NBA@2: Magic Too Good To Lose Howard?
One of the big problems with speculating what might happen with a particular future NBA free agent is there are a large number of intangibles associated with the future.
Let’s take New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams, for example. Before the end of free agency he said he felt there was a 90% chance that he would return to New Jersey long-term after opting out of his current contract next summer. Then the Nets struck out on all of their big free agent targets and, consequently, they are off to a miserable 2-9 start. Think Williams might want to adjust his percentage?
Now let’s turn our attention to Orlando, where the only question people want to ask these days is about the future of Magic center Dwight Howard. Coming into the 2011-12 season the Magic looked like a team left for dead. Much of the roster looked like an homage to great players of the past, with Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson all past their primes, and the rest was made up of questionable supporting pieces. If the Magic were going to count on Ryan Anderson, Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson to keep them competitive they might as well accept the inevitable and trade Dwight immediately.
Predicting human performance, however, is not an easy task. If you haven’t seen the movie “Moneyball,” you should rent it immediately, as it is a study in this aspect of sports. For all of the preseason predictions that the Magic would be hard pressed to contend this season, here we are 11 games into the new season and they are sitting atop the Southeast Division, second overall in the Eastern Conference behind the Chicago Bulls. At 8-3 they have the same record as the Miami HEAT, the most hyped team in basketball.
It’s a far cry from where any of us thought the Magic would be, even this early in the season.
Dwight is as good as ever, dominating on both ends of the floor despite the swarming defenses send his way in a futile effort to contain him. That’s normal and exactly what anyone would expect. The surprise has come in how well his supporting cast is playing, starting with Anderson. Ryan Anderson averages 9.0 points per game for his career, but this season he’s dropping 17.2 points each night, including 43% of his threes. More often than not his defender is preoccupied with Dwight, and Anderson is cashing in big-time.
Next up, Hedo Turkoglu, who seemed to be nearing the end of his career after failed stops in Toronto and Phoenix. He didn’t look all that great in his return to Orlando last season, either. This year, however, Turkoglu looks every bit as good as he was when he helped the Magic advance to the NBA Finals. His minutes are down a bit, due largely to Anderson’s superb play, but Turkoglu is averaging 14.4 points while shooting 48% from the field and 47% from three.
JJ Redick is having a career year, Glen “Big Baby” Davis is figuring out the Orlando system and Jason Richardson is picking his spots, as well. If Jameer Nelson can shake the rust out of his legs the Magic might just make some serious noise in the Eastern Conference. As of this writing, he is the team’s only notable weakness.
It’s early, of course, and the Magic have only faced to legitimate contenders – Oklahoma City and Chicago – and they lost both games. Still, the 8-3 start is a good sign for the Magic. They aren’t allowing the fan and media obsession with the future prevent them from focusing on the present. If they can continue to play this well for 55 more games, they might just avoid what many believe to be inevitable: the loss of Dwight Howard.
What Dwight really wants is to compete for a championship, and if you ask him and not the people trying to influence him from the inside he will tell you he wants to do it in Orlando. The big market myth is ridiculous, to be honest. Dwight is already the face of adidas, the second-biggest brand in basketball, as well as any number of other companies. Could he make more money in endorsements if he were in New York or Los Angeles? Perhaps. But Dwight Howard is a global marketing brand no matter which city he calls home.
What it comes down to is wins. If the Magic can make a deep playoff run, the odds that Howard stays put will go up exponentially. With that end in mind, the Magic are off to a great start.
Landry Still Proving His Worth
NBA fans in Houston need no introduction to Carl Landry. During his nearly three seasons with the team he established a reputation for hard work, determination and even last-second heroics. Since then he has been working to prove his value, which hasn’t been easy as he’s been moved around from team to team. Over the offseason he had his first taste of unrestricted free agency, and he tells HOOPSWORLD it was great to have teams like the Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Hornets all vying for his services.
“It felt good. The first time was, I think, my rookie year when I was a restricted free agent. Houston, in a way, had the last say so, which was tough. They could match within a certain amount of days and they did so, but to have a chance to be an unrestricted free agent was a good feeling because I could go wherever I wanted.”
Landry most enjoyed the feedback he was able to get from a variety of NBA executives.
“They liked my motor; the energy that I bring to the game. That’s something that a coach can’t teach, either. A player has it or he doesn’t and I was excited just to have the opportunity to be a free agent, an unrestricted free agent, and got a couple different offers. At the end of the day I think the best fit and the best opportunity to grow up as a player was here in New Orleans.”
Ultimately, the positive experience Landry had with the Hornets organization last season was what lead him to choose them over other suitors for 2011-12.
“Getting traded here last year and having an opportunity and a chance to play for Coach Monty was an amazing experience,” says Landry. “At the end of the day, I thought that was what outweighed some of the other teams and made the decision for me to come back easier. Without Chris (Paul), without David West, two all-stars, the identity of the team is up in the air, but we still have a deep team and bunch of good pieces to this puzzle. With Coach Williams and (GM) Dell Demps in the front office – and hopefully to have an owner someday – I think we can definitely turn this program back around and make it better than it ever was.”
The departure of Chris Paul put a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of Jarrett Jack. Landry says he has complete confidence in Jack, not only as a player but also as a leader.
“Definitely, he showed that last year coming off the bench just being a leader. Coming from Sacramento to New Orleans, he was one of the main guys that helped me in this offense and learning defensive principles. Being thrown in the starting lineup is never easy, and being counted on to be a leader on the court and off the court – so many different other things – is not easy. Jarrett has done a good job so far. We as a team, we have to collectively be leaders. We can’t put everything on him, but we’ve got a good group of guys on this team and I think good things are to come.”
The departure of David West certainly opened a huge door for Landry. He may be coming off the bench a lot, but he’s second on the team in scoring with 15.2 points per game, third in rebounding with 5.9 per contest, and he’s shooting 48% from the field and 81% at the line. Some would say he should be starting full-time, but as always, Landry is happy to fill whatever role Monty Williams calls upon him to play.
“My dream was always to play in the NBA,” Landry explains. “It was never to be a point guard or starter or have a certain label. Just having a chance to accomplish my dream and play in the NBA is everything I’ve always wanted. Being a starter and coming off the bench, it doesn’t mean that much to me. I’m a team player. There’s no ‘I’ in team, and just being out there on the floor with my teammates and having a chance to contribute to a win is the ultimate goal.”
From Williams’ perspective, Landry just needs to step things up on the defensive end.
“Carl just has to play his game, and I’m more concerned with Carl on defense than offense,” Williams tells HOOPSWORLD. “Carl can score the ball, and he does that, but for us to be really good he’s got to become a better defender. He’s got to put more effort on that end of the floor.”
Landry ultimately signed a one-year contract with the Hornets, so he’s got to stay busy earning the next contract. It’s a challenge he fully embraces.
“Well, obviously, next year I’ll be a free agent again, so I’m just working on being the best player I can be. The window of opportunity is only so long and I just want to make the most of it. So everyday, every practice, every film session, every game I’m just trying to do the most I can to get the most out of what I have.”
With an attitude and work ethic like Landry’s, it’s just a matter of time before he finally lands that starting spot, and the big payday that comes with it.
The Return Of Rasheed Wallace?
Like to many NBA players who retire, Rasheed Wallace is having second thoughts about his decision. According to Yahoo! Sports, Wallace has been working out and working the phone lines through back channels to feel out where there might be interest from teams in need of front court help. Adrian Wojnarowski writes:
When reached on Friday, Wallace’s agent, Bill Strickland, would only tell Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears: “As a veteran player, [Wallace] knows what it takes to be reinstated.”
Wallace holds appeal for several contending teams, but all wonder about his shape and conditioning after sitting out 18 months. Wallace played 79 regular season games for the Celtics in his final year, but the organization never felt he truly got into playing shape until the playoff run to the NBA Finals in 2010. In a limited role, several GMs told Yahoo! they still believe his scoring and defending ability would probably be better than anyone else available to them.
It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see which teams might want to at least risk a minimum offer to Wallace. The Atlanta Hawks just lost Al Horford for the season, the Warriors lost Kwame Brown, the Magic could use another big body behind Dwight Howard, and the Boston Celtics are a Jermaine O’Neal injury away from missing the playoffs.
If Wallace is actually in shape, there should be no shortage of interested teams.
Earl Watson Medical Update
The following is a medical update on Utah Jazz guard Earl Watson, who left the Jazz’s 90-87 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on January 11 with a left knee injury:
Results of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests conducted on Watson’s left knee on Thursday were normal. Watson has a bone bruise on the front of his left knee and did not practice today. He will be a game-time decision for Saturday night’s game vs. New Jersey.
Now in his 11th NBA season and second with the Jazz, Watson (6-1, 199, UCLA) has appeared in all 10 games this season and is averaging 3.6 points, 1.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
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