NBA PM: Orlando Magic’s Big Gamble
It sounds like cooler heads may be prevailing in the talks between the NBA and its players, and we may soon be thinking about free agency and training camp instead of the possibility of losing an entire NBA season to a lockout. To a large number of NBA teams, the end of the lockout will spell the end of countless hours spent thinking of way to address major roster problems without the ability to actually take corrective action.
Few teams have as much at stake this season as the Orlando Magic, who hold Dwight Howard’s status as their franchise player in the balance. As has been discussed at length, Howard can become a free agent next summer, and if he chooses to do so he will immediately become the most sought-after player in the world. Howard has been clear in saying that he wants to stay in Orlando long-term, but he is also adamant about competing for a championship. If he can’t do that in Orlando he will certainly leave, even if it means he leaves a little money on the table in the process.
The problem the Magic have is that their roster – outside of Howard – is anything but championship-ready. Aside from Howard, the Magic have nine players under contract: Jameer Nelson, Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, JJ Redick, Chris Duhon, Quentin Richardson and Daniel Orton. I don’t know about you, but I think that last group of nine would have a hard time beating a D-League team, much less helping Dwight compete for a championship and solidify his presence in Orlando for the foreseeable future.
What’s more, the Magic are paying Arenas so much that they can’t afford to add any other players. His contract will pay him more than $19 million in 2011-12, and with the Magic’s payroll sitting at $76 million today, that contract may hold the key to Dwight Howard’s future in Orlando . . .as scary as that sounds.
Once upon a time Gilbert Arenas was a force to be reckoned with in the NBA. If we take a quick trip back to mid-2000′s, Arenas was among the best players at his position. He averaged 25.5 points, 5.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 2004-05, 29.3 points, 6.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 2005-06, and 28.4 points, 6.0 assists and 4.6 rebounds in 2007-08. Over that three-year stretch he missed just 12 games due to injury, and it was that three-year stretch that inspired the Washington Wizards to sign him to a six-year, $111 million deal in July of 2008.
Sadly, July of 2008 also marked the end of that version of Gilbert Arenas.
Injuries had claimed all but 13 games of the 2007-08 season for Arenas, but the new contract demonstrated just how certain the Wizards were that he would quickly return to form. He then appeared in just two games in 2008-09, and a lengthy suspension from the NBA claimed the bulk of 2009-2010. Midway through the 2010-11 season the Wizards were bailed out of the mess they got themselves into by taking the risk on Arenas, dealing him to the Orlando Magic in a trade that landed Rashard Lewis in Washington.
Arenas appeared in 49 games for the Magic, averaging 8.0 points, 3.9 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game . . .and he’ll be the highest paid member of the Orlando Magic for the next three years.
Is that trade, the one that swapped Arenas for Lewis, the move that will ultimately lead to the Magic losing Dwight Howard?
We don’t yet know what the new collective bargaining agreement will hold. It might do away with salary cap exceptions, which have been so important to the big-spending teams in the past. It might change the rules that allow a team to re-sign its own free agents without cap penalty, which would mean the Magic couldn’t even bring back Jason Richardson. What is definitely expected is that the new CBA will contain a reduced salary cap, and the Magic are already over what would have been projected as the new cap under the old rules.
So what are the Magic to do? They have few desirable trade pieces and more needs that could be addressed through one deal . . .unless that were a trade of Dwight Howard himself.
The easiest answer is not an attractive one, but it is one that can’t be avoided if the Magic are going to find their way back to the level of the Eastern Conference’s elite next season. Simply put, they’re going to have to get more out of Gilbert Arenas.
Arenas needs to start at point guard. He needs to be told that the team is his, that the future of the franchise is in his hands. He’s going to have to channel his inner Agent Zero and get back to playing All-Star basketball, because if he can’t the team will lose Dwight Howard and probable wind up as a perennial lottery team as a result. The move to acquire Arenas was a dare-to-be-great move, and now it’s time to see if the Magic can dare Arenas to be great . . .and if he will accept that challenge head-on.
How likely is it that Agent Zero can save the Magic and keep Dwight Howard in blue and white? Not very likely. But when you look at the moves GM Otis Smith has made over the last couple of seasons you find that there aren’t many options left open. It’s do-or-die time in Orlando, and Gilbert Arenas may hold the future of the franchise in his hands.
An Odd Pairing
One of the names that has really been flying under the radar in NBA free agency talks is that of Denver Nuggets guard JR Smith. Say what you want about Smith’s flammable personality, but he’s one of the best pure scorers on the market once free agency finally begins.
At least, he would have been.
This afternoon Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Smith is about to become the recipient of the biggest contract ever handed out by the China Basketball Association, a one-year deal worth a cool $3 million. Keep in mind that China is not allowing NBA-outs, so if Smith signs the contract he will be committed to play in China for an entire season and will miss out on his chance to sign a lucrative long-term deal in the NBA.
This deal made more sense 24 hours ago, before the latest meeting between NBA players and owners went so well that the two sides decided to meet again today. But even before that, the idea of JR Smith playing in China is enough to raise eyebrows.
Let’s roll back the clock a couple of years, back to a time when Yao Ming was a fresh face in NBA circles. The 7’5″ Chinese phenom was reluctant to dunk the basketball because he was worried that he might dishonor his opponent by doing so. China is a country known for valuing honor and self-discipline . . .and yet the big name in Chinese basketball today is that of one of the less disciplined players in the NBA.
Don’t get me wrong – JR Smith is a great talent, and if you have a strong head coach he’s exactly the player you’d want to grab. George Karl did a great job of harnessing Smith’s talents and putting them to good use. Someone like Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau could certainly channel Smith’s talents to the betterment of his team.
How long will it be before Smith follows in the footsteps of Allen Iverson and Steve Francis, whom the Chinese chased because of their on-court talents, but soon discarded because the off-court issues were more than their culture could take?
Perhaps the news that the NBA lockout could be nearing an end will inspire someone in Smith’s inner circle to wake him up to the fact that a long-term deal in the NBA, where eccentric personalities are tolerated and long-term contracts are about to be back on the table.
Kings Arena A Reality?
It wasn’t too long ago that the situation in Sacramento looked dire for the Sacramento Kings. The venue formerly known as Arco Arena was deemed no longer up to snuff for an NBA franchise, and with the city putting up a fight regarding building a new arena the team looked destined to move elsewhere. There was even a great deal of talk about the Kings moving to Anaheim, where the viability of a third NBA team in the Los Angeles area was hotly debated.
That talk has now cooled, and it sounds like the Kings and the City of Sacramento are close to an arrangement that will keep the team in town. Specifically, the team is going to get a new arena.
As an aside, arena financing has always been somewhat of a puzzlement to me. I don’t quite understand how a team owner can tell a city they have to pay for a new arena, considering that the primary person who is going to benefit from that building is that same owner. Why does that burden fall upon the taxpayers, who are not only asked to foot the bill in the first place, but are then charged exorbitant amounts of money any time they want to interact with the facility. For example, it costs $100 to park at the Dallas Cowboys new stadium, and while I have only been there to cover the 2010 NBA All-Star game I have been told that food is equally over the top when the Cowboys are doing their thing. Think $75 for a personal pizza is a great deal? Cowboys Stadium is the place for you!
Today in Sacramento, Mayor Kevin Johnson will unveil his plan for a new $387 million arena to be built on the site of a vacant downtown railyard. Because Sacramento doesn’t have the corporate base to fund major sports venues like Staples Center in Los Angeles or the aforementioned Cowboys Stadium, Johnson had to get creative in his budget proposal.
According to people familiar with the document, the Kings, the NBA and a private developer would contribute $91 million to $156 million in lease payments, upfront money, land and other revenue to pay for an arena.
The city of Sacramento would contribute the sale of public land, a tax on hotels and taxis, and money from items such as digital advertising and parking valued at $94 million to $123 million.
And, while residents in the six-county Sacramento region will not be asked to raise their taxes to subsidize a new arena, patrons of the venue will help pay for it. The third pot of money will be fueled by ticket surcharges, naming rights and other revenue sources that could generate $90 million to $121 million.
There are still a number of hurdles to be overcome even if Johnson’s proposal meets with wide acceptance in Sacramento. Included are a number of creative financing methods that the NBA has frowned upon in the past. Still, this is a positive, proactive approach to keeping the Kings in town, and it doesn’t rely solely on putting the taxpayer on the hook to pay for it.
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