Toronto Steals Lowry From Houston

It took Bryan Colangelo less than 24 hours to regroup from losing Steve Nash.

In a move that won’t have the same flash or sizzle of adding Nash, Colangelo made a bold move by stealing Kyle Lowry from the Houston Rockets for a heavily protected first round pick.

It may not be the sexy move, but it was probably a better move than adding Nash.

Lowry finished last season averaging 14.3 points, 6.6 assist and 4.5 rebounds. Keep in mind for a stretch of the season Lowry flirted with 20 points and 10 assists per game. During the month of January he averaged 15.0 points, 7.1 assists and 6.7 rebounds while playing gritty defense.

It’s not like Lowry is the only possible target for Colangelo. There was talk leading up to the NBA Draft that Andre Igoudala and Rudy Gay might be headed to Toronto. While new management in Memphis has quieted the rumours of Gay being dealt, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Igoudala dealt this summer.

Igoudala only averaged 12.9 points and 5.7 rebounds while having a player efficiency of 13.77. Hardly the stuff to excite fans in Toronto. But, due to the playing style of Doug Collins, the Sixers’ leading scorer last season was sixth man Lou Williams.

There are a lot of people in the NBA who feel that if Igoudala was playing in a system where he was featured it would allow him to average close to 18 points like he averaged a couple seasons back.

Plus, a huge bonus for Toronto is that Igoudala is a small forward known for being a gritty defender.

Here’s to hoping that Philly would be willing to take on some young pieces like Ed Davis or DeMar DeRozan while taking some expiring contracts like Linas Kleiza or Jose Calderon in the process.

While none of these moves have the luster of inking Nash trading for a valuable piece or two may turn out better.

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.

A Big Summer For Colangelo

I’m not one for hyperbole, but this is probably Bryan Colangelo’s biggest summer of his tenure so far in Toronto.

In the past, Colangelo has made headlines for signing Hedo Turkoglu, losing Chris Bosh via free agency or trading for Jermaine O’Neal. This summer Colangelo has oodles of cap space, a top ten draft pick to dangle in front of other teams and a need to make a move of substance if he wants ownership to keep him around past this season.

Colangelo is known for being quick to pull the trigger on moves, and with cap space and a need to impress ownership, look for him to make some bold moves this summer.

Starting on draft night, look for Colangelo to deal Toronto’s first round draft pick. Yes, the eighth overall pick could net Toronto a nice young player, but the reality is the Raptors won’t be starting two rookies next season. Jonas Valanciunas will be given the starting position at the five as long as he comes into training camp hungry so Dwane Casey can’t afford to give another raw rookie extended minutes next season.

Throw in the fact Toronto needs a veteran wing who can score and defend and the idea of a trade makes a lot of sense. Plus, Toronto has a bunch of cap space on draft night due to a trade deadline deal that saw Leandro Barbosa head to Indiana for a shipment of Gatorade. Just kidding, sort of.

Names like Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala and Kyle Lowry have been thrown around in recent weeks. While all of those players would provided an instant bump in Toronto’s starting five, the player who I would target is Josh Smith.

Yes, I realize Toronto wants to play Andrea Bargnani at the four and Valanciunas at the five, and Smith is a four, but why not insert Smith as a starting small forward? He has the athleticism to guard small forwards but his shot blocking and rebounding would make up for Bargnani not being a great rebounder.

Can you imagine the damage that trio would cause? It would make Casey salivate heading into training camp at what he could achieve on the defensive end with Smith and Valanciunas anchoring his defense.

Heck, it could even make some of Bargnani’s defensive woes look somewhat invisible.

Now, why would Atlanta deal a player who should have made the All-Star team last season? The salary cap next season is going to be close to $72 million and with only six players under contract they have already committed over $60 million in salary. Ouch. That’s not looking good for a franchise that is near the bottom of the NBA in attendance and has said they won’t pay the luxury tax.

Again, Iguodala, Gay or Lowry would look great in Toronto, but if Colangelo really wants to swing for the fences, the ideal target should be Josh Smith.

Lowry Demands A Trade If Dragic Returns

Kyle Lowry, who opened the lockout driven season as the starting point guard for the Houston Rockets, is now ready to pack his bags if things are not addressed.

Lowry, who was discussed as a potential All-Star game reserve, saw everything crumble after a dangerous bacterial infection took over his body. Lowry only played 47 games this season, while backup point guard Goran Dragic wasted no time picking up the slack.

As you can imagine the situation does not favor Lowry in the slightest. While the infection was out of his control, it essentially took him out of the loop. Lowry went from the future, to the past, after unrestricted free agent Goran Dragic outplayed Lowry during his absence.

The Rockets have made it clear that Dragic will be retained even though he is expected to be approached by multiple teams who are willing to pay him a large salary. If the Rockets do stay loyal to their words, then Dragic will be paid a salary that will demand him to be the starter.

If this sounds eerily familiar, then you’re starting to make the connection. The carousel of point guards have been rotating now for a few years. Dragic is now taking Lowry’s spot, while Lowry did the same to former guard Aaron Brooks. Lowry has clearly seen the trend catch up to him, and isn’t willing to sit on his hands and watch it play out.

“We’re both capable starters,” Lowry told the Houston Chronicle. “We both want it. It’s going to have to be a situation where they make a decision on one of us.”

Lowry continued to reiterate his dilemma, making it very clear that the assurance he needs will be met, or his services may no longer be worthy to the Rockets.

“It has nothing to do with Goran,” Lowry admitted. “I’m not happy with the way (the) coaches handled things. If management wants to do something to keep Goran, I think I’ll have to be moved.”

With that quote comes act two of this story. The act in which Lowry calls out his coach, while his coach surprisingly raises his eyebrows after the comment is relayed to him.

“If things aren’t addressed coaching-wise, I guess I have to be moved,” Lowry said.

McHale replied with what you would expect from a head coach.

“That’s very surprising,” McHale said. “I didn’t think we had too much of a problem coexisting this year. Everybody has a little beef every once in a while. I didn’t feel like (there were problems). He apparently did.”

The beef with McHale really hit the boiling point in a game against the Denver Nuggets, when Lowry and McHale shared some words. Lowry showed his anger on the court, but later downplayed the situation as the heat of the moment, took over emotions. Now Lowry is using that scenario to further emphasize his discomfort with coach McHale.

Lowry, who clearly feels insecure with his position on the team, did leave a slight window open for adjustments. But his demands are steep, and the Rockets are not leaning towards those changes.

While McHale struggled to get this team into the playoffs as the season came to a close, he also joined the team in a shortened NBA season, with virtually no training camp. The Rockets would shock most people if they let McHale go after one incomplete season.

General manager Daryl Morey remains upbeat about the situation, and doesn’t believe it needs to end in this manner.

“I think Kyle and coach McHale are both winners and both competitive guys,” Morey said. “I don’t anticipate any issues going forward.”

Lowry and Dragic are both capable starters, and splitting time for either is really not an option. Dragic has made it clear if he signs with the Rockets, he wants starting minutes. Lowry has now made it clear that he wants the same, along with another coach in the mix.

Honestly, Lowry packing his bags seems like a very realistic scenario now.

While some of us know that these two players make a great duo on the court, or when used interchangeably, we also know that both players believe they are ready to run a basketball team. Splitting time isn’t the same as running the show. Lowry may look selfish right now, but he is speaking freely. He is looking out for his own good. He sees that his progression as a point guard is stalling. The Rockets may not be in the position to kick start that stall, when they have another point guard they will be committing a large salary to.

The Rockets have some major decision to iron out, and Kyle Lowry will be right in the heart of it all.

Milwaukee May Not Spend Big Bucks For “Young Buck”

In the world of math, much is made about a concept called an inflection point–for the Milwaukee Bucks, July 1st will likely prove to be just that.

Effective July 1st, Herb Kohl, John Hammond, and the Bucks can officially negotiate and extend Brandon Jennings rookie contract–if nothing is done, the Young Buck becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the 2013 season.

Now, before we address this current situation, let’s take a look at the last time the Bucks franchise faced a decision like this with a promising lefty.  In 2004-2005, the Bucks had a solid core of young players–none more promising than Michael Redd.  This was the final season of a four year, $12M total contract, and Redd spent each of the four seasons proving he was a scoring threat to be reckoned with, improving his points per game (PPG) each year.

Given his scoring prowess and fan likeability, after the season ended the Bucks lavished upon Michael Redd and his agent, Kevin Poston, a six-year, $91M deal.  The Bucks investment of max money seemingly paid off, as Redd continued his improvement in per game statistics the next two years–but showed signs of durability issues in 2006-2007.  His effective Bucks career ended January 29th, 2009–as Redd tore his ACL and MCL at the same time.

Redd was an exciting young lefty that was loved by Bucks fans everywhere–and is still loved–but his contract proved to be crippling for the franchise.  During the Michael Redd $91M dollar contract era, the Bucks never broke .500, as they could never put the right pieces around Redd to compete.

Fast forward to July 1, 2012.  Brandon Jennings is the current face of the Bucks–yet was only the 11th highest paid player on the Bucks roster at the end of the 2012 season.  He boasts humongous upside at a mere age of 22 – and has posted three continuous years of improvement in PPG, field goal %, turnovers, and thefts per game, and maturity – as well as maintained consistency in assists and rebounds per game.

On February 11, 2012, much was made of this ESPN article that stated Jennings was “keeping his options open” and is looking at “big market teams.” Many have even wondered if this quote from Jennings led to the trade of Andrew Bogut and the acquisition of Monta Ellis to replace Jennings.

More recently, John Hammond was asked about Brandon Jennings contract situation.

“It’s something that we’ll look at and we’ll explore,” he admitted. “It’s going to have to be a little bit of a two-way street, so to speak. Something that is important to them and important to us. I think that is. But, it’s not something that we have to do. And the one thing that we don’t want to do and we talked about this. We’ve talked about this for the last couple of years, is not put ourselves in a position where we have to do things. If we have to do things, I think we’re negotiating and working out of a position of weakness.”

The key quote from this intelligent GM is “If we have to do things, I think we’re negotiating and working out of a position of weakness.”

Hammond understands the risk involved of paying more than you have to in order to keep a young star.  Jennings is an amazing player – one that I’d love to see in a Bucks uniform for many years – but only at the proper price. While Jennings is the star and fan darling of the Bucks franchise, he is not amongst the elite players of the league and is not worthy of such an investment.

If I were GM, what would I invest?  Five years and $35M.

What will the Bucks do as they approach another potentially huge inflection point in their 44 year history?  Two of their best assets are front and center right now – will the spotlight belong to Ersan Ilyasova?

Or, will the Bucks shine on both the “Turkish Thunder” and the “Young Buck”?

While the rest of Bucks Nation ponders the possibilities of the .7% ping pong probability, I’ll be pondering this meteoric franchise decision.

Lakers Face Another Summer Of Turmoil

Being ousted in the Conference Semifinals for the second consecutive season has thrust Lakers Nation into a state of turmoil.

“Sitting here at this point in the year is definitely not satisfying,” Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown admitted to the media. “Under the circumstances, I feel like we got a lot accomplished and feel we learned a lot… but we can be better.”

One of the main ways the Lakers can get better is clarifying the roles of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum moving forward. With a new head coach added to the mix this season, Gasol struggled adapting and then he had problems getting used to being the third option on offence.

Sure, part of that is due to a compressed training camp, but the reality of the situation is Brown would like to see Kobe Bryant and Bynum get the majority of the touches on offence next season.

“With Andrew (Bynum) having a bigger role within what we do especially offensively, it made it a little tougher for Pau (Gasol), ” Brown explained. “With Andrew on one block and Kobe (Bryant) on the other, and Metta (World Peace), it was (tough to get opportunities at times). But I thought he adjusted really well.”

As great as Gasol has been for the Lakers the past few seasons, there is currently a shift in place to have Bynum become the focus of the teams offence in the low post instead of Gasol.

“I think (Andrew Bynum) can be a cornerstone to an organization,” Brown boasted. “But you have to remember that Andrew is still learning what he’s (eventually) going to be. He didn’t play near the minutes (as he did in 2011-12). He needs time and the commitment to want to get better every time he steps onto the floor. The sky really is the limit on how good he wants to be.”

This shift in focus by the coaching staff and touches for Gasol has resulted in him being unsure where that leaves his future with the Lakers.

“I wish I could have clarification (about his future with the team) but they can’t give it to me right now,” Gasol lamented. “I think management still has to talk to ownership to see what direction this team will be going next year. We really didn’t talk much about the future. We talked about this year, how things have gone. Everything was really positive and encouraging for (the) potential (of) next season.”

Hearing Gasol talk about the potential of playing for a team besides the Lakers next season can’t be what he or fans of the team want to hear. However, the Spaniard will be 32-years-old when training camp kicks off and he will have a lot of wear due to playing heavy minutes in the NBA and playing for the Spanish national team during the summer.

Plus, besides getting up in age, Gasol was confused at times this season as to what Brown and his teammates needed or expected from him on the court.

“It’s a little difficult,” Gasol admitted. “ I’ve always been a good passer and I facilitated from the most part from the post, which I’m very good at. It has been an adjustment for me, it has been difficult to be pretty much a third option, because I’ve never experienced that in my career since I was very young. I still gave it my best, but that was challenging at times.”

Regardless of the reason why the Lakers flamed out in the second round of the playoffs, it’s clear their general manager, Mitch Kupchak, isn’t content with standing pat with the roster as currently constructed.

“When you lose before you think you should have lost, you have to open up all opportunities,” Kupchak told the media during exit interviews.

One of the players being mentioned in a lot of trade talk, Pau Gasol, seems to be aware of this and the topic was brought up during exit interviews between himself and Kupchak.

“He’s the consummate teammate, consummate professional, but what took place is hard for a player to deal with,” Kupchak admitted. “I’m sure there’s a little bit of trust that’s not quite the same. But he understands … our exit meeting was really good. I think he and I are on the same page.”

Complimentary, sure, but not exactly a ringing endorsement for the Spaniard sticking around for next season in Los Angeles.

Despite the fact the Lakers failed to advance as far as the team or its fans would have liked, it’s clear there is still a lot of faith in the players currently on the roster.

“I just didn’t feel we really hit our stride,” Barnes explained. “I think at times we showed flashes of how dominant we could be, but we really didn’t reel off six, seven, eight or nine consistent, convincing wins that you kind of need to really feel good about yourself. Any time you have a big three like we have, you’re always going to have a chance, but it takes more than three guys to win and there wasn’t really that consistency.”

Steve Blake echoed those sentiments and pointed back to the lack of a true training camp after adding a new head coach as being the culprit for the team failing to live up to expectations.

“More time definitely would have helped us out, maybe (allowed us to) figure out certain areas of the game to make us better,” said Blake. “But you can’t blame (our not winning) on that. I do think having a longer camp next year, us being with this coaching staff and getting more comfortable with them, always will help you.”

Even though the players want the same crew back, they don’t have a vote in the process. The man in charge, Kupchak, talked openly with the media this week about being disappointed and it sounds like he’s ready to make some moves this summer.

“We’re disappointed,” Kupchak admitted. “We don’t grade ourselves on getting into the second round. We thought going into the season that we were one of three or four or five teams that could contend for a championship. It’s hard to get in that position with 30 owners that are very competitive, having to operate under (now different) rules. We felt we had a shot at it, so to watch the conference semifinals was a disappointing feeling.”

Still, despite some harsh words, the embattled general manager left the door open for the current roster returning.

“If we were just able to bring the players back next year and have a full training camp, we’d be one of those five or six teams with a chance to (win a championship),” Kupchak boasted. “ I can’t tell you if that’s going to happen. It’s not like we don’t have a group that’s talented, and that’s all you can really hope for.”

It remains to be seen if the Lakers stick with their currently roster of player, but, if I were a gambling man, I’d put money on the Lakers rolling the dice and making a deal involving Gasol.

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.

Toronto’s Offseason Starting To Take Shape

It has been an intriguing offseason thus far for the Toronto Raptors, that is to be sure. They haven’t even done anything yet and there has already been plenty of chatter surrounding the team and potential free agent signings since the day the season ended. Whether these rumours are based in truth or conjecture remains to be seen. Regardless of the eventual results, people are talking about the Raptors and fans are getting excited.

I’m not one to get caught up in rumours, but these rumours seem to have some weight to them and all of them could change the course of the Raptors hopes for next season as well as the long-term status of GM Bryan Colangelo, who has one year remaining on his contract.

First came the Steve Nash rumours. Now Steve Nash rumours are nothing new around these parts. He’s Canada’s greatest basketball talent ever and would look fantastic playing for Canada’s only basketball team. Over the years Toronto has heard lots about Nash coming to town, but there wasn’t really any way to get a deal like that done. But now the “Nash to Toronto” rumours have a certain weight to them.

He’s long been rumoured to be leaving the Phoenix Suns after this year and his recent appointment as President and General Manager of Canada’s Mens National Team would seem to indicate he wouldn’t mind spending more time closer to his homeland.

A Steve Nash arrival in Toronto would mean improved play on the offensive end and a whole lot of jerseys being sold at the ACC.

Nash would fit in swimmingly here in Toronto, despite the fact Jose Calderon already occupies the starting point guard spot. Calderon has been quite willing and ready to share time whenever necessary and the depth at point guard could give the Raptors a leg up on competition in the Atlantic division. Calderon seems better suited to the backup role anyway and could become valuable trade bait down the road with a large expiring contract.

The Nash rumours also have weight as his former Canadian National team coach, Jay Triano, is employed by the Raptors and Bryan Colangelo, the GM that drafted and then re-acquired Nash in Phoenix is currently the Raptors President and GM.

Nash has a knack for bringing the very best out of his teammates. Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudamire, Channing Frye, Jason Richardson all owe much of their success (and large pay cheques) to the point guard that gave them the ball.

Nash has always put himself second and his team first. His teammates were the beneficiaries on and off the court. How much could a point guard like Nash improve Andrea Bargnani’s game? or DeMar DeRozan’s? Makes you wonder.

Nash makes good players great. He brings the best out of his teammates and could certainly benefit some of the underachieving Raptor players.

Nash would therefore seem to be a perfect fit in Toronto. Unless, of course Jeremy Lin is. Lin is a restricted free agent and there are now reports from a host of sources claiming the Raptors will be very much in the mix for his services, should the Knicks decide to let him go.

Lin is much younger than Nash, could be cheaper and may fit better into the core that is developing in Toronto.

Jeremy Lin is a rumoured Raptor target this offseason. His acquisition could be the spark this young Raptor team needs.

He is a restricted free agent, so how much stalk can we put into these Lin to Toronto rumours? It is very possible that the Knicks get out-priced for his services. Lin is not a player that has been around long and therefore may not have earned the lucrative deal he seeks in the eyes of NBA GM’s. His stats are good, but the sample size is small, and he was never really able to mesh with franchise player Carmelo Anthony suggesting he may need to be a number one option.

Lin, who missed the Knicks’ run to the playoffs, could be the odd man out in New York, making him very much available to Toronto. A move for Lin would be very reminiscent of Colangelo’s other signing of a young point guard that changed his Phoenix Suns back in 2004. That, of course being, Steve Nash.

Lin has shown he can be a game changer, a superstar, a go-to guy. At the point guard position that is simply something the Raptors have never had.

It is clear that Lin’s stats are a small sample size and his median numbers are not nearly as good as his 2011/12 stats, but he could be worth the risk.

He is explosive and can certainly shoot the ball with confidence. He can drive the net and get his teammates involved in the offense. His defensive ability is weak but his deficiencies could be fit into Dwane Casey’s system. If Calderon worked out, Lin likely could too.

He would also become a big fan favourite here in Toronto, a city with a large Asian fan base. It could be a big marketing opportunity that the new owners at Rogers and Bell, simply cannot pass up.

Still, the odds of landing Lin rest in the hands of Glen Grunwald and the New York Knicks and what they are attempting to do this offseason. The Knicks maintain the right to match any offers the young point guard gets, meaning the Raptors will likely have to overpay to get him.

Lin presents an interesting option for the Raptors, but one that they ultimately don’t have complete control over.

Then there are the murmurs about Nicolas Batum. Now, none of these rumours are anything but pure and utter speculation, but he would fit very nicely into the Raptors lineup. A small forward with that kind of ability has alluded the Raptors since the days of Tracy McGrady. Batum would instantly become one of the best small forwards the franchise has ever seen. A great fit for the short and long-term. Plus his European background would be a plus in the locker room. He certainly won’t be cheap and the Blazers are very unlikely to let him go for nothing. Expect the Blazers to match everything and anything for Batum and then work out a trade with a team if they have to.

If the Raptors are serious about acquiring Batum, which they should be in my opinion, then they are going to have to put together a trade package that will make it happen. That is much more difficult than just signing a player, but if anyone knows how to work out a complicated off-season trade it’s Colangelo.

So despite the fact the Playoffs are going on without the Raptors, there is plenty for a fan to sit and ponder. This summer will be another chapter in the remaking of this Raptors team and it is exciting to imagine the possibilities. So far three of the most solid offseason rumours would offer the Raptors definite upgrades in talent at two key positions. All three rumoured acquisitions are big name players that would raise the talent level and profile of basketball in Toronto.

Like most Raptor fans, I can’t wait to see what happens on July first. Judging from the early offseason rumours, it is likely to be one of the more exciting ones yet.

Grizzlies: Requiem For A Season

It really wasn’t supposed to end this way. This early.

I know how strange that sounds. I mean, we’re talking about the Memphis Grizzlies, the team that waywardly wandered away from Vancouver and seemed as out of place in the NBA as a Grizzly bear in the city of Memphis , but this season was supposed to be different.
Yet here we are – mere weeks removed from the “Western Dark Horse” and “Think About How Dangerous They’ll be With Rudy Gay” talk – and the Grizz are cleaning out their lockers prematurely, again, with plenty of question marks and a 27-point cumulus cloud hanging over their offseason.

Where did it all go wrong? Unfortunately for Memphis’ intensely passionate fans, there’s no obvious scapegoat; no clear target for index fingers, other than the one no team can avoid: fate.

It was obvious that the Grizz were going to have to make some adjustments in welcoming back a dynamic talent like Rudy Gay back to a system that propelled them past the Spurs and to within a game of the Western Conference Finals last spring. But the full-on identity crisis Memphis was set up for when Darrell Arthur, and then worse yet Zach Randolph, went down for large stretches, would ultimately condemn their season.

Like any self-respecting, competitive team, they didn’t roll over; they adjusted, adapted, but hardly evolved. Despite Marreese Speights’ solid efforts to fill the rebounding and scoring voids left in the frontcourt, the team was thinner, weaker; forced to stray from the post-oriented offense and punishing transition game that defined their success.

They were winning games; staying above water for Randolph’s return, but they were also getting comfortable outside their own skin. Grizzlies in sheep’s clothing. Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo were scoring most of their points; Marc Gasol was shouldering more of a load on the glass, facing more attention on defense than he ever had, and fighting off even more bodies for rebounds (and still made the All-Star team); Mike Conley got more comfortable looking for his shot than looking for a man on the block; and the vaunted energy of their bench looked suddenly languid.

In what was already a season of many adjustments for every NBA player and team, the Grizzlies had to re-create themselves yet again when Randolph returned – this time to share the scoring load with Gay – just in time for the playoffs.

That the postseason began with a completely anomalous, unlikely, historic, and utterly soul-crushing collapse (one that was cued by Chris Paul forcing Vinny Del Negro to put him back in the game during the 4th  quarter, to be fuelled by series of three-point bombs from Nick Young and gritty hustle from Reggie Evans, two noted playoff assassins) didn’t help matters.

Starting a series with such an epic swing of momentum surely took the wind out of their lungs, but the Grizzlies weren’t ever truly out of it, only they waited until their backs were against the wall, down 3-1, to move their attack closer to the hoop and truly abuse their edge. They managed to force Game 7, but couldn’t close the deal; it wasn’t too little, just too late.

The obvious dilemma going forward will be Rudy Gay’s role and presence on this team. As recently as 18 months ago, he was given a generous contract and pegged as their franchise guy; there’s no denying Gay’s talent. You also can’t deny this truth; the Grizzlies – with largely the same lineup – went a fair bit deeper in the playoffs, against tougher competition, without him last year. And in the games that saved Memphis’ season, Gasol and Randolph carried the bulk of the load.

Logic would certainly point to moving Gay; he’s versatile, he’s athletic, he performed well last season and probably hasn’t hit his cieling yet; but he’s like Memphis used to seem in the NBA: just out of place. His trade value might never be higher again, there’s a ton of money tied up in him, and when you consider what he could bring back: a more functional upgrade at the point, bench scoring that isn’t OJ Mayo (who the Grizz seemingly can’t wait to get rid of), a legit post presence to shore Randolph and Gasol (hell, bring Mayo/Conley into the fold and Chris Wallace could probably get all of the above) it’s hard to ignore.

It would be a dramatic move, but “dramatic” could also describe the 27-point meltdown that arguably could’ve cost Memphis a trip to the Second Round. To quote a sage old man (Jaffar from Aladdin, don’t sleep): “Desperate time calls for desperate measures”. The Thunder aren’t getting much older anytime soon.

So the offseason looms, with much at stake. The return of Darrell Arthur will only help bolster Memphis’ questionable bench and restore the swagger that once took the NBA by storm, but if the Grizzlies want to stop swimming upstream, he shouldn’t be the only thing to change about this roster. Maybe trading Rudy Gay isn’t the way the franchise wants to go; I called Wallace crazy when he gave Pau Gasol away, but that seemed to work out, so who knows what he has up his sleeve.

One thing’s for sure: After a season of adjustments that moved them backwards, it’s time to adjust again, and hopefully continue to move forward.

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.”

No Rest For Davis This Summer

Ed Davis continues to show flashes of potential as his sophomore season in the NBA winds down, but the summer break won’t be the time for the young big man to take it easy.

Instead, his head coach would love to see him take a quick break after the season wraps up and then attack this offseason with vigour.

“He has got to go into the summer as soon as the season is over with and not take a month off,” Dwane Casey said of Davis over the weekend. “Our young guys are not 10- or 12-year vets who need a month to rest their bodies. He might need to take a few days off to recharge, but then he has to get right back into the gym and the weight room because we are going to be finished a lot quicker than these playoff teams so we are going to have a head start working with guys.”

Instead of fighting this idea, it appears Davis is onboard with the notion of dedicating his summer to working out and improving his game, far from the glare of the media or fans.

Kudos to Davis for being quick to admit he won’t have the luxury of taking a long vacation and embracing the offseason of hard work because I know I wouldn’t be excited about spending a five-month break from my job sweating through grueling workouts in empty gyms.

“It’s going to be real big,” Davis admitted when I asked him about how important this summer is to his development. “Once the season is over I’m going to take a week or two off, but after that I’m going to get right back at it. It’s a big offseason for me and I plan on taking advantage of it. To get stronger is my main goal. I need to put on some weight and muscle mass to be ready for next year.”

Davis has posted modest averages of 6.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game over his first two NBA seasons. Not bad numbers, but not great either. Clearly there’s plenty of room for growth in the 6-10 forward’s game.

Besides needing to add some extra pounds on his still-somewhat wiry frame, what many feel has hampered Davis’ adjustment to the NBA is the fact he has yet to have the benefit of a summer working directly with an NBA coaching staff. Davis had a wrist injury that prevented him from being able to develop his game prior to his rookie season. Last summer of course, the NBA lockout prevented Casey and the Raptors from working with him.

The inability to receive full instruction either summer clearly isn’t an ideal situation for any young player.

“We couldn’t touch him last summer due to the lockout and then we only had two weeks of training camp,” Casey lamented. “So basically, he hasn’t had a real, true NBA training camp. This summer and going into training camp are going to be big for him.”

What are the goals for this summer for Davis now that he will have full access to Toronto’s coaching staff?

Hitting the weight room and working on his free throws — not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but pivotal to him being able to bang down low against some of the larger post players in the NBA.

“This summer is going to be huge for him in regards to getting stronger in the weight room,” Casey explained. “He needs to get bigger. He needs to put the power into that power forward.”

Granted, this offseason is key in Davis development, but the coaching staff has taken noticed of his growth over the past few weeks.

“He has made a lot of progress the last two or three weeks,” Casey pointed out. “There’s a pep in his step. Offensively, he has a good feel. He’s got a nice little stroke on his jump shot. His free throws still need a lot of work, but coach Davis has been working a lot with him individually after practice. He has kind of put him under his arm. He has been doing it all year, but a little bit extra these last few weeks. Ed has responded and I’m really happy to see that.”

While Davis is shooting a high percentage from the field, there have been no delusions about his touch on the offensive end so far during his NBA career. Thanks to working with assistant coach Johnny Davis, he is finally able to refine his touch on the offensive end.

“It’s helping me out a lot just working on go-to moves,” the Raptors forward explained. “We’ve also worked on a couple of countermoves. By working with (Johnny Davis) it’s going to help me continue to get better on the offensive end. Working with him is (clearly) helping my game.”

Still, just because Davis has shown glimpses over the final few games of this season, it doesn’t mean he can take it easy once the season ends. Hopefully he is able to stick with the vision the coaches have for him so that he can have a big impact on the Raptors next season. While far from glorious or enjoyable, a summer of working hard in the gym is just what Davis needs his help his game progress to the next level.