It’s pretty unusual for a team that has won 59 games in consecutive seasons and sits 16-9 through 25 games this season to nuke their rotation and bring in three new players who will likely see major minutes during the remainder of the season, but that’s exactly what the Orlando Magic did this weekend.
They made two trades that dramatically reshape their roster. In one deal, they sent forward Rashard Lewis to the Washington Wizards for guard Gilbert Arenas. In the other, they sent reserve center Marcin Gortat and guards Mikael Pietrus and Vince Carter to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for guard Jason Richardson, swingman Hedo Turkoglu and reserve forward Earl Clark.
Before we look at the Magic’s end of the deal, let’s look at their trading partners. Their motives and results are simpler. For the Wizards, this is simply addition by subtraction. Arenas’s performance has ranged from expensive distraction to flat out embarrassment for the last three seasons. After he was suspended for bringing guns into the locker room last season, the Wizards drafted a player, John Wall, who plays Arenas’s primary position and does it better already. I’m sure the Wizards couldn’t wait to hit Arenas in the ass with the door. In return, they get Lewis, a 31 year old whose primary skill is knocking down three pointers. There are hoops fans in Cleveland who probably still have nightmares of Lewis burying their Cavaliers in 2009. Unfortunately Lewis hasn’t been the same marksman over the last season and change, so it’s hard to see the Wizards getting much as much in return as they simply lose by jettisoning Arenas and his baggage.
For Phoenix the deal was also simple, they get some size in the 6’11 Gortat. The Suns have struggled because they are getting destroyed inside (they are near the bottom of the league in rebounding). Gortat gives them presence in the paint. It allows them to move players like Robin Lopez and Channing Frye to their more natural spot at power forward. Their hopes of winning a title in the Steve Nash era are still faint but they have a bit more life now. The price of getting this size was to take on Carter and Pietrus, two players who have not performed well, but may benefit from Alvin Gentry’s uptempo system, and part with Turkoglu and Richardson.
Okay, now let’s look at it from Olrando’s perspective. They lose a valuable pivotman, but hey, they have Dwight Howard, one of the best in the game already. They lose two players who were not performing well in their system, Carter and Pietrus, and Lewis, who has probably peaked. In return, they get Richardson, who is playing very well and whose skill set is a good fit for the Orlando system (he’s an excellent catch and shoot marksman). Turkoglu’s return to Orlando will probably include a bit of revisionism about how the Magic never should have let him go, but he’s been in decline since 2008-09, his final season in royal blue. However, Turkoglu is hitting threes at a career best rate this season (42.3%), a skill well suited for the Orlando offense. Arenas was a borderline superstar in 2005-’06, but that’s four years, two knee surgeries and one suspension ago. Still he’s performing at a higher level than many Orlando perimeter players. The question is how Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy configures all of this talent. The smart move would be to start Ryan Anderson at power forward in place of Lewis. Anderson has excellent range from behind the arc and is a decent rebounder. Jameer Nelson remains the starter at point guard, and the Richardsons, Quentin and Jason fill the other perimeter spots. Arenas, Turkoglu and Brendan Bass become the main three players off of the bench.
I have no statistical proof that this will work but the Magic GM Otis Smith has made his team marginally younger and better at the cost of some payroll flexibility and a reserve center. It looks good on paper, the team was suffering due to poor outside shooting and these moves should remedy that, but it’s still really strange to see a team winning 72% of its games hit the panic button.