NBA AM: The Orlando Magic’s Next Move?
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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Orlando Magic general manager Rob Hennigan flew out to Los Angeles on Wednesday with misplaced hopes of repairing the organization’s damaged relationship with All-Star center Dwight Howard. Howard, who is in L.A. while rehabilitating his back that was operated on April 20, has been steadfast in demanding a trade this summer.
That didn’t change after Wednesday’s meeting either. Originally reported by RealGM’s Jarrod Rudolph and later confirmed by HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy, Howard reiterated his trade demands despite Hennigan’s attempt to connect with him and persuade him otherwise.
Although it seems like ancient history now, there was actually a time when Howard was happy with the Magic. It was just three short years ago when they were in the NBA Finals, where they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. Back then Howard believed he could compete for a championship, seeing how close they were. Since that time, they’ve just taken steps backwards and only fallen further out of contention.
Howard doesn’t trust ownership like he used to. And as a byproduct of that, he isn’t willing to give Hennigan’s pleas much consideration.
As assembled, the Magic are a coachless squad without the necessary pieces around Howard to compete at the level they did three years ago. They do have three finalists pegged for their next head coach: San Antonio Spurs assistant Jacque Vaughn, Philadelphia 76ers associate head coach Michael Curry and Phoenix Suns player development coach Lindsey Hunter. However, they lack the kind of experience and background to help move Howard off of his current stance.
Meanwhile, on the player-personnel front, all the Magic have done is drafted two rookies, re-sign point guard Jameer Nelson and sign-and-trade Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson to the New Orleans Hornets for forward Gustavo Ayon.
Yet, somehow, Hennigan felt like Wednesday was a good time to see if Howard would change his mind even though he hasn’t been given any real reason to. Financially, it’s never made sense for Howard to sign an extension. By becoming a free agent he’s eligible to sign a five-year max deal, whereas he can only sign on for three years if he extends. From a competitive standpoint, Howard will have no shortage of suitors that offer him a better chance to compete if he becomes a free agent. That will make it easy for him to pass on the extra year and $25 million that only the Magic can offer due to having his Bird rights.
Now, Hennigan finds himself in the exact same predicament he was prior. The only difference is that the market is starting to die down for Howard.
The Houston Rockets were once considered to be the frontrunners to land Howard. The signings of restricted free agents Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, who they originally thought would be matched by their former teams, have used up most of their cap space, though. And now that rookie forwards Terrence Jones and Royce White have been signed, they cannot be dealt for 30 days. Same goes for fellow rookie Jeremy Lamb once he puts pen to paper.
The Los Angeles Lakers have steadily been in pursuit of Howard since the first day word broke that he was potentially available. They always had the upper hand in negotiations, though, because unlike the Magic they are just fine if they stand pat. They don’t have to take on any bad contracts because they already have an All-Star center in Andrew Bynum, who is widely regarded as the second best at the position. Reports surfaced on Wednesday that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak initiated talks regarding an extension for Bynum. While Bynum’s agent David Lee refutes that anything of substance has been discussed yet, the talks are inevitable if the Magic continue to drag their feet on trading Howard.
With training camp set to start in October, Hennigan has to decide whether or not he’s truly ready to endure a media circus that would likely top anything we’ve seen previously with Howard or even Miami HEAT forward LeBron James back when he was in Cleveland. Last year would pale in comparison. The games, who is coaching them and the outcomes won’t be talked about nearly as much as Howard and his unhappiness.
As we’ve reported, Hennigan is planning to rebuild the Oklahoma City Thunder way, which is through the draft while having no bad contracts. The Lakers, Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers, through a variety of scenarios, can provide the Magic with cap relief and multiple picks. All they need is for Hennigan to play ball, something he hasn’t really been willing to do so far.
Hennigan knew when he was hired that he was going to have to make a tough decision on Howard. The time has come for him to either bite the bullet and trade him or prepare his new coach and players for a season where no amount of wins will be able to take the spotlight off Howard, his impending free agency and trade demand.
The Minnesota Timberwolves Get Their Small Forward
Free agency can be disappointing for every team, but few teams were more upset over missing out on their top target than the Minnesota Timberwolves. They have coveted forward Nicolas Batum for years and did everything they could to land him this offseason, only to see their offer sheet matched by the Portland Trail Blazers. They tried relentlessly to work out out a sign-and-trade with them, but their attempts fell on deaf ears. The Trail Blazers were set on keeping Batum no matter what.
Luckily for the Timberwolves, they still managed to find a starting-caliber small forward this late in free agency. On Wednesday, they came to an agreement on a two-year, $20 million contract with free agent Andrei Kirilenko, who doesn’t have the upside of Batum but is far more experienced. Yahoo Sports! Adrian Wojnarowski was the first to report the deal. The Brooklyn Nets were previously perceived as the favorites to sign Kirilenko if he didn’t stay in Russia.
Kirilenko spent last season playing for CSKA Moscow. In 17 games in the Euroleague, he averaged 14 points, seven rebounds, two assists and nearly two blocks while shooting 59 percent from the field and 41 percent from beyond the arc.
Beforehand, Kirilenko had spent his entire career with the Utah Jazz. He boasts career averages of 12 points, five rebounds, nearly three assists and two blocks over 10 years.
Kirilenko could end up being the exact kind of veteran leader that the Timberwolves need in order to crack the Western Conference’s top eight. His defensive skills in particular will be a major upgrade at the position.
Before the Kirilenko signing can become official, a three-team trade involving the Timberwolves, New Orleans Hornets and Phoenix Suns has to be completed. The framework, which has center Robin Lopez and forward Hakim Warrick heading to New Orleans and forward Wes Johnson, a first-round pick and center Brad Miller to Phoenix, has been agreed to.
Up Close With Festus Ezeli
The Golden State Warriors have their core in place and center Andrew Bogut is a big part of it. He’s their starter and someone who they plan to play through a lot offensively. Rookie center Festus Ezeli is simply trying to fill in behind him with his defense. He talked about how nice it is going to be to play to his strengths and more in this exclusive interview with HOOPSWORLD.
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NBA Chats: There are three chats on schedule for today. Joel Brigham, who covers the Chicago Bulls, is up first at 1:30 pm EST. Mark Nugent, who is also based out of Chicago, is next at 6 pm EST. Atlanta Hawks writer Lang Greene will wrap things up at 8 pm EST. As always you can check out our complete chat schedule here.