played his college ball at nearby Saint Joseph's University, and the 76ers are also in need of a point guard. They acquired Andre Miller from Denver in the Allen Iverson trade, but rumor has it that Miller might be traded himself for the right price. Nelson would give the 76ers a younger, quicker point guard to play alongside franchise cornerstone Andre Iguodala. The 76ers pick 12th, so the Magic would only lose one pick if they make this deal as opposed to the Atlanta one. However, it's unlikely that Philadelphia would trade its highest first-round pick for a fourth-year point guard, so the Magic might have to include cash or future considerations to get the deal through.

The possibility of trading for a draft pick adds another item to Magic GM Otis Smith's "To-Consider" list. As if that weren't long enough already.

Four Free Throws: Brian Hill to Return?!

This news is far from official, and I'm getting it third-hand from Four Free Throws, but if appearances are to be believed, it looks like Brian Hill will be back as the coach of the Magic next season. An excerpt:

Our sources at the RDV spotted a jolly Otis Smith walking out from the Magic offices this afternoon, and soon after a smiling Brian Hill appeared with Dwight Howard at the courts, and they joked around a bit before walking off. Suffice it to say: it did not look like B. Hill was getting fired.
I wanted to hold off on posting any Brian Hill news until something official came out, but this information was just too good for me not to pass it along.

If this news is true and Hill indeed returns, I think it'd be for the best. Rick Adelman would have been the ideal replacement for Hill because he's less controlling and plays at a more up-tempo pace. Basically, he's more suited to coach the Magic's young, athletic players than Hill is. However, since Adelman has replaced Jeff Van Gundy in Houston, and Sam Mitchell re-upped with Toronto, Hill appears to be the best coach left. Might as well have some consistency.

20 May 2007

Grading the Magic, Part Three - Better Luck Next Year

We Magic fans are in a period of limbo: the Magic have been eliminated from the playoffs, yet the draft and free agency are still a month away. As such, I thought I'd now would be as good a time as ever to submit individual grades for each Magic player. I've decided to split the players into three different groups: Top of the Class, or the players who had above-average seasons; Middle of the Road, or the players who did about as well as expected; and Better Luck Next Year, or players who either underperformed or did not play frequently enough to be evaluated fairly .

Today's post concerns Better Luck Next Year. I welcome your comments and criticisms.

James Augustine, Forward#40
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Points Per GameRebounds Per GameField Goal %GRADE
"No-Name James", as I have nicknamed him, played in just 7 minutes this season. As such, I cannot give him an actual grade because to do so would be unfair. Second-round draft choices don't last long here, so I fear Augustine's career may end sooner rather than later. It's a shame too; how many 6'10" guys do you know who average a triple-double per 48 minutes?

Keith Bogans, Guard#10
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Points Per GameRebounds Per GameField Goal %GRADE
Keith is in his second tour of duty with the Magic. His calling cards are supposedly defense and three-point shooting, but Keith failed to deliver on either of those fronts this season. He got off to a hot start, making 47.7% of his three-pointers from November to January. He then forgot how to shoot, as he made only 30.6% of his shots from downtown the rest of the season. I almost feel bad for him; he went from coming off the bench early to warming it perpetually over the course of the season. Maybe he'll break through next season, but I'd rather doubt it.

Travis Diener, Guard#34
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Points Per GameAssists Per Game3-pt Field Goal %GRADE
I believe in Travis Diener. I think he's smart enough to run a half-court offense efficiently, and I think his teammates are good enough defensively to make up for his lack of size and speed. The coaching staff does not share this view, and as such, only played him in 26 games this season. Barring a quick change of heart, the Magic won't re-sign him this offseason. It's a shame because he did show signs of life this season, pouring in 16 points on five-of-six shooting against Charlotte in December.

Pat Garrity, Forward#8
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Points Per GameRebounds Per Game3-pt Field Goal %GRADE
Pat Garrity has never been a good defender or rebounder. He's made a living in this league by making three-pointers and drawing opposing power forwards away from the basket. That worked well a few years ago, but not so much this season. When called upon this season, Garrity rarely delivered, making just 34% of his three-pointers. Like Bo Outlaw, he's no longer an NBA-level talent. Unlike Bo Outlaw, there isn't anything he does well anymore, and I feel bad for him.

Jameer Nelson, Guard#14
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Points Per GameAssists Per GameField Goal %GRADE
Jameer Nelson was playing for a contract extension this season, but you'd never know it by looking at his performance. He shot a career-low from the field, let his three-point shooting drop nearly 10 percentage points, and tallied fewer assists per game despite increased playing time. Simply put, Nelson was indefensibly bad, and his poor showing this season raises questions as to his role with the team. I would not be surprised if he were traded for a draft pick.

Hedo Turkoglu, Forward#15
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Points Per GameRebounds Per GameField Goal %GRADE
I wanted to give Hedo a break for this evaluation; after all, he did play through a mysterious flu-like virus that had bothered him since training camp. However, his Jameer-like dropoff in production is really inexcusable, even with the illness taken into account. Further, his streaky play makes him hard to count on. That doesn't bode well for a team in need of consistency. If he doesn't show improvement in training camp, Trevor Ariza should easily take his starting job. I'll take defense and wicked drives to the basket over sloth-like speed and streaky shooting any day.

17 May 2007

Grading the Magic, Part Two - Middle of the Road

We Magic fans are in a period of limbo: the Magic have been eliminated from the playoffs, yet the draft and free agency are still a month away. As such, I thought I'd now would be as good a time as ever to submit individual grades for each Magic player. I've decided to split the players into three different groups: Top of the Class, or the players who had above-average seasons; Middle of the Road, or the players who did about as well as expected; and Better Luck Next Year, or players who either underperformed or did not play frequently enough to be evaluated fairly .

Today's post concerns the Middle of the Road. I welcome your comments and criticisms.

Tony Battie, Forward#4
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Points Per GameRebounds Per GameField Goal %GRADE
I like Tony a lot, but has more to do with his steadiness than anything else. He's what some people might refer to as a "lunchpail guy" because he's always in the game, playing hard, and doing the dirty work. I can't count the number of times various broadcasters have said something like, "Tony's a guy who you does things that won't show up in the box score," which is a polite way of saying, "he isn't that good." And as great as consistency is, I'd like to see more than a steady 6 points and 5 boards a night from a veteran player making $22 M over the next four years. Talk about out-of-control spending.

Bo Outlaw, Forward#45
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Points Per GameRebounds Per GameField Goal %GRADE
Like Tony Battie, Bo Outlaw provide veteran leadership on a young team. He's rarely used, and with good reason; his skills have eroded to the point at which it becomes apparent that he is no longer an NBA-level talent. Why does he get a C from me, as opposed to a lower grade? Well, no one expected much of him anyway. And say what you will about his skills, but his preparation is impeccable; he comes into games ready to play and with tremendous energy. He's also a big hit with the community. If only he weren't relegated to waving towels and pumping fists from the bench each night.

J.J. Redick, Guard#7
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Points Per GameRebounds Per Game3-pt Field Goal %GRADE
I didn't really expect J.J. to make a big splash in his rookie season. Brian Hill is notorious for playing veterans over rookies, and it showed this season, as J.J. appeared in only 42 contests. He got off to a slow start because he missed training camp due to injury, yet he showed flashes of brilliance. In the miracle 106-104 win over San Antonio this season, the game won on Dwight Howard's alley-oop slam, J.J. posted 16 points on 6-of-11 from the field. I doubt he'll ever be an All-Star, but he should carve out a nice role as a 12-to-15 point scorer eventually. And his defense isn't as bad as advertised, as he allowed opposing shooting guards a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 16.2, just 1.2 points above the league average.

Next in the series: Better Luck Next Year.

16 May 2007

Grading the Magic, Part One - Top of the Class

We Magic fans are in a period of limbo: the Magic have been eliminated from the playoffs, yet the draft and free agency are still a month away. As such, I thought I'd now would be as good a time as ever to submit individual grades for each Magic player. I've decided to split the players into three different groups: Top of the Class, or the players who had above-average seasons; Middle of the Road, or the players who did about as well as expected; and Better Luck Next Year, or players who either underperformed or did not play frequently enough to be evaluated fairly .

Today's post concerns the Top of the Class. I welcome your comments and criticisms.

Trevor Ariza, Forward#1
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Points Per GameRebounds Per GameField Goal %GRADE
Last season's move to acquire Trevor from the Knicks in exchange for Steve Francis is paying off. His numbers aren't astounding, but Trevor is almost as important to this team as Dwight is. Case in point: The Magic went 5-15 after Ariza injured his knee against Golden State in January, derailing the team's season. I want to give him higher marks, but his pitiful postseason play (2.8 ppg, .313 FG%) won't allow me to.

Carlos Arroyo, Guard#30
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Points Per GameAssists Per GameField Goal %GRADE -
Despite what Brian Hill thinks, Carlos Arroyo is a quality point guard. He was dropped out of the rotation in mid-April after a string of games in which he shot just .388 from the field. Poor shooting aside, Carlos is a purer point guard than starter Jameer Nelson is, as he averages 7.4 assists per 48 minutes -- 0.6 more than Nelson -- and commits fewer turnovers. The Magic committed more turnovers than any other team this season, and Arroyo's efficiency could correct that. I'd like to see him compete for the starting job next season.

Keyon Dooling, Guard#5
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Points Per GameAssists Per GameField Goal %GRADE
Make no mistake -- Keyon Dooling needs work on the offensive end. In a loss at Dallas on March 3rd, Dooling turned in the worst offensive performance of any Magic player this season, making none of his seven shots. Why did he get high marks from me? Well, you can't spell 'Dooling' without 'D'. Data from 82games.com show that Keyon held opposing point guards to a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of just 11.5, which is 3.5 below the league average. He gets added commendation for his versatility, as he can play either guard position. If he improves his shot, he should challenge Carlos Arroyo and Jameer Nelson for the staring point guard job.

Grant Hill, Guard#33
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Points Per GameRebounds Per GameField Goal %GRADE +
It's been a rough seven years for Grant Hill. He's had numerous surgeries on his troublesome left ankle and, consequently, has played in just 200 of a possible 592 games since he's been with the Magic. This year was his best with the team, as he managed to play into April for the first time. He also keyed the Magic's playoff run, averaging 15.9 points per game on .596 shooting from the field in that month. I wonder how well this team would have played if Hill had not missed 17 games with various injuries. His contract expires this off-season. It'd be a shame to see him go, because veteran leadership is hard to come by.

Dwight Howard, Center#12
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Points Per GameRebounds Per GameField Goal %GRADE
Making the All-Star team at midseason and the All-NBA third team at season’s end were great milestones for Howard, who asserted himself as a star in just his third pro season. Proof that Dwight’s future is blindingly bright: the month of February, in which he shot 70.7% from the field and averaged 22.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Proof that Dwight is still a work-in-progress: dreadful free throw shooting (.586%) and ballhandling (3.87 turnovers per game).

Darko Milicic, Forward#31
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Points Per GameRebounds Per GameBlocks Per GameGRADE
It was nice to see Darko's hook shot improve from "line-drive thrown into the rim hapazardly" to "softly released ball arcing beautifully into the hoop." It was also disconcerting to see the big fella get down on himself early in games, then play halfheartedly through the rest of them, as though missing his first few shots caused the death of a cat somewhere. However, a down-in-the-dumps Darko Milicic is still better than any Tony Battie, and there's no reason why Darko shouldn't start next year... unless he signs with another team in the offseason.

Next in the series: Middle of the Road.

10 May 2007

Dwight Howard Makes the All-NBA Third Team

The NBA announced its All-NBA team selections today, and our very own Dwight Howard was voted to the third team. Way to go, Dwight!

Dwight is the first Magic player to be selected to an All-NBA team since Tracy McGrady was so honored in 2003/2004, earning second-team honors. Here's a list of the Magic's all-time All-NBA team selections, which I found in the Magic's official media guide.

2003/2004 - Tracy McGrady (Second Team)
2002/2003 - Tracy McGrady (First Team)
2001/2002 - Tracy McGrady (First Team)
2000/2001 - Tracy McGrady (Second Team)
1996/1997 - Anfernee Hardaway (Third Team)
1995/1996 - Anfernee Hardaway (First Team)
1995/1996 - Shaquille O'Neal (Third Team)
1994/1995 - Anfernee Hardaway (First Team)
1994/1995 - Shaquille O'Neal (Second Team)
1993/1994 - Shaquille O'Neal (Third Team)

If I were in a dour mood, I'd complain that Dwight didn't at least make the second team. Yao Ming got the nod at center on that squad, and he played in just 48 games this season due to a knee injury. Dwight, on the other hand, played in each of the Magic's 82 games. HOWEVER, I'm just happy that Dwight got some more recognition for his fantastic play this season, and thus I won't write a long, dense, statistic-laden post about why Dwight deserved second-team honors more than Yao did. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

This news is also refreshing in that it takes some of the spotlight away from the coaching carousel. Brian Schmitz speculates in his blog that the Magic are stalling on a decision as to Brian Hill's status because they are attempting to lure two-time NCAA champion coach Billy Donovan away from the University of Florida. Whatever. I've said what I have to say about Brian, and that's that. I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

08 May 2007

Double Trouble

Part the First: Holding Down the Fort
Now that I'm out of school, I've had a chance to catch up on the internet reading that I neglected to do during the academic year. In so doing, I discovered this great piece by Bill Simmons about the power of home-court advantage. The following snippet particularly stands out to me:

Once upon a time, the Celtics had the most significant home-court advantage thanks to 15,000 savvy hoop lunatics crammed into an overheated lunchbox. Since I was blessed with the chance to attend most of their pivotal games during the Bird Era, you have to believe me on this one -- we swung the outcome of six series ('81 Sixers, '84 Lakers, '87 Bucks, '87 Pistons, '88 Hawks and '91 Pacers) in which superior opponents failed to handle the mythical combination of Bird and the Garden. Off the top of my head, I can remember 20-25 games in which we carried the team to a higher place.

Now, you're saying to yourself, "Doesn't every crowd do that?"

Actually, no. More than in any other sport, the fate of a basketball game hinges on the connection between players and fans. Last year, you could have dressed in white, headed to a big Miami game, stood and cheered at all the predictable spots and convinced yourself that you impacted the game ... but you really didn't. You did exactly what you were expected to do, nothing more. You obeyed the giant video screen, followed the musical cues and served your purpose. In other words, you were just like every other NBA crowd.

Why does that resonate well with me? Two Thursdays ago, minutes before tipoff Orlando's first home playoff game since 2003, the in-arena "entertainers" gave a lesson on how to be a fan. Host Scotty B. encouraged the crowd to bang their ThunderStix together loudly, to cheer the Magic enthusiastically, and to boo the Pistons relentlessly. Yes, someone on the Magic's payroll was asked to write a pregame bit on how to cheer.

Somehow, I don't think the Pistons have that same problem; they're able to spend their P.R. money on coming up with playoff slogans that aren't hospital code for imminent loss of life. Pistons fans know how to cheer. I witnessed it first-hand in Game 3 because there was no shortage of Pistons fans in attendance, especially not in the upper bowl. Before, during, and after the game, Magic fans were treated to chants of "DEEEEEEEEE-TROIT BASKETBALL!" and, whenever Rasheed Wallace did anything worth noting, "SHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!"

This post is not my first about the subject of fandom in Orlando, so excuse the redundancy. But I think the organization's decision to devote some pregame time to teaching fans how to behave speaks volumes about the lack of vocal fans at Magic games. It's also insulting for those fans who are passionate about their team. When the presentation started, my father put down his hamburger, looked at me, and said, "Are you hearing this? They're teaching us how to cheer?" Dad's been a Yankee fan since birth and a Magic fan since the organization's inception. He knows how to cheer. I suppose the same can't be said for some Magic fans, even at playoff games, and that's a damn shame.

Part the Second: An Endorsement
In the week-plus that the Magic have been eliminated, I've watched a handful of playoff games, and I've seen each playoff team compete at least once. After much DVR-ing, it is with great pleasure that I heartily endorse the Golden State Warriors in their quest for the championship. Their upset of Dallas was historic and a joy to watch, especially in Game 6, in which they pounded the Mavericks by 25 at home and the crowd at Oracle Arena remained standing for the entire second half of the game. Last night's game against Utah was an exciting, tremendous, back-and-forth affair that came down to the final minute. Former Magic player Matt Harpring, now a key reserve for the Jazz, pulled down a critical rebound with seven seconds remaining, then hit the icing free throws for the game's final points. I was sad because the Warriors lost, but also happy that I just watched an incredible game.

So, Magic fans, if you're still looking for your NBA fix even after our team has been eliminated, I urge you to jump on the Warriors' bandwagon. It'll be a hell of a ride.

03 May 2007

Orlando Sentinel: Brian Hill May Not Return Next Seasn

It wasn't too long ago that Magic GM Otis Smith guaranteed that Brian Hill would finish his contract, which runs for another two seasons, coaching the Magic. Now, the Orlando Sentinel reports, those circumstances have changed.

The Sentinel reports Magic President Bob Vander Weide as saying the following:

"People ask me if Brian Hill will be back as our coach. All I can say is that I have no answer for that right now. Sometimes there are no guarantees in life."
Apparently, Vander Weide's dissatisfaction with Hill has more to do with the team's disappointing finish. There is also a philosophical issue that comes into play. Vander Weide would like to see the Magic "run the ball more," according to the Sentinel, a strategy I suggested a little under a month ago. But I digress.

I think the philosophical argument is probably the best case for dumping Hill. Sure, I've defended him in the past, and I still think that Smith is more to blame for the Magic's woes than Hill is. However, being unable to muster a single win against an older, slower Detroit team in eight tries this season indicates that making adjustments is not Hill's strong suit. How can a team expect to win if its coaching staff doesn't effectively analyze opponents' strategies and then work to counteract them? Hrm.

I'm not going to come out and say that I think Hill should be fired, because that would be disingenuous of me. However, the Pistons series really caused me to reconsider my earlier defense of Hill, and now my mood towards him has shifted from 'supportive' to 'ambivalence.' It's become evident to me, and to Vander Weide as well, that Hill although may be a good coach, his regimented style is not the best fit for this young team. Time will tell.

The folks at FireBrianHill must be cheering, and I suppose it's nice to know that some Magic fans might get their way this season. It's a shame that it has to come at the expense of the franchise's most significant coach.