Archive for the ‘Orlando Magic’ Category

Chemistry 101

July 6, 2009

I never was good at science – I only took chemistry up to grade 11. However, I do know the importance of chemistry, especially in regards to compiling a winning basketball team. With some of the free agent moves going down this past week, apparently some GMs need a refresher course in Winning Chemistry 101.

Yes, the most important thing for a championship team is talent. You aren’t going to win if you don’t have a roster full of top-shelf talent. But the most talented team doesn’t always win – look no further than the Pistons beating the Kobe-Shaq-Mailman-Glove Lakers squad in 2004. That is because when it comes to adding talent to a roster, eventually the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in. More talent does not equal more wins and more rings. After a certain point, chemistry and players willing to accept and thrive in the role they are assigned is more important than talent.

I’m of course talking about this past season’s top two teams – the Lakers and the Magic – tearing apart their rosters. Both teams’ key players were relatively young and thoughts of long time domination for both wasn’t a far-flung idea. Then Orlando went out and lost three starters – Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee & Hedo Turkoglu – from this year’s team. Its true that Rafer Alston wouldn’t have been the starting point guard if Jameer Nelson hadn’t been injured, but losing three starters from a championship contending team and only getting Vince Carter back in return isn’t a recipe for prolonged success. Then there is the case of the champion Lakers. They have replaced their young breakout star of the playoffs – Trevor Ariza – with the combustible Ron Artest. Now, on paper that is an upgrade in talent – at this point in their careers Artest is the better player of the two. And the defensive intensity that he brings to your team – not to mention his scoring ability – is substantial. But he’s not exactly the most stable of players.

This is where that chemistry word comes in to play. Turkoglu – not Dwight Howard – was the heart and soul of the Magic with his versatility and size. Ariza was a formidable third scoring option and solid defender for the Lakers. Not to mention both guys worked well within their team’s structures. While adding Carter and Artest might upgrade your talent level, it is at the expense of your team’s chemistry and cohesiveness. In my not so humble opinion, the Magic and Lakers are worse off today than they were a few weeks ago. I won’t be betting on either to win the title next year (not that I would ever dream of gambling).

I’m a big believer that the core of a team has to be together for a couple of years before they become serious title contenders. While there are exceptions to the rule (2008 Celtics), if you go through the list of recent NBA champions you’ll see that their key players were given multiple seasons to gel. The Spurs and the Pistons are prime examples of teams that kept their core guys together for a long time and, subsequently, each spring and summer they were among the last teams standing. Look what happened to the Pistons this season when they did break up their core by shipping out Chauncey Billups.

But you can’t put all the blame on the GMs. It is next to impossible to keep winning teams together, especially in today’s day and age. There are too many factors conspiring against keeping a team intact. The salary cap and the luxury tax (especially now with the economy tanking). Players with different agendas – some guys aren’t interested in being the second or third banana on a team; some guys would rather play closer to home or in a bigger media market; some guys only care about the dough – the highest bidder wins. Basically it is all the same reasons why I argued that they should get rid of the NBA draft. The teams that can keep their big happy families together (those dastardly Spurs) tend to be perennial contenders. But in today’s NBA, rightly or wrongly, the players call the shots so teams have to do the best they can patching together their rosters from year to year. Power to the people. Death to the dynasty.

The Kid is Alright

June 9, 2009

Not that he needs my help, but I feel the need to come to the rescue of Courtney Lee. It is in no way Lee’s fault that Orlando finds itself in a two games to none hole in the NBA Finals. Comparing his last second alley oop miss to Nick Anderson bricking four free throws in Orlando’s last Finals appearance, as some writers have done, is ludicrous. Lee’s shot was far from an easy layup, and since when did he become the Magic’s go-to guy? Isn’t it enough that a rookie from a small college is being asked to guard the most dangerous scorer in the game – Kobe Bryant – on the sport’s grandest stage? No, the Magic have far graver problems than Courtney Lee’s play.

Like the fact that Dwight Howard has more turnovers than field goals made after the first two games. That is a mind blowing stat. As a friend stated to me in an e-mail after Game 2, “Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O’Neal – not even close”. Truer words have never been spoken (or typed in this instance). Making his first Finals appearance, going up against one of the greatest centers in NBA history – Hakeem Olajuwon – the 23-year-old O’Neal averaged 28 points, 12.5 boards and 6.3 assists. So it goes without saying that Howard is not the second coming of Shaq Attack. Is it unfair to compare Howard to Shaq? If Howard wants to be a championship-level center, then there is no one better to compare him to than Shaq. And if he wants to get himself onto Shaq’s level, then the man needs some post moves. Howard’s big problem in this series is that when he gets the ball in the post he doesn’t immediately attack – he waits and subsequently gets himself double teamed.

Which brings me to the question of whether or not Howard is, or ever will be, a championship-level big man. After his 40 & 14 performance in the close-out game versus Cleveland it certainly looked like he was. But now that the lights are shining brightest – and where legendary players become legends – Howard is shrinking away. It wouldn’t be so much of a concern if the doubts concerning Howard were based just on the past two games. However, his lack of a post game, over reliance on his athleticism and strength, and lack of a “killer instinct” were all knocks on him going into this series. His putrid performance thus far have done nothing to quiet the detractors. And even if he does turn things around the rest of the series, it probably is too late for Orlando, and possibly for his reputation.

So the blame for the Magic squandering a win in Game 2 – on a night when Kobe either wasn’t able or willing to dominate – shouldn’t fall on Courtney Lee’s shoulders. It should fall squarely on Superman’s broad frame.

The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight

June 5, 2009

I’m in the middle of the ocean as I type this, which is fitting considering the Magic couldn’t throw a ball in the ocean last night if they tried. When a team known for its shooting touch shoots less than 30% from the field it will always add up to a L in the win/loss column. But things could be alot worse for Orlando. They could have shot well and STILL lost – then they would have something serious to worry about. As it stands now, they can just chalk up Game 1 to a cold shooting night and expect things to be back to normal on Sunday.

What should be of more of a concern for the Magic is the way Kobe Bryant is playing. To say he is playing like a man possessed is an understatement. All his talk about it not being important to him to win a title without Shaq is a lie – he feels he needs it to solidify his legacy, just like the rest of us feel. The Magic players had no answer for Bryant in Game 1 and seemed clueless after the game as to how they should go about stopping him. Their whole “not much you can do but hope he misses” approach to things after the game doesn’t bode well for Orlando. Neither does the fact that pretty much only Kobe went off last night for the Lakers – only two other L.A. players even scored in double-figures – yet Orlando still lost.

Nor does it bode well that Rafer Alston is already complaining about losing his rhythm while he is on the bench and Jameer Nelson is in the game. So while things aren’t as bad as they could be with Orlando, they certainly aren’t magical either.