Uncovering The Process In Orlando

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reports the Magic are entering their next stage of interviews for a head coach with Magic CEO Alex Martins.

Jacque Vaughn was excused from coaching San Antonio’s Summer League team in Las Vegas on Friday and was expected to interview with Martins while he was in Las Vegas for the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting. Robbins reports one or two finalists will then meet with owner Rich DeVos in his Grand Rapids, Mich., home.

This is the same process the Magic used in hiring Rob Hennigan as the team’s general manager.

It begs an important question. If Hennigan is the head of basketball operations, why does it seem like the Magic’s upper management is so involved in this selection process? Undoubtedly, Rich DeVos and Alex Martins should have some say in who is going to end up coaching their team. You would think it would be more of an approval with the basketball operations making the final decisions.

An interview process this involved though suggests that part of the process Hennigan talks about will include some input from the higher management.

It is not odd to see major decisions get the stamp of approval from ownership. After all, it is their money the general manager is spending. It feels like, however, that a process this involved is something different.

There is no doubt that there was something of a disconnect between management and ownership last year. Reports had Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith ready to move on from Dwight Howard when he requested his trade last December. It was ownership, represented in Alex Martins, who put the breaks to that believing they could convince Howard to stay.

It may have worked until the Stan Van Gundy press conference in early April and the aftermath of Howard’s injury. Or it may not have. Really only Dwight knows.

The Magic were a dysfunctional franchise last season because management and ownership were not on the same page. Perhaps they have not been for the last few years. An over-involvement of ownership in the basketball operations may have placed the Magic in the quagmire they are in now trying to trade Howard … and finding few offers that meet their satisfaction.

It appears something ownership wanted was to bring someone in with basketball knowledge that would get everyone on the same page. Whether that means involving them in every minute decision the team makes or not will remain to be seen. It is clear that major decisions — like selecting a head coach or trading Dwight Howard — they will have input in for now.

As I suggested earlier, it appears from the finalists the Magic have selected for their head coaching position, the franchise is looking for someone who will not rock the boat and will buy in to what the team is trying to do. They are trying desperately to get everyone on the same page and move forward with a new identity for the franchise.

That identity includes players who want to be in Orlando and will buy into whatever program the new coach and Hennigan want to build.

The equation forgotten here is finding the player to be the centerpiece of that rebuilding project.

It may not come in the Dwight Howard trade. But it is becoming clear from the way the Heat did business and the way Dwight Howard wanted to do business that the star player has to have a say in the way the team is built.

It was widely reported and continues to be reported that one of Howard’s complaints with the franchise was that he felt like he was constantly ignored. He felt the team was not bringing in the players he had requested and that the team had backed itself into a corner by ignoring his requests for teammates and making moves they thought would appease Howard (or something to that effect, who knows what the actual story is at this point).

There is no telling now whether acquiring Steve Nash, Chris Paul or Monta Ellis would have done the trick and gotten Howard to commit long term. It is widely believed (at least on ESPN) that acquiring an elite point guard like Nash or Paul would have done it.

To build a dynasty, the team has to be a partnership between ownership, management and top player.

That is the golden package in San Antonio between Gregg Popovich, R.C. Buford and Tim Duncan. That is the package that persuaded LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley and Micky Arison in Miami. And that is what Carmelo Anthony is allegedly trying to build in New York as Henry Abbott of ESPN.com related a few days ago.

It is yet to be seen who the Magic will turn to be the foundation of their new basketball family. It seems with Hennigan and his “process” and a young coach who will not rattle the cage like Van Gundy did at times, Orlando is looking for ownership and management to have a bit more control.

Maybe that will create an atmosphere that attracts the next crop of superstar free agents to Orlando. Maybe it will not.

The Magic have gone the way of the “primadonna superstar.” Dwight Howard may not have been one of those when he was drafted or as he matured. But he became one with the way he handled his impending free agency and trade requests. The constant back and forth has turned off fans and left everyone ready to move on.

In other words, Orlando was not a family anymore. It was a bickering, squabbling mess full of internal strife. The exact thing Abbott believes the elite players are trying to avoid as they empower themselves in new ways.

It is not far-fetched to think that the Magic are looking for a bit more control and a bit more peace in the next iteration of this team. Perhaps they are looking to establish the program for when that next star comes so they can explain the process to the next star and include him in that process. Or, perhaps, the Magic are trying to establish a franchise or a process that gives the management the power to control the franchise’s future, wresting it away from the player-driven trend emerging around the NBA.

The process for the Magic is still developing. It is going to take much longer than this summer to do so. Winning a championship will take finding that partner in a star to build around — one that believes in what Hennigan is building — and then the patience from all sides to let the process work, so to speak.

Right now, management and ownership are heavily involved. They are working together to make sure they get this decision right and are on the same page moving out of the Dwight Howard era. Whether such a close partnership will attract the next star to come through Orlando, only time will tell us that as Hennigan’s process develops and evolves.

Magic Re-Sign Nelson For Three Years

One of Orlando’s co-captains will remain in a Magic uniform.

Jameer Nelson tweeted, confirming what he told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, that he has come to an agreement with the Magic and will remain in Orlando. Nelson would not disclose the length or amount of his deal, but Robbins reports it is a three-year deal.

“I was prepared to go where I needed to go to continue my career, and I think I kind of expressed that to the organization,” Nelson said to Robbins. “But I also told them that I would love to come back. Genuinely, I love the city. I love the organization. I’ve learned a lot from the people in the organization. The DeVos family means a lot to myself and my family and it means a lot to me that they always put out a winning product.”

It was pretty much understood by all sides that Nelson wanted to remain in Orlando and Orlando wanted to retain Nelson. It was just a matter of dollars and cents.

Nelson opted out of the final year of his contract, which would have paid him around $8 million, so he could seek more long-term security. With the Magic certain to trade Dwight Howard, Nelson did not want to become simply a tradeable expiring contract.

Also, at 30 years old, this appears to be Nelson’s last opportunity to get a long-term deal.

The three-year deal should give him some stability and long-term security.

The amount the contract is worth has not been revealed and the Magic cannot discuss the signing until the league’s moratorium is lifted July 11 (per team policy, they usually do not release contract information).

David Pingalore of ClickOrlando.com reports the contract is worth $19.7 million and the third year will have some option attached to it. This means, over the life of the contract, Nelson took a pay cut from what he would have made if he played the final year of his previous contract for a few years of stability in Orlando.

That was clearly important to Nelson as mentioned earlier. Nelson has played all eight years in his career in Orlando.

Exploring Trade Options For Howard

The Dwight Howard sweepstakes are as on as they have ever been. The Magic took a half-hearted approach to trading Howard back in December when he originally issued his trade demand. It appears from all the reports coming out of the Amway Center and the Magic offices that the franchise is determined to end the Dwightmare, the drama and everything else.

The team is moving Howard.

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan confirmed he met with Howard in Southern California last weekend and that Howard re-affirmed his trade request. Then, of course, Howard told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that there is only one team on his list that he will sign a long-term extension with.

Many believe that mystery team to be the Brooklyn Nets.

But Monday’s developments may have put a wrench in that plan. The Nets on Monday acquired Joe Johnson from the Hawks (along with his contract worth $89.3 million the next five years) for Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams and DeShawn Stevenson. All but Stevenson are expiring contracts, depleting the Nets assets and ability to make a trade with Orlando.

No deal is official until next week, however.

Then came reports that Deron Williams agreed to a five-year deal worth nearly $90 million. To say the least, if the cap comes in at around $58 million, the Nets have already committed somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 million of it (nearly $20 million to Johnson this year alone and approximately $15 million to Williams). That does not even include the four-year, $40 million deal the Nets agreed to with Gerald Wallace.

That does not bode well for Howard if he truly wants to join the Nets. The only way the Nets can secure Howard at this point is through a trade and then through a very hefty luxury tax bill.

That does not mean Brooklyn is not working to get a deal done. The latest report has a deal with a framework of Howard going to Brooklyn with Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks and three future first round picks heading to Orlando plus a third team getting involved sending something Orlando’s way for Kris Humphries and possibly Hedo Turkoglu.

It is a flimsy framework for a deal because it does not give Orlando any of the things it wants — valuable first round picks, young players on reasonable contracts, or expiring deals. The Magic are in no hurry to deal Howard to the Nets if this is what is being offered. And free agents like Humphries, Lopez and Wallace (if he is involved) would have to agree to the destinations they are sent to.

Unless the Nets find a way to sweeten the pot a lot more, it does not seem likely Howard will get his wish and play for Brooklyn.

So what about the other places Howard could land? What kind of deals are the Magic looking at from them?

First it is important to recognize what kind of players the Magic want in return for Howard. Many believe that Hennigan’s “strategic” plan to building the Magic includes acquiring a package of players for Howard that are young or on short or expiring contracts. Orlando does not want to wrap itself in the long-term, bloated contracts that put the team in the hole. The players the Magic acquire in this deal are likely here to hold the boat steady, not necessarily to build around.

Also remember that Orlando does not want to get stuck with an underperforming former star like the team did with Steve Francis after the Tracy McGrady trade. This is more of a two-year stop gap to set up the next era than a quick reload… that is unless a team is willing to offer a genuine star.

Orlando has been reported to have conversations with several teams already. There are the aforementioned Nets (although that seems to be a product solely of Howard’s interest in them more than something that could actually happen). Then there are the Lakers, Hawks, Rockets and 76ers whom the Magic have reportedly had conversations with.

Out of those teams, it seems the Lakers and Hawks are the only teams that could offer bona fide All-Stars you can build around.

The Magic continue to insist the Lakers include Andrew Bynum in any deal involving Howard. And the Lakers are desperate to remain championship contenders. Whether the Lakers are finally ready to put Bynum on the trade table is another question. Lakers owner Jim Buss has a strange infatuation with Bynum and does not seem to want to let him go, even for Howard. Either way Los Angeles would much rather get rid of Pau Gasol than Bynum at this point. Bynum has more upside because of his youth and a friendlier deal expiring at the end of 2013 rather than Gasol’s deal which expires in 2014.

Likely though, Orlando and Los Angeles would swap some bad contracts, too. Out goes Hedo Turkoglu or Jason Richardson, in comes Metta World Peace (nearly $15 million during the next two years) or Steve Blake ($8 million during the next two years). Neither of those players exactly solve any of the Magic’s contract problems.

For sure, Orlando needs to free up some cap space for itself when the team trades Dwight Howard. The Lakers may be able to give the Magic the best player possible out of this deal, but they do not have much else to offer.

It has long been rumored that the Rockets are a team that wants Howard even for a full-season rental. A deal with the Rockets seems to be the most likely because of this. Houston has some interesting players to offer. After all, Houston has barely missed the playoffs the last few years in the Western Conference. The Magic, if this is what they want, could stay relatively competitive with a group coming from the Rockets.

A deal where the Magic rid themselves of a bad contract (like Jason Richardson) along with Howard for Kevin Martin (who will become a free agent after this upcoming season) and Luis Scola (who has three years remaining with the 2015 season partially guaranteed) would keep Orlando competitive. Again, this may not be exactly what the Magic would want. But Martin is a skilled scorer and Scola is very solid in the post. This would not be a killer deal and the Magic could move on relatively quickly.

This exercise is about bringing in players that are either young and can be developed or are on short contracts and will not commit the Magic to any long-term deals. A deal with the Rockets might be short on both of those. But it would keep the team competitive. Again, that is great if that is what the franchise wants. There might be better deals out there.

The best deal, the consensus seems to believe, is from Atlanta. The Hawks are seemingly positioning themselves to go after Dwight Howard in free agency and potentially build a roster around Josh Smith, Howard and (possibly) Chris Paul. Atlanta might be willing to take the risk and bring in Howard if it guarantees them two pieces of that puzzle.

Howard, after all, is high school friends with Smith and is from Atlanta. The Hawks might believe they can sell him on staying.

It might be tough to get the salaries to match exactly, and it does not exactly help Orlando clear cap, but acquiring Al Horford and Jeff Teague from the Hawks for Howard might do the trick. It gives Orlando an All-Star center to begin rebuilding around and a young point guard on his rookie contract that could develop into a solid player. Both players are on manageable deals.

The real question is whether they would do this.

The other two potential landing spots for Howard appear to be Dallas or Philadelphia.

Howard has placed Dallas on his list. But the Mavericks lack the assets the Magic want. Dallas has no young players and no short-term contracts to offer Orlando. You can almost eliminate them right out.

Philadelphia has many of the young players Orlando might want. The main piece to the deal would likely be Andre Iguodala and the Magic might ask for Evan Turner in the deal. The 76ers might insist then on giving up the final year of Elton Brand’s deal. And the Magic might be willing to take it on and let him walk at the end, hoping to score a high draft pick in a bad season and nearly $20 million in cap room. Securing Iguodala and Turner plus the cap room that comes with Brand’s free agency, might be a path worth exploring.

Then finally, there is the one path that is unlikely: Howard stays.

I broached this over at Crossover Chronicles and find it very unlikely. But would it be so strange to see Howard try and mend the bridge and come back now that his path to Brooklyn appears blocked? Would the Magic as an organization accept that? Somehow, I don’t think so. It would take Howard firing Dan Fegan, so he can place the full blame on him (something he should have done in March if he were truly “loyal”).

But has anything else made sense?

Again, the Magic are nearing an end to this deal and are exploring these trade options plus many more.

Orlando Took Dwight Howard For Granted

The Dwight Howard saga appears nearing an end. The Magic franchise appears ready to part ways with their superstar center and are exploring their trade options to get some type of value in return for him. That was always something Orlando was determined to do, but the hope of having Howard sign an extension has waned.

The reports this weekend appear to have put a nail in that coffin. A divorce seems inevitable.

Why did this have to happen? What went so wrong in Orlando for Howard that he had to engineer his exit in such an embittered, secretive and senseless way? What brought the frustration level with the franchise so high that this was the way Howard had to go?

These are complex questions that do not have easy answers. Far from them.

In each of Howard’s statements he professes a love for the city of Orlando and a request fans stay patient with him and believe in him. But at the same time, he has avoided the truth that seems undeniable at this point: he does not want to play in Orlando anymore. His relationship with the Magic franchise has soured beyond the point of repair and he is trying (emphasis on trying) to secure an exit while maximizing his earning potential.

It has created an ugly divorce with the fans stuck in the middle.

Those same fans who have followed Dwight Howard the past eight years know this is not who Dwight Howard is. That is why hope that he would ultimately re-sign in Orlando remained — and why some fans I have talked to still believe Howard will stay if the team can gather the right pieces (bless those optimists, seriously).

Howard is a fun-loving, smiling center who plays hard and works hard. There is not a single reason to hate Dwight Howard the player. This is why fans attached to him and these Magic teams so much, creating a buzz around the team that was felt only once before in the franchise history (with a similarly gregarious center).

The Dwight Howard the Magic and Magic fans saw in 2012 did not seem to enjoy the game as much. He was serious and guarded, with every word carefully measured for some ulterior motive. Not the Howard that Magic fans grew to love in seven years.

This marriage did not seem destined for divorce. Not after the 2009 Finals trip. Not even after the Magic fell in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. The fate may have been sealed in December 2010 when the Magic boxed themselves in with two horrific trades.

And then with the landscape completely changed from one of hope and promise to one of mediocrity in the matter of a year and a half, the Magic began to ask the question of Howard — how long do you want to commit to this franchise? It is easy to see from that lens why you might hesitate to say yes and exert your leverage and power a little bit more.

Getting up to 2009 was a painstaking process of clearing some bad contracts — most notably, Steve Francis and Grant Hill’s expiring deal — and creating an atmosphere where the team could succeed. Stan Van Gundy pulled the right strings in getting Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu to play their best basketball surrounding Howard.

But after 2009, Orlando succumbed to short-sighted moves to fling the window open, hoping it would not come crashing down on the franchise.

A lot of the moves made in the summer of 2009 proved to be the correct ones for the 2010 season alone. Vince Carter replaced Turkoglu’s production (although he did not improve on it) and Orlando had a deep and versatile bench to call on for the Playoffs.

But there was one underlying assumption in how that summer-long rebuild was executed — Dwight Howard would fix everything.

It is a testament both to Van Gundy’s schemes and Howard’s excellence that the 2010 team tied for the top defensive rating in the league. After all, no one considers Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter or Rashard Lewis elite perimeter defenders. Howard’s shadow cast all over the paint and he put together impressive defensive performances all by himself.

So when Otis Smith saw the wheels coming off his team in December 2010, this assumption still rested in the back of his mind. A quick fix could work because Dwight Howard can fix a whole bunch of holes.

And for a good chunk of the 2011 season, he did. Howard posted a career-best 26.0 PER and 7.7 defensive win shares. He was an absolute monster and carried his team to become third in the league in defensive rating. This was a team, mind you, that featured Nelson, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu as defenders in front of Howard.

The chance for a title was slipping though. Orlando struggled when teams could single cover Howard and no one else on the perimeter seemed able to step up in a six-game, first-round exit to the Hawks.

If you look at things through this prism, it is easy to see why Howard was frustrated by his waning voice within the franchise and his lack of help on it. Howard had to do everything. And moves and transactions were seemingly made with the assumption that Dwight Howard can make everything work on his own. He is so gifted and talented that, for a long time, he did make it all work by himself.

But that is not how he is going to win championships. That is not how you build a championship team.

And so, with his ability to exercise his leverage at its maximum, Howard asked out. Orlando had run out of time to build him a championship team and boxed itself in, unable to get him help. The Magic as a franchise, simply took Howard’s good nature and talent for granted, souring him away from the team’s plans.

This does not in any way excuse the bungled way Howard has handled his exit. It has been ugly and confusing. A fan base that appreciates and supports a superstar the way Orlando did with Howard deserves a straight answer from the player himself — the December 2011 press conference he held would have been fine if he let it stay at that. They certainly do not deserve the winding road and drama the franchise has endured.

The way Howard continually professes his love for Orlando makes you believe things really could have worked out if the Magic remained perpetual contenders and he had no reason to be discontent. But it is clear from the way things were run, Howard had plenty of reasons to be off put by the Magic’s next attempt to placate him.

It all started with the franchise and its personnel not living up to its potential and bungling move after move at a time when it could not. Howard played the good teammate and did everything he could. The problem was, too many mistakes around him were made. It seems like it made him feel like he was taken for granted and ignored.

Howard was no longer a good soldier. He wanted a larger say if he was going to expend the effort and energy to (literally) carry a team through the postseason. Orlando did not give it to him.

And so here we are, ready to divorce much more bitterly than it had to be. A relationship broken that did not have to be.

Jameer Nelson Will Opt Out

Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel reports Jameer Nelson will opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer, leaving Orlando searching for a point guard and hoping to re-sign the eight-year Magic player.

This move is not a surprise. Nelson is thought to want a long-term deal and was afraid that by picking up the final year of his contract he would be traded out of Orlando. Undoubtedly, his expiring contract worth about $8 million would have been enticing to a team looking to dump some salary.

And undoubtedly, Nelson by opting out is sending a subtle signal that he wants long-term security and to be sure of where he is going to be playing for the foreseeable future. And it might be a subtle signal that Nelson wants to remain in Orlando long term.

Nelson has spent the entirety of his eight-year career in Orlando and has firmly put his roots down in the City Beautiful. It does not seem like he wants to uproot those. In the run up to this decision Nelson said he wanted to stay in Orlando, and Rob Hennigan has repeatedly said he wants to see Jameer Nelson in a Magic uniform for a long time.

Now it will come down to business and trying to get a deal done that both sides will agree to. This does not seem incredibly far-fetched. Many believe Nelson would be willing to take less money — he made $7.8 million last season and was set to make $8 million next year — for that long-term stability. Nelson might be in line for the four-year, $24 million deal that Jason Richardson or Glen Davis got… or something completely different.

There will be decisions that need to be made. But signing Jameer Nelson has to be a major priority in the offseason when free agency opens up. Orlando is not particularly deep at point guard right now.

Nelson has been a source of criticism and a lightning rod among Magic fans for plenty of seasons, particularly when the team was contending for a championship. The struggles at point guard have been particularly blatant with the failure of the Chris Duhon signing. Nelson did not have a good year last year, averaging 11.9 points per game and 5.7 assists per game while shooting 42.7 percent. His scoring and field goal percentage were two of the lowest marks of his career.

The problem with Nelson these last few years has been the high bar he set in 2009 before his shoulder injury. He has been chasing that Nelson ever since and has not been able to duplicate that incredible 42-game run. Orlando has only seen flashes of his 16.7 points per game, 50.3 percent field goal shooting and 45.3 percent 3-point shooting from that season. The most notable flash was in the 2010 Playoffs when he torched Raymond Felton and Mike Bibby and then saved Orlando in Game Four against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Again, Nelson opting out does not mean he and the Magic are parting ways. This was a business move for Nelson to ensure his long-term future. It is now just about getting a deal done that both sides will like. We will likely learn about Rob Hennigan the negotiator in this case if both sides truly want to get a deal done.

In the other free agent news, the Magic formally offered their qualifying offer to Ryan Anderson, making him a restricted free agent. Orlando can match any offer for Anderson. Whether they will or not is still an open question especially considering the fact Orlando used its first round pick on Andrew Nicholson. Anderson might be priced out of what the Magic want to pay. But we will see what kind of market Anderson gets.

It seems that Orlando is determined to have both Nelson and Anderson back on the team next year.