This weekend I had the pleasure of speaking with Orlando Pinstriped Post, specifically, my new friend Ajeeta Khanna (click HERE to follow her on twitter). Since the Mavs have yet to play the Magic this year, she was kind enough to answer all of my questions about her team!
1.) Currently 10th in the East, the Magic seem to be playing reasonably well for a team that no longer has Dwight Howard. Who's surprised you this season? Who's been a disappointment?
Since the landslide trade last summer, which essentially sent Dwight Howard to Los Angeles, a lot of critics were vocal and immediately wrote off Orlando Magic GM Rob Hennigan's moves, saying along the lines of, "Orlando got robbed in this deal; the fans should hate Hennigan for not getting Andrew Bynum" to "Hennigan sent treasure and received trash", or "He has no idea what he's doing - Hennigan's too young and arrogant to be a GM."
The Magic received five draft picks and a slate of young prospects. And then there's Vucevic who initially was sought to be a thrown-in piece in the four-team deal. Vucevic has been a bit of an eye-opener, at least to me. The Philadelphia 76ers selected Vucevic as the 16th pick in the 2011 draft, but didn't see much playing time in his tenure there. With Orlando however, the Montenegrin 7-footer is averaging 32 mpg and has flexed his ability to be a rebounding machine. Vucevic even surpassed a franchise record for most (29) rebounds in a regular season game just three weeks ago against the Miami Heat. It's a bit far-fetched to call him a star, however, he happens to be one of 12 NBA players averaging a double-double (11.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg). Vucevic may be a guy who gets the dirty work done, but he still has long road ahead to improve his defense.
Apart from Vucevic, I won't lie.., I had SOME higher expectations on Arron Afflalo. I knew from the beginning that Afflalo will be the Magic's leading scorer. Although he's averaging a career-high 17.5 ppg, he has been rather inefficient in accomplishing this feat. Another disappointment is Afflalo's 2.3 turnovers per game, which is much higher than what he averaged during his days in Denver. He's a solid player, but I wouldn't call him a go-to scorer for the years to come.
2.) Since we're at the half way mark of the season, what's been your favorite Magic moment this year?
Please check this box score, this one right here.
Mention any the details of this game to any die-hard Magic fans and they'll automatically know the storyline.
Dwight Howard got a taste of his own medicine at the free-throw line all thanks to head coach Jacque Vaughn for employing the Hack-A-Howard strategy in the fourth quarter.
How bittersweet it must have been to close a victory against their former teammate and now rival, Dwight Howard. For guys like Jameer Nelson, who was consistently thrown under the bus by Dwight Howard and was the subject of frequent trade talks for teams seeking a pass-first point guard; J.J. Redick, a deadly three-point shooter and potential candidate for sixth-man of the year, it seemed like things were finally coming together. Somehow Howard went behind Redick's back and requested former GM Otis Smith to ship Redick for Anthony Morrow (yeah, you read that right, Anthony Morrow); and even Glen 'Big Baby' Davis, a former rival who Dwight had once requested to be on his team, trade all of them for pieces to a team that would have been.
Each of them took it upon themselves to win in LA - especially Nelson who finished the night with 19 points, 13 assists and buried two critical three-pointers in crunch time. Afflalo gave the Magic solid wing play too- pouring in 30 points, five boards and assists.
I'm certain the Magic's front office was thrilled over this victory. It's a regular season game that made Magic fans feel as if Orlando won the Finals. Someday, they'll get the parade they deserve. Hopefully.
3.) Any trade chatter in Orlando worth talking about?
There have been talks about J.J. Redick in a trade scenario, and, believe it or not, even Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo have been mentioned. I'm not sure how much water these trade talks hold, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Redick in a different uniform by the trade deadline.
4.) What sort of things do you want to see the Magic improve on as we head into the second half of the season?
The team's defense has to step up big time. Even after 20-something games, Orlando's defense ranked in the top ten; now, it's sitting at 18.
One could argue that the time Glen Davis missed could have contributed to the Magic's plunge in defensive efficiency. Davis' size helped Orlando's interior defense by a surprisingly large margin. I don't have the stats handy on me as I'm typing away on my iPhone, but I do know that during Davis's injury, the Magic allowed their opponents to score at a high rate. Davis missed 10 or 11 games, so had it not been for that, I'm sure their defense wouldn't have dropped in the rankings so drastically. Regardless, it has to improve - the other night they allowed the Bobcats to shoot 59-percent in the first half, even with Glen Davis in the lineup. No excuses.
5.) Looking at the Magic salary situation, it seems the team has a lot of mid-tier money tied up in players both this season and next. What is the team's plan moving forward?
Without a question, I can tell GM Rob Hennigan has a vested interest in selecting players who don't just have a "win-all-or-nothing" mentality, but an interest in players who are passionate to play in Orlando and for the Magic franchise. It's going to be difficult to find players who possess a balance of those qualities; but moving forward the goal is obviously, like almost every generic answer, to have a championship-caliber team that plays an unselfish brand of basketball. It's going to take time, that's all I can pretty much say.
Thanks so much! Everyone be sure to visit Orlando Pinstriped Post prior to tonight' game! Normally, I'd get a preview up sometime before tonight's game, but I won't be able to today! Join us tonight for the game thread! See you there!