Magic Draft Nicholson, O’Quinn

The Orlando Magic did not go with a point guard like Marquis Teague with their first round pick. They did not go for an athletic wing like Perry Jones III. Nor did they go with a ball handler and penetrator like Tony Wroten.

Orlando fans likely are underwhelmed with St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson, Orlando’s first round pick. Rob Hennigan’s first official move with the Magic was an underwhelming one. But maybe that is what we should be getting used to. After all it was Otis Smith’s big dreams and risky moves that put the Magic in a hole.

Andrew Nicholson does not deserve this doubt. He was a four-year starter at St. Bonaventure and the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year last season. He averaged 17.1 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game in his career, including 18.5 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game last year on 57.1 percent shooting. He is strong and still improving.

“We are excited to have Andrew (Nicholson) join our Orlando Magic family,” general manager Rob Hennigan said in a press release. “We feel he embodies the types of values that will put him in a position to achieve success here. He’s a humble, high character player, who’s committed to working hard and playing within a team concept. We are intrigued by his cerebral, instinctual approach to the game.”

If we are going to learn anything about Hennigan’s philosophy it might be in Nicholson. He is ready to play immediately and is a low risk pick. He is now what we are going to have for a while (and for cheap too). This is what Hennigan is banking on. A guy that knows his skills, will know his role and fit in.

Most importantly, it seems like he will contribute immediately.

This was likely also the thought behind drafting Kyle O’Quinn from Norfolk State in the second round with the 49th pick in the Draft. O’Quinn averaged 15.9 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game, marking his second consecutive season averaging a double double. He also averaged 2.7 blocks per game.

His junior year was even better as he averaged 16.4 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game.

He was also the MVP of the Portsmouth Invitational, the pre-draft camp reserved for college seniors.

If the Magic needed a backup center to replace Marcin Gortat, O’Quinn might be as close as he can get.

It will be interesting to see how these two players fit in. It will especially be interesting to see how Nicholson fits in.

He is not quite a three, but still has to develop some to become a four. Nicholson unequivocally said he is a power forward in his interview with the Orlando media after his selection. But his versatility is something the Magic liked and something Nicholson can add to the team.

“They like my versatility,” Nicholson said. “They like my length. They like my size. They think I’m a good character guy. I’m just ready to come in and contribute to the team, and I’m very excited. I’m beyond elated right now. It’s like a dream come true.”

Nicholson is already a pretty developed offensive player. His back-to-the-basket game is pretty solid already and he is improving as a defender. Nicholson should be able to come in immediately and play.

That may not be what Magic fans want to hear. Orlando is pretty desperate to improve immediately to keep Dwight Howard. And with a player like Perry Jones available, a lot of people wanted Orlando to pick him up.

Nicholson does not come with a lot of “ifs” though. Nicholson is who he is right now. And that certainty obviously attracted Hennigan and the Magic to him. It is hard to find impact players late in this draft. Nicholson could be a solid contributor in the immediate future.

This pick shows Orlando intends to keep Dwight Howard for the time being. So take that for whatever it means.
Nicholson will make his impact on the floor and is just the first step in an important summer for the Magic.

Process Rules With Hennigan

It was official yesterday, and more official today with Hennigan in Orlando and officially introduced to the media. Hennigan is the new general manager of the Magic and explained part of the vision that sold the DeVos family on his qualifications, despite his oft-cited age.

It is very similar to the programs developed and used where Hennigan has worked the last eight years — San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Those two franchises have built small-market dynasties and it was clear Orlando wanted that experience in their front office. Alex Martins said in the introductory press conference that this championship program experience is what he was looking for. He wanted someone who would establish a system and a program that would build a long-lasting NBA championship contender.

“Simply put, our goal is to build an elite basketball operation both on the court and off the court,” Hennigan said at his introductory press conference. “If we can stay strategic and stay systematic the end goal is to be sustainable. We want to create something that has some longevity and continuity to it. We want to put into place a basketball operations department and players that this city and all of Central Florida can rally around, support and be proud of. We’re going to embrace the daily grind and embrace chipping away at trying to get better. It”s a humbling exciting day and I’m ready to get to work.”

This is something Orlando has gotten away from the last two years. There has been no, as Martins put it, systematic approach to building a basketball team. It has been a haphazard mesh of bloated contracts and veterans that has failed to deliver a championship and brought the Magic to the precipice of losing their star player — assuming winning is his top priority.

This means strong talent evaluation and drafting. This means, as Hennigan put it, making sure every move made is part of the plan and sets up the next move. This means expecting a championship every year, but being patient enough to build it. Hennigan said the Magic will be process-based and process-driven and systematic in their decision making. There will be no rushed moves as a team tries to hold onto a perceived chance at a title.

It will not be easy, that is for sure. The first task is finding a head coach — a search that will begin immediately, but may not end before next week’s NBA Draft. The big task is talking to Dwight Howard and trying to sell him on the new vision for the Magic, hoping he will sign a long-term contract to become part of it.

After the 2009 Finals appearance, Orlando went grasping for straws. The franchise tried to cash in and win a championship quickly. The 2009 core was getting broken up anyway — Hedo Turkoglu was not worth the deal he ended up getting and Orlando will end up finishing — but the spending spree the team went on put it all in. Things only got worse when the franchise tried to cash out on this team and make a quick turn without thinking of stepping back to reload for a championship.

Hennigan seems to understand this is a game of chess. And, sometimes, you need an out or a retreat to reach check mate.

This has been what the Spurs and the Thunder have done. They have rarely gone for the splashy move and have gone for the smart move, the one that always seems to move the team closer to a championship.

Hennigan impressed the DeVos family with his vision and his drive. That is how he climbed so quickly in the NBA ranks. Orlando has a new vision for what it wants. It is not satisfied with just getting to the Playoffs anymore. It is not satisfied with being a regular season success or consistently mediocre.

The Magic want championships. They want multiple championships. They want to do it the right way and in a new way, too.

Orlando is not unfamiliar with having a philosophy in its building. Remember Jon Weisbrod came in wanting a team with toughness — he just pegged this toughness on Steve Francis and failed to connect with his team or basketball staff members. Otis Smith had a philosophy too with Stan Van Gundy. That was abandoned when the team got its championship chance.

Orlando may take a step back to get there. That is what is natural when you are close to losing a superstar player and trying to change philosophies.

Hennigan though has the talk right now. He has the vision. Now it is time to see if he can put that vision into practice.

Rob Hennigan Named Orlando Magic GM

The Magic will introduce a new general manager Thursday afternoon.¬†After an exhaustive search, Orlando selected Rob Hennigan to be the team’s general manager, setting a new direction for the franchise.

Hennigan comes from the Spurs/Thunder family after starting out as an intern in San Antonio in 2004. He spent the last four years working with Sam Presti in Oklahoma City as the team’s lead scout and the last two years as the team’s assistant general manager. There is no doubting that his philosophies will be rooted in a championship pedigree. He was a three-time conference player of the year at Emerson College. Winning is in his blood, it seems.

Still, Hennigan is young and many believe he will bring fresh ideas and a new perspecitve to the Magic. He is born of the Thunder and Spurs family, but many suspect he will be his own man too.

Hennigan has a lot of work ahead of him to rebuild the Magic.

“It is with great enthusiasm and optimism that we announce Rob Hennigan as our new General Manager,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said. “Rob is an astute strategist and evaluator of talent who comes to the Magic family from two championship-level organizations. We feel he is an outstanding fit and the right choice to lead our Basketball Operations team in achieving our championship goals.”

The first task is finding a new coach, preferably before the Draft. The Draft will be his first real big decision after that. But the biggest decision comes with how he deals with Dwight Howard.

Howard said he wanted a coach and a general manager he could connect with. There is no doubting that a 30 year old is going to have a better time connecting with a young superstar than one of the retreads or “hardened” veteran general managers. This hire was not all about that. Hennigan is qualified on his own and is not going to have qualms about trading Dwight Howard if he will not commit past this year.

The Magic are a major problem to solve that is for sure. Patience may be needed to clean up this mess and create the kind of situation that has led to San Antonio and Oklahoma City’s success.

Hennigan is the man the Magic have chosen to do it. On to the next era…

Martins Focus Of Fan Scrutiny

Alex Martins was always a behind the scenes guy.

His career with the Magic started there as a public relations director. He would be the one shuttling players to and from interviews in the early Shaquille O’Neal days. You were not supposed to know he was even there.

He went from Orlando to New Orleans and then from New Orleans to business school before returning to the Magic’s front office. He was in an entirely different role, but still behind the scenes as he slowly climbed the ranks of the Magic’s front office.

Martins was front and center really for the first time as the point man between the Magic and the city and county as they tried to secure funding for the Amway Center. Since that point, Martins has been front and center as the Magic’s business-side representative.

After the Bob Vander Weide incident, Martins became the head of the Magic’s day-to-day operations. He is the point man between the Magic and the DeVos family — a little bit more, but essentially their mouthpiece and representative constantly in Orlando.

Martins was thrown into a crisis when he assumed that position thanks to the Bob Vander Weide incident, but Martins was already very present within the team. He had a reportedly strong relationship with Dwight Howard already, but in his new role he had been working double time to use that relationship to try and get Dwight Howard to stay in Orlando and sign long term.

The rumors were that Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy were ready for a Howard trade and that one with the Nets and Trail Blazers was completed and awaiting ownership approval when the word came down from the DeVos family through Martins that they would try to keep Howard in Orlando. That was the rumor at least. Smith and Van Gundy are gone, only Martins and Howard remain.

This new job came with a higher public profile. And now with the GM search active (and reportedly moving on to finalists, who will meet with the DeVos family) and the Dwight Howard situation still unresolved — along with the promise of resolution before next season begins — Martins is facing public scrutiny from the fans in a way he never has. Yes, Martins faced public scrutiny when he was the face of the arena deal, so he has experience in these matters, but sports fans want different things for sure.

It is just more difficult to replace the guys at the top and remember that Martins job has as much to do with basketball operations as it does with the franchise’s business operations.

It is difficult for Magic fans to know how to view Martins and his role with the team. After all, many of us care only about what he does on the basketball side and that is not necessarily how he is judged (although I imagine it is a good part of it). Martins has already had a deep impact on this team and he is going to shape the next decade of this franchise with his decision on who to hire as general manager.

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel asked his readers earlier this week whether they blamed Martins at all for the mess the Magic were in. To show how far into the background Martins was, he finished behind Otis Smith and Dwight Howard in that poll, but he was still ahead of Stan Van Gundy. Still, Bianchi felt Martins was getting too much blame in the national media as someone “sucking up” or “appeasing” Dwight Howard.

As Bianchi notes, Martins was dealt a pretty poor hand and a crazy situation to handle. Martins is not the one to blame for the Magic’s mess — after all, if Otis Smith had not pursued trades that put the Magic in salary cap hell and into the middle of the Eastern Conference, Howard would be happy and on a winning team.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to criticize his handling of it all. The goal has squarely been to keep Howard in a Magic uniform, despite the stated intention for the franchise to do its best to trade Howard. And he has done that, patiently waiting Howard’s every word and whim. The only change was that the Magic stood steadfast on having resolution at the trade deadline at least for the end of the year. They got that in his waiver of his early termination option.

Ultimately, Magic fans’ opinion of Martins may be determined on what happens this summer. Whether his GM hire gets a good deal for Howard or can convince him to stay. Martins has long contended that he and the DeVos family believe Howard wants to be in Orlando and that the franchise only needs to do enough convincing to get him to sign a long-term extension.

The latest rumor confirms what many likely suspect. A source told WESH News Channel 2 in Orlando that Howard “hurt by all the negativity surrounding him (and) doesn’t understand why he’s blamed for everything that happens inside the (Magic) organization.” The source told WESH that Howard loves Orlando and doesn’t want to be traded (h/t Andrew Melnick of Howard the Dunk).

The patience for that plan is running slim though. The Magic are done waiting on Howard to back up his commitment and loyalty with a long-term contract. And as the face for ownership, it is Martins’ public perception that is on the line.

Orlando’s Silence Fueling Rampant Rumors

Silence can be an organization’s biggest weapon, and one of its biggest risks.

Magic fans are growing frustrated with this longer-than-expected process to hire a new GM and you knew it would not take long for something crazy to jump into the fold without much backing.

All the while, Orlando has remained silent, unable and unwilling to comment on a search that is ongoing.

The search continues as Alex Martins selects his finalists to present to the DeVos family. That has not stopped people from churning stories out and trying to create something where there is nothing. In has stepped Sam Vincent, frustrating the Magic with somewhat wild rumors in his now leaked presentations to the team.

I linked to it yesterday, but the crux of Vincent’s latest offer as described by Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated to the Magic is to bring Phil Jackson on board as a consultant (and possibly minority owner) to help guide the Magic. Vincent would be in Orlando as the day-to-day point man. And the two would bring in Brian Shaw to be the head coach with Scottie Pippen as one of his assistants.

Only one problem to this plan: Jackson is not signed on to it and it appears that it is just Vincent spinning wheels in proposals to the Magic.

Jackson’s agent told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel that Jackson never expressed interest with the Magic and the Magic never called him: Todd Musburger, one of Jackson’s agents, did not return a phone call from the Sentinel for comment. But Musburger told NBA.com, “One, Phil never voiced any interest in Orlando, never had us check it out, never checked it out himself. Two, Orlando never called.”

Yes, this Jackson idea and rumor seems to be completely coming from Vincent. But knowing the news media today and how big Jackson’s name is, you know the media is going to run with it.

The Magic, for a change, have done a good job keeping a lid on their search and going through their process in selecting the new GM. Unfortunately, that leaves a vacuum for others to speculate and leak information.

That is what this Jackson scenario seems really to be telling us. People are hungry for information and a story, and so they will run with something when it gets brought to them.

Would this plan actually work? I have to agree with Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel who is skeptical of having a first-time GM and a first-time coach running the team at this critical juncture. Experience was supposed to be a key trait for the incoming general manager and Jackson certainly lacks that in a front office capacity — although he has plenty of championship experience to impart.

But Magic fans are getting impatient. As Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld tweeted today, Magic brass appear to be getting impatient with the search too and are ready for it to come to an end. Everyone is seeking closure he said from Chicago where assistant GM Dave Twardzik is representing the Magic at the draft combine.

Until the void is filled, rumors like Vincent’s proposal are going to surface as people try to angle and serve their agendas, whatever they may be.

A resolution is coming for Orlando. It appears to be coming soon as the search nears an end.

Magic Search For An Identity, GM

The Magic are still looking. Or, perhaps, the better phrase is the Magic are still making a decision, for a new GM. Brian Serra of Magic Basketball Online reported Tuesday that the Magic were likely to name a GM by the end of the week.

That may not have happened, but I was told by a source that Stan Van Gundy would be fired by the end of the week after management had their postseason meeting… Van Gundy was fired the following Monday. If that is the team’s m.o. is, we might have a new general manager Monday.

Or, we might not. Don’t want to get anybody’s hopes up. It could be a while longer or not. Who knows?

Rest assured, Alex Martins has been traveling around interviewing several candidates. His latest was reportedly a Wednesday or Thursday interview in New Orleans with former Hornets general manager Jeff Bower.

The Magic, if you believe the reports and the lists of general managers that are out there, have a pretty strong list already. Bower is experienced and did some good work with New Orleans in a market that is not exactly high on many free agent’s places to live list. His experience probably gives him an edge and he got the Hornets to play at a very high level with Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler and David West.

However, the work that Spurs assistant general manager Jeff Lindsay or Thunder assistant general managers Troy Weaver and Rob Hennigan cannot be ignored, and they would be very capable as first-time general managers. Pacers general manager David Morway (he has the title, but answers to team president Larry Bird) is also thought to be a favorite.

All these guys know what it will takes. There are a number of secondary candidates the Magic are surely considering should they not get the guys at the top of the list — and if there is not a new GM by the beginning of the week, I would suspect it is because they will have moved on to the second-tier of players and struck out on the guys they really want.

Of course, there is nothing to suggest that is true, that is just my feeling considering the Magic have yet to begin the process of interviewing coaches.

What has become clear as the Magic near the end of the GM search is what they are looking for in this new look team.

With or without Dwight Howard, the Magic plan to do something different with their whole basketball operations department and the way they build a team. Why the did not do it this way before or why it didn’t work is another issue entirely. But the Magic want to lay down a program and philosophy that will turn it into a championship organization. That is why they want to bring in a general manager and a coach with championship pedigree.

They want an environment that breeds winning. That is why the team has focused on guys that come from the Spurs family — like Lindsay, Weaver and Hennigan (Thunder GM Sam Presti was a former Spurs guy). Orlando may or may not be building from scratch, but they can begin the reformation of the franchise on that principle.

J.J. Redick, in an interview on Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi’s radio show on WYGM in Orlando, seemed to hint that the culture of winning had changed and that the franchise was not operating on the same level it was during the 2009 Finals run and the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals run.

Redick here is not implicating any individuals or saying that the locker room atmosphere was bad in 2012. It was just… different. And certainly very different than those two championship years.

Certainly last season showed a whole ton of cracks up and down the franchise. There were constant leaks and a sense that Orlando as a franchise was simply working to appease Dwight Howard and convince him to stay. They may have been doing that or they may not have. Reports and rumors were saying Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy were ready to trade Howard before ownership stopped the process and decided to go all-in for talking with Howard and convincing him to stay.

It is not hard to guess which two people are out of a job now.

Now that the Magic are trying to back themselves out of this corner and draw a firmer line in the sand when it comes to Howard in his extension, the franchis is ripe for a culture change. One that is not going to be beholden to a single player and what he thinks the team needs, but one that is firmly committed to winning a championship.

This includes valuing the Draft more and being sure to get quality players so aging, and often high-price free agents, are not necessary for constant building and re-tooling. This includes holding onto trade assets and getting the most out of those deals and showing some restraint in offering free agent contracts.

More than anything, though, this will take an overhaul of the team’s overall franchise philosophy. Orlando has made more a move toward this in the last 5-6 years, but everything within the organization has to be on the same line and the same page. Everything has to be directed toward winning a championship.

This kind of overhaul is not necessarily a guarantee for success. Remember, Jon Weisbrod came in talking about establishing a franchise that was tough and would play hard. After years of simply trying to mix and match pieces around Tracy McGrady, this seemed like a breath of fresh air. Then he misjudged what toughness was and brought in Steve Francis. That did not work out so well.

It seems winning a championship takes an organization that has a philosophy of how the team is going to play and then executes personnel decisions that make that philosophy come to fruition. Weisbrod had the philosophy and not the execution. Otis Smith had the philosophy and execution for a three-year run and then succumbed to appeasement and panic, abandoning the philosophy that took the Magic so far.

To be sure, this new GM will bring a new identity of sorts to the Magic. He gets to pick his own coach and begin rebuilding a franchise that seems in shambles.

Fortunately, it seems to be finding its way. What path the organization takes will be determined when the team makes this hire.

Orlando’s Lack Of Versatility Their Downfall

What is necessary to build a championship roster?

A superstar player doesn’t hurt. A player who can change the game defensively and contribute on offense as a go-to scorer seems to be a must. Solid play inside. Length, athleticism, versatility works. Talent is a good thing to — a deep bench seems pretty necessary once you get deep into the Playoffs. A nice fallback plan if an offseason move does not work out also helps, as do young players eager to step in and fill a role.

It takes some luck too, but a championship team is built on the building blocks of the roster you have and what they can do. You can see its ceiling and its floor from there.

How the roster was constructed is probably the biggest indictment of Otis Smith and why he no longer has a job with the Magic. And despite the rhetoric and the pleas from Dwight Howard to believe (along with a stray comment from J.J. Redick trying to compare this year’s team to the 2009 team), the roster might also have been what doomed the Magic from the start.

A team can have the best player, the best coach, the best facilities, but ultimately it will only go as far as the roster will take it.

If putting together championship teams were as easy as collecting superstars, the Heat would have already won a title and would be well on their way to a second right now.

It is not that easy though and the Magic went from one of the deepest and most talented teams to a top-heavy, inconsistent group constantly searching for answers and support.

Orlando’s season was doomed when Otis Smith turned in his final roster to Stan Van Gundy at training camp.

Yes, you had Dwight Howard. Things are a lot easier when you have him since he tends to cover up a lot of your team’s mistakes on the defensive end. But the lack of versatility and diversity of talent eventually hurt the Magic. And doomed them from the beginning.

Look at the starting lineup and you see how just about every player (aside from Howard) was good at doing one thing, and rarely did those things fit together perfectly.

Jason Richardson was a decent 3-point shooter and OK (at best) defender. Hedo Turkoglu was a point forward who was a little past his prime and inconsistent at getting to the basket on the pick and roll. Ryan Anderson, although improved in a whole bunch of areas, is a 3-point specialist. Jameer Nelson is strong in the pick and roll, but inconsistent at getting to the basket.

It is hard to figure out how to make all those pieces fit together, except in a 4-out, 1-in spread the floor around Dwight Howard offense. The team was extremely limited in what it could do because of how inconsistent Nelson, Turkoglu and Richardson were off the dribble this season. Anderson was a great shooter, but we saw in the Playoffs what happens when a team can really zero in on closing him out.

So what about the bench?

Chris Duhon… all that needs to be said for many fans. J.J. Redick was a solid player and he is a better defender than many think, but he is limited to mostly contributing on the offensive end and as a solid help defender. Glen Davis works hard and plays taller than he is, but struggled to finish around the basket and against taller players (see: Playoffs). Von Wafer never could get off the bench despite his ability to create off the dribble because he struggled to defend (and finish around the basket, surprisingly).

The list goes on and on. But each player on the list has one thing he is very good at, and a lot they cannot do.

It is a stark difference from the 2009 and 2010 groups. Those teams were full of players with multiple skills — Rashard Lewis was a spot-up shooter, decent defender and good option in the post; Mickael Pietrus had length to be a great defender and could drain that corner 3 or hit a shot off of a dribble or too; Courtney Lee had a lot of defensive grit and the ability to play off the ball; Vince Carter could create for himself off the dribble and fit pretty well into the team (he played better defense than he had at any point in his career); that list goes on and on.

Those two Magic teams featured versatility and guys who could do multiple things really well. This year’s team? Not so much. The length and versatility was gone. Every player, seemingly, could play only one position adequately. That limited what Orlando could do, especially on the defensive end.

It is not that players did not play hard. They did. And many did not play up to their potential. But the Magic could not match up against the really good teams in the league. And that made them inherently limited. It is not good to be limited by your roster and doomed before the season even starts.

Anderson Was A Bright Spot For Orlando

Ryan Anderson was the Most Improved Player for the NBA in 2011-12.

He was a first-time, full-time starter and a deadly efficient shooter. His scoring average jumped from 10.6 to 16.1 points per game with the increased playing time, having traded Rashard Lewis the year before to open up playing time for him and then Brandon Bass in the offseason to allow him to start. The Magic had big plans for Anderson in 2012 and expected him to deliver.

And he did.

Honestly, Anderson’s ability to step into the starting lineup and become a reliable scoring option, even as more or less a spot-up 3-point shooter, helped buoy the Magic through a lot of rough games and create more than a few wins.

Anderson won the league’s Most Improved Player Award. There was a lot of debate about whether he deserved to be the winner or not. This is not an attempt to rehash that debate. The bottom line is, whether he “deserved” the official award or not, Anderson improved greatly when he was given the playing time to do so.

Anderson saw his playing time increase from 22.3 minutes per game to 32.2 minutes per game, a 44.4 percent increase. Pretty much, he went from playing nearly half the game to two-thirds of the game. That is a pretty large increase and is asking for a lot more from Anderson, a player who was supposedly just a spot-up shooter.

Anderson did a lot of spot-up shooting, for sure.

He led the league with 366 made 3-pointers and with 422 3-point attempts. He shot 39.3 percent from beyond the arc, which is quite impressive considering how much volume he had from beyond the arc. Stan Van Gundy liked having his power forwards able to hoist away 3-pointers. Anderson fit that bill, and that is why the Magic were willing to invest so heavily in Anderson as a start and in his future with the team (well, actually that will come with what the team does as the rights holder in Anderson’s upcoming restricted free agency).

His per 36 minute numbers changed very little — going from 17.2 points per 36 to 18.0 points per 36 and 9.0 rebounds per 36 to 8.6 rebounds per 36. But his impact seemed to be even greater. And that is what you want from a young player being asked to step in and play more minutes. As Stan Van Gundy said when he was asked about Anderson’s Most Improved Award, this was a strong measure of how a young player like Anderson improved. He was asked to take on a bigger role, and he succeeded in it.

Anderson though tried to develop himself into more than just a spot-up 3-point shooter. This is what Stan Van Gundy asked him to do and continued to harp to him through the press throughout the season.

Anderson greatly improved in one area and this might account for a good chunk of his increased scoring production. Anderson became a superb offensive rebounder.

His offensive rebound rate jumped from 10.8 in 2011 to 13.0 in 2012. Anderson took 233 shots at the rim in 2012 (making 135 of them for 57.9 percent shooting). In 2011, Anderson only had 136 shots at the rim and, in 2010, Anderson had 141. On a per-36 minute basis, that equates to: 4.3 shots at the rim per 36 in 2012 compared to 3.4 in 2011 and 5.6 in 2010 (in much more limited minutes).

Anderson was better at providing some dynamism to the team and doing more than his expected role. His work on the offensive glass was always underrated and it came through in the

He certainly has a rebounding mentality in him. After all, Anderson was the top rebounder int he Pac-12 his sophomore year at California. He also played a lot more in the post for the Golden Bears in those two years.

“I think this series has taught me a lot of what I want to improve on,” Anderson said at exit interviews following Orlando’s defeat to Indiana in the first round. “Obviously teams are going to be trying to take away my shot. I definitely want to work on improving my post game and getting stronger in the post. In college, that was kind of my bread and butter and I was really comfortable with that. Then when I came into the NBA, I turned into a pick and pop guy. I want to work on that a lot.”

Anderson said he would also like to improve his ability to shoot off the dribble and create shots for himself some. That is something he said he has worked on throughout his NBA career, but has not been comfortable enough to use in games (and that was not really his role as much).

Stan Van Gundy was constantly asking Anderson to do more. He would have liked to see Anderson continue to improve his work on the defensive glass and on defense overall. Van Gundy constantly challenged Anderson to define himself less and less by his offensive numbers. It is yet to be seen whether this is something Anderson will take to heart with Van Gundy no longer the head coach.

Anderson said he does not want to be limited to being a spot-up shooter and hopes to continue expanding his game in the offseason. It is yet to be seen whether the Magic will be the beneficiaries of his labors this offseason.

Anderson though took those first steps in 2012. He not only continued to hit 3-pointers at an incredibly efficient rate, but began to show he could get active in many other ways on the offensive end.

Richardson Was Part Of The Problem

Jason Richardson signed a four-year deal worth about $24 million last summer. J.J. Redick was getting paid more than Richardson, but there was no doubt that Orlando was making a big commitment on the veteran shooting guard. Richardson was still going to start and was still going to be relied upon to be a creator off the dribble, simply because no one else could and this was, after all, what Richardson was brought in for in December 2010.

Richardson did not do much to “earn” the length of his deal in the previous stint with the Magic. He averaged 13.9 points per game in 55 games with the Magic in 2011, shooting 43.3 percent from the floor. That scoring mark was his lowest in his career.

For whatever reason, Richardson never clicked in Orlando. Despite some big games and clutch shots during the regular season, it never seemed like Richardson worked out perfectly.

So bringing him back — for four years, no less — seemed a bit out there. Either Otis Smith was going to be a genius or a buffoon for this deal.

He was not a genius on this count, as we all know now that he is gone and the Magic are still stuck with Richardson for three more years. Stuck seems to be the operative word if he plans on repeating the performance he put in for 2012.

Richardson was worse than his career worst.

He averaged 11.6 points per game, shooting 40.8 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from the line. Even more confusing, a 70.8 percent free throw shooter shot 59.4 percent from the line. His PER was the lowest of his career at 13.3 and he recorded only 2.8 win shares, the worst full-season mark of his career.

For a starter, the Magic needed and wanted more from Richardson. Richardson struggled with knee troubles throughout the year and the rushed season did not help him recover from that. He needed rest for it and his play suffered because of the lingering injury.

Still, there are no excuses when the main goal is a championship which the Magic would continue to claim was the realistic goal of the team. Even with smaller goals, Richardson disappointed. Orlando made a significant investment in him and he failed to deliver.

Then again, maybe Richardson played about how you would expect, it was only that investment that made it seem worse.

At his height, Richardson was a player that relied on his supreme athleticism and his ability to hit jumpers to score. In his younger days, his role with the Magic might have been perfect for him. But much of that athleticism is gone now. Richardson got rejected by the rim on more than a few dunks. It was an unfortunate development not only for the team but also for Richardson.

Undoubtedly giving a 31-year-old guard who relies on his athleticism a four-year deal was not an advisable decision. It seemed that the signing was made as a favor to Richardson’s agent, Dan Fegan, the embattled agent for Dwight Howard (it is always about Howard, isn’t it?).

Richardson had just an awful year. There is no way around it. The Magic were in desperate need for some scoring punch from the guard position and Richardson simply could not provide it on a consistent basis. And that did not help the Magic keep up with the top of the Eastern Conference.

So how does Richardson get better moving forward? You have to assume his contract is pretty immovable at this time. So Orlando is, for lack of a better term, stuck with Richardson. the hope is that he will improve — although asking Richardson to redefine himself as a player seems like a stretch.

Still, he will have to try.

“All of our guys need to continue to work and get better,” former President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith said at the team’s exit interviews following the playoff loss. “When you have a little bit of a change, whether it’s guys in and out of the lineup due to injury or guys starting to get older or the the season is a little bit accelerated because of the lockout, guys that are a little bit older get affected the most. We have to be smart and he has to be smart with what he does with his body in the offseason.”

Certainly, Richardson is still finding his place and redefining himself with much of his athleticism gone. An offseason to get back to work, under the Magic’s watchful eye will help.

So too might getting a new coach. Stan Van Gundy never effectively used Richardson. At some points he was extremely deadly coming off curls heading to the basket and in post-up situations. He was a decent shooter, but he is too streaky to be a reliable spot-up shooter. Van Gundy often admitted he did not go to Richardson enough and would slowly phase him out of the game plan as the game went on. Richardson often disappeared offensively after a strong spurt early in the game.

Whoever the new coach is could better use Richardson. That we will not know until he is hired, of course.

As for the 2012 season, it was a forgettable one for Richardson. The only hope is that it seems like it can only get better.

How Much Will Orlando Clean House?

The rebuilding has begun. Orlando is heading in a new direction. What that direction will be is hard to say. But the one thing that is clear is that the Magic are done with Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith and everything they built the last five years.

There are a lot of retrospectives.

Many applauding the job that Van Gundy did and lamenting the circumstances that led to his firing (ultimately agreeing that it was time one way or another with how stale the Magic had gotten the last two years).

There are many also giving rightful criticism toward Otis Smith. After all, things were going swimmingly until his tinkering became too ruinous for chemistry and he depleted his assets and the team’s talent level. A more full evaluation of Van Gundy and Smith’s tenure will be coming in the following days.

The more pressing and immediate concern is the Magic’s future. That is where the focus has honestly been since the beginning of the season and Dwight Howard announced his trade request. Even though he eventually waived his early termination option the feeling is that he has never really officially moved off his demand. He just believed in the team he was on or something.

In any case, Van Gundy and Smith’s firing have only spurred on rumors for what is next for the Magic. At this point, all anything is are just rumors. We have hit the point of the season where everything is based on a whisper and an agenda. There is nothing concrete, no matter how much everyone from management to the fan base wants some finality entering next season.

And, again, it all revolves around Dwight Howard.

The way the rumor mill is swirling, it is sounding like the Magic are preparing to completely clear the deck — coach, general manager and star player.

That seems to be what many people think. Ken Berger of CBS Sports reports that the firing of Van Gundy and Smith does not necessarily mean that Howard is staying, much like retaining one or both of them would have meant that Howard was gone.

There were rumors circulating throughout the season that there was something of a rift between Van Gundy, Smith and management. The rumor was that Van Gundy and Smith were ready to move on from Howard and expected him traded by the deadline. In fact, there were some who believed that Smith was ready to pull the trigger on a deal that would have sent Howard to the Nets at one point. Obviously Alex Martins and Magic management had the final say and they elected to keep Howard at, seemingly, all costs.

I am sure Van Gundy airing the Magic’s inner workings and dirty laundry virtually unprompted did not endear him to his bosses. And I am sure the bosses did not appreciate having their strategy disputed with their top basketball man. Otis Smith may actually have been doing his job right in trying to get the best deal for Howard in March or sooner. Who knows?

Now, it appears (if you believe certain reports) that Howard is still unsure of his future in Orlando.

Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com reports Howard still wants out of Orlando. What is more, a source told Chris Bernucca of SheridanHoops.com that Howard wants out of Orlando “more than ever.”¬†(h/t Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post)

Of course, Howard has yet to say anything more than the short comment-and-response interview he gave Ric Bucher of ESPN the Magazine. So, again, everything is just a rumor.

The franchise has thrown itself into another round of silly season where rumors and whispers rule the day. Only Alex Martins and the people in power really know what is going on at this point. And so the decision lies squarely with them.

The first task, as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel pointed out, is to find a new general manager to spearhead the NBA Draft preparations and hire a new coach. The first task of the new general manager is to get a feel for what Dwight Howard wants and try to build a relationship that will hopefully keep him in a Magic uniform.

This might be why the Magic are looking for someone with championship experience and someone who has been around the NBA. The hope, it seems, is to instill confidence that the franchise is moving in the right direction.

No matter what is reported, Orlando has committed itself to keeping Howard in uniform. That was the long-stated goal and it was supported by the franchise’s actions in talking to Howard and getting him to waive his early termination option. Even though the Magic appear unwilling to go through the will-he-won’t-he drama of the 2012 season again, the goal is still to have Howard in a Magic uniform for a long time. Clearing up the rumors stated above is job one for the new general manager.

The question then becomes in the hiring process which general manager that fits the Magic’s criteria would be willing to go through the rebuilding process if Dwight Howard elects to leave.

Donnie Walsh, a rumored candidate for the Magic’s open general manager job, just left a tumultuous relationship with New York. Does he want to enter a potentially similar situation and build from the ground up in Orlando?

And what about the head coach? The Magic want someone who will take the team to a championship. But many of the coaches with that championship experience are not the kinds of coaches that typically relate well to players — at least, not in the way that Dwight Howard seems to want. It would appear then, that a young coach like Brian Shaw who lacks experience could be on the way in.

That kind of a coach might be better suited to a rebuilding job then a “get us over the top” job. And what the Magic’s ultimate goals are depends, of course, on what Dwight Howard wants to do.

There is a lot on the plate for whomever the Magic decide to hire for sure. The future is quite clearly at stake with the decisions the franchise is preparing to make.

Orlando Magic Fire Stan Van Gundy

The Orlando Magic have fired Stan Van Gundy and have agreed to part ways with president of basketball operations Otis Smith.

For the first time in five years, the Magic will be without direction at general manager and at head coach, ending a tumultuous year for both. Ultimately, it appears, the team’s struggles the last two years and the uncertainty it has caused surrounding franchise center Dwight Howard became too much for the two to keep their jobs.

Stan Van Gundy will go down as the most successful coach in the Magic’s history, having guided the team to four 50-win seasons, two conference finals appearances and one amazing trip to the NBA Finals in 2009.

Otis Smith was a big part of that effort, too. He brought in Van Gundy to be the team’s head coach in 2007 and helped build two of the best teams in Magic history in 2009 and 2010.

It is hard to argue against their contributions for the last five years in helping the Magic ascend to relevancy in the NBA.

“On behalf of the DeVos Family, we sincerely appreciate and thank Otis and Stan for all that they have done on and off the floor for the Orlando Magic,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said in a press release. “These are the days you dread in this business, but we feel it’s time for new leadership and new voices.

“They both brought die-hard dedication and an unmatched work ethic on a daily basis,” added Martins. “Their success is well documented, as the Orlando Magic has had the fourth best record in the NBA over the last five years, and entering the playoffs this year the third most playoff wins over that period of time. The disappointment of getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs these past two seasons played a primary role in our decision, as we feel our momentum towards winning a championship has paused. We wish Otis and Stan all the best and we look forward to taking the next step towards winning that championship.”

Indeed, things seemed to be looking very up for the Magic after two straight years in the Eastern Conference Finals ending in 2010. The Magic opted not to make major tweaks to the roster that summer. But then things started to go wrong.

For whatever reason, Orlando decided to break up its 2010 team in December 2010 and shipped out Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis for Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu in Gilbert Arenas. If there was a moment you could point to and say that the wheels fell off the Magic bandwagon, this was it.

Van Gundy struggled to get the unit to mesh together and play consistently after the honeymoon phase of the trade wore off. Orlando was sent home by Atlanta in the first round and looked completely lost.

Worse still, the future of Dwight Howard hung in the balance.

The 2012 season was wacky because of all that uncertainty regarding Howard. It got wackier as reports came out of a rift between the star center and Otis Smith. It got wackier still when Van Gundy admitted that he had been told by someone within the franchise that Howard had asked that he be fired.

Whether this is true or not, and sources suggest that it was, that moment seemed to be the point of no return for Van Gundy. With management — higher than Smith, at least — wanting to keep Howard at all costs, this betrayal was probably the final straw.

When the Magic failed to advance out of the first round for the second straight year, it was a further indictment of the team Smith put together and how Van Gundy was using them.

It was clearly time to move in another direction.

Van Gundy posted a 259-135 record as the Magic’s head coach on top of all the playoff success. He got the best out of his teams and out of Dwight Howard. He did everything asked of him and his team found a lot of success.

Smith, too, had a great run as the team’s general manager. Since being named general manager six years ago, Orlando has not missed the playoffs. He was part of the team that drafted Howard and Jameer Nelson. He selected J.J. Redick and came out of an uncertain summer in 2009 with a championship-caliber team.

Ultimately for Smith, the tinkering was probably too much and it left the Magic too hamstrung to make any significant improvements as age crept up on the roster.

With step one of the summer makeover completed, the next question becomes who replaces Van Gundy and Smith. And the ultimate question, now that these two are gone, is will that be enough to get Dwight Howard to stay.

Big Baby Had A Big Impact In Orlando

The Magic did not make the splash many expected in the shortened offseason. Orlando had some work to do to appease Dwight Howard, so the thought would go, this summer and there hardly seemed to be a splashy move in sight.

The biggest offseason acquisition was a sign and trade of power forwards. Orlando sent Brandon Bass to Boston for Glen Davis. Davis got a four-year deal for $24 million. He was allegedly on the list of players Dwight Howard had requested the Magic to go after in trades and add to the team. This was the move for this team.

Fans were admittedly skeptical.

It was not just that Davis was “the enemy” for so long. One of the admittedly funny issues that had to be resolved when Davis came over was the reconciliation between Davis and the fan he bumped into during the 2009 Finals. That family still owns seats right near the Magic bench. That was a non-issue, of course, but it shows the emotion that had to be overcome when Davis officially donned Magic blue.

Those defending the deal only saw it as a step to the side, not a step forward. Bass was a much better shooter and seemed to pair up with Dwight Howard a lot better than Davis would. The differences defensively and with his leadership seemed negligible or intangible at that point.

Things got off to a poor start, too.

Davis averaged 7.3 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game. More alarmingly, Davis was shooting 36.1 percent from the floor. His shot was noticeably flat and he was a liability offensively. Davis was not delivering on the Magic’s faith in him.

Davis admitted that he was trying a little too hard to match Bass’ production in Boston. Bass came right into the starting lineup for the Celtics and made an impact. Davis wanted to do the same. The only problem was he was playing behind Ryan Anderson, the league’s Most Improved Player and someone who proved to be a better fit for the offense.

“I know the beginning of the year was kind of rocky for me,” Davis said at exit interviews. “A lot of people didn’t know what was going on, how I was going. A lot of stuff happened that I had no control over. When I finally settled down and began to do the things that I love to do — and that is play the game of basketball at a high level — I feel like I did a pretty good job coming in and filling the void that was there with Dwight (Howard) leaving.”

It was a tough year for Davis and he said he was frustrated by his lack of playing time and his smaller role with the team. Things did not turn around until he accepted his role and began to do what he does best — play with energy and enthusiasm and provide a defensive rock in the paint.

This became even more evident when Dwight Howard went out.

Davis’ numbers remained virtually the same into February and March after his slow start. But his field goal percentage began to slowly creep up. With Howard out in April, Davis began to really flourish. He averaged 16.4 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game. He shot 50.3 percent from the floor, a dramatic increase from his middling shooting from the beginning of the year.

With this responsibility, Davis flourished. He stepped up his game even more in the Playoffs with 19.0 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game.

More than that though, Davis became an emotional leader for the team. It was Davis who coined the rallying cry, “We All We Got,” and energized his team with over-the-top efforts in the playoffs. Davis was key to all those crazed second quarter comebacks and you could see by the way Davis was struggling to get up and down the floor how much the effort meant to him and his teammates.

By the end, he had endeared himself to Magic fans. He had won them over. And the Magic would have tanked without him in the lineup for sure. No offense to Brandon Bass.

Davis said his goal this offseason is to build his conditioning so he can play 40 minutes per game. That is a big goal. And Davis said he intends on starting next year.

“That was one of the reasons I went through my funk because I thought I should be a starter,” Davis said. “When I finally got over that, I started playing better. Then at the same time, you pray and God delivered for me the opportunity to play big minutes and I showed the world what I can do.

“Yeah, I want to start. But at the end of the day, I can’t leave it for no chance. I’ve got to be the best player that I can be, so when it comes down to pick the starters, there can be no question. I don’t want no question, nothing in nobody’s mind to make them feel like I shouldn’t be starting. And that’s my approach to the whole summer.”

As Otis Smith described it, having two guys who want to and expect to start is a good problem to have. He certainly likes that Davis has the ambition to play the majority of the minutes next season.

Yes, Orlando still has three more season with Davis. There remains some trepidation about the length of that contract.

For the first year, Davis proved his worth. He won over the skeptical fans enough and became the team’s emotional leader. There were not many surprises in this forgettable season, but this one certainly qualified as a pleasant one.

Howard Still In Touch With Magic

The Magic are in a full holding pattern.

This week management will meet and begin making decisions and evaluations of everyone on the Magic staff and roster. Ultimately though, the Magic’s future lies in the decisions of one Dwight David Howard Jr.

This past season was all about Howard decision or indecision. It dominated headlines throughout the season and it is something that the Magic do not want to go through again. So at the end of the season as Orlando sorts through what is looking to be a mess of an offseason it all boils down to one decision once again:

Will Dwight Howard sign a long-term extension with the Magic? Does he want to be in Orlando for the short or long term?

It seems every decision the Magic are going to make this offseason will depend on that answer. Alex Martins has all but said that if Howard will not sign a long-term extension this offseason, the team will go forward with what is best for the team. That likely means getting what value the team can for Howard in a trade. And it seems that will get done before the season begins.

The one voice that has been uncharacteristically quiet though is Dwight Howard himself.

The public has not heard from Howard since TMZ cornered him coming out of rehab a little more than a week ago. There, Howard said he had been in contact with coach Stan Van Gundy and his teammates. Van Gundy confirmed that he had chatted with Howard via text before Game 2 but said at exit interviews that he had not spoken to him since.

Several players, including Jameer Nelson, said they had been in touch with Howard via the phone.

“He is bored to death because he can’t really do anything,” Stan Van Gundy said before Game 4 of his conversations with Howard. “He is sitting in a motel and doing his rehab. and the rehab is not like he is running three miles or anything. You are starting out slow. He is bored more than anything.”

Howard said in that interview with TMZ that he feels like he is in jail because he cannot go anywhere and could not be with his teammates. Howard grew visibly frustrated in the interview when the interviewer brought up the subject of whether he was faking any part of his injury. That is how the interview abruptly ends if you watch it again.

Fans I have talked to have been very critical of Howard’s absence from the team during the Playoffs and at the end of the season. It is tough to say exactly what Howard is thinking. I will not pretend to know — otherwise, reporting would be easy at this stage of the offseason.

A Meeting Of The Minds In Orlando

The Magic’s season is not a week over, and uncertainty regins at Amway Center an in the Magic offices. Really, uncertainty has reigned in the Orlando Magic front office since early December when Dwight Howard formally requested a trade and perhaps even before that when the franchise had no idea what Howard wanted or his position on his future with the team.

With the team facing and dealing with a second straight first round exit, the Magic have questions to answer as they try to figure out what lies in their future.

Alex Martins said earlier this week at the team’s exit interviews that the team will take some time to decompress before beginning postseason evaluations. He would not put a time table on when that process would begin or would result in a decision to retain or release the team’s head coach and the team’s general manager.

I have learned that this process is expected to begin this week when Magic ownership meets to evaluate the season. My source told me that the feeling is this meeting may result in a final decision concerning Stan Van Gundy’s future with the team by the end of the week.

There is no guarantee that there will be action coming out of these initial meetings between Magic CEO Alex Martins, Magic chairman Dan DeVos, owner Rich DeVos and the others involved in this meeting of the Magic’s ownership and management group. But the postseason evaluations have begun in earnest. And certainly the Magic would like to have some things resolved with the coach and general manager before the team enters full NBA Draft preparations ahead of the June 28 NBA Draft.

“We’re going to start a full evaluation process of our entire organization. That’s what we do at the end of each season,” Martins said at the Magic’s exit interviews last week. “We base everything that we do on trying to win a championship. So we’re going to do that this offseason like we do every offseason. Everything will be evaluated so that we get to next season and we will be in a better position than we are today to have won a title.

“Everything we have done over the years is about getting to win a championship. Unfortunately getting to the Playoffs is just not good enough. We have to find a way to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals and back to the Finals and have an opportunity to win a championship. Everything has to be evaluated.”

Nobody was very happy with how the Magic ended this season. As I noted earlier, Martins, Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy were sure to mention that the team was 32-18 at the 50-game mark and looking to take the third seed in the Eastern Conference before Dwight Howard was lost for much of the end of the season with a back injury. Nobody faulted the team’s effort on the floor in the Playoffs, but there was certainly a sense that the team is going backward.

Throw in the constant drama surrounding Dwight Howard and his request to management to fire Stan Van Gundy and it is not hard to sense the uneasiness around the franchise.

“At some point in the future, hopefully the near future, they’re going to decide one way or another and you go with it,” Stan Van Gundy said at exit interviews last week. “It doesn’t weigh on me. There’s only two things that can happen. There’s not a menu of options here. You fire me or you don’t fire me.”

Van Gundy said then that he has “several meetings planned” including some time sitting on his back porch, spending time with his family (for real this time, not the Miami “spend time with his family”) and visiting friend and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez when the Braves play the Tampa Bay Rays next weekend. It was a trying season for everyone in the franchise and regardless of his future with the team, Van Gundy deserves some much-needed rest and relaxation.

But certainly by sticking with Howard through the trade request and past the trade deadline and convincing Howard to waive his opt-out clause, the Magic seem to have put themselves in the “keep Dwight at all costs” camp.

If that means that the Magic will look for a new coaching staff both Van Gundy and Martins hopes that decision comes sooner rather than later. Martins said he does not want to leave anyone on the coaching staff “in limbo” and they hope to have a final decision made in time for the assistant coaches the team chooses not to retain to go out and find other coaching positions.

Van Gundy said he would be fine with management taking the time necessary to make a decision. In the end, he is the employee.

Orlando wants to move forward and begin aligning the pieces to build back up for a championship run in 2013. That is the unequivocal goal for the franchise at the moment. This week’s meeting will be the first step in solving that puzzle.

This is a team. This is an organization that focuses itself on a team and everybody working together,” Martins said. “When you talk about team, that takes a lot of different pieces. Dwight is just one piece of the big puzzle. Stan is a piece. Otis is a piece. Our ownership is a piece. Every single other person on that roster is a piece.

“It takes a lot to win a championship. Less than half this teams in the league have won a championship in the history of this league. Obviously it is not easy to do. We’re going to look at every single piece and make sure we put the right pieces together to have that chance next season.”