|Is Orlando a team on the way up or down? I'm not sure that I
know anymore. Their co-net GM's are:
Uncle Vasya and Tom McGuigan
Current Team Status, and Possible Off-season Moves. Center: It's a miracle that things are as good as they are at center for Orlando. After Shaquille O'Neal signed with the Lakers, Orlando was left far over the cap and their starting center was Jon (no-knee) Koncak. Somehow, John Gabriel managed to acquire Rony Seikaly by giving up Koncak (who may never play again) Donald Royal, Brooks Thompson, and a first round pick. Moreover, Seikaly waived the final two years of his contract, which now expires after the 97-98 season. Seikaly has his limitations, especially on defense but he came in and played hard, averaging 17 pts and 9.5 rbs per game. I+d like to see the Magic move Seikaly away from the basket. His best asset is his ability to move. If Orlando ran him more, opposing centers might not have as much energy available to punish him by posting him up. It also would clear the paint for Penny and (I hope) Nick Anderson to slash. The situation at back-up center is more problematic. David Vaughn showed some early flashes and then, after Seikaly was acquired, reverted to his last season's level. He has the physical skills, but not the mental focus nor the desire (if only we could transplant Strong's brain into Vaughn' s body). He has one year left on his contract - I predict it will be his last, and most of it will be spent on IR. Danny Schayes can still give you some help when you need finesse at the 5. But he, like Jeff Turner in previous seasons at power forward, is not an enforcer. And Orlando desperately needs an enforcer. Schayes will be a free-agent this summer. Orlando probably will offer him the league minimum raise, but won't compete if he gets a better offer from another team. Power forward: Horace Grant continues to be one of the best role-player PF's in the game. He may not be flashy, but rarely is he out of position, rarely does he miss an assignment, rarely does he make a mistake on the floor. I wish every magic player's game was as fundamentally sound. He averaged 12.6 points and 9 rebounds when he played. The problem - he only played in 67 games last season, and we need him for 82. Not having to split time at center with Derek Strong when Seikaly is out of the game would help enormously. This team should have had 4, if not 5 healthy bodies to cover the PF and C spots. For most of the year they had 3 or fewer. Shoring up this gap will be a focus this summer. Grant just signed a new five-year contract. For the first time the Magic had an effective back-up PF. Derek Strong signed to a one-year league minimum contract and made the Lakers sorry they let him go. Strong worked hard, rebounded, and played hard-nosed defense at both the 4 and 5 spots. Orlando would love to see him return, but they can offer him only a 20% raise, so he may be gone. Amal McCaskill was a non-factor. Small Forward: Last season, Dennis Scott had his best season as a pro, showing us what he could do if he put his mind to it. This season he showed us he didn't really feel like putting his mind to it. He was overweight most of the year, and played without fire when he did play. Many are calling for Orlando to trade him. John Gabriel would like to but probably won't be able to. Scott will be a free-agent after next season - his only upside at this point. It would be a miracle if the team could find a trade that didn't involve taking on a long-term contract. So, Dennis will have another chance - but it will be his last. Either we see a 95-96 type season from Scott or we see his last season in Magic pinstripes. Brian Evans - who? An injury kept him from playing until mid-season. He never got any time after that. I hope he shows something in the summer leagues. He could be a valuable niche player with the 3pt line moving out next season. The only silver-lining in all of this was Nick Anderson's play at SF. Anderson historically has been afraid to play against SF's. At SG, he is used to exploiting his strength advantage against opponents who, for the most part, are smaller than he is. In previous years, when he was asked to play against SF's he was not able to shift his game to exploit a speed advantage. This began to change this season. Forced to play the position, Anderson at least defended all comers effectively. Shooting Guard: One of Chuck Daly's biggest tasks this summer is going to be the resurrection of Nick Anderson. Anderson's offensive game disintegrated - we're talking total meltdown. There are three rays of sunshine, however. First, Nick's defensive game is still strong - so there is something to build on. Second, if Anderson is moved to SF, and given Penny's explosion in the playoffs playing SG that seems very likely, you'll want him to learn a new game. That will be a lot easier now. Finally, Gabe won't have to worry about a big contract wrecking his plan to get under the cap next summer. Anderson's contract is up. I expect he will re-sign with the Magic. At back-up, Gerald Wilkins was a very pleasant surprise; more than worth the league minimum he got paid. He, too, may get a better offer elsewhere than Orlando can make. Orlando is more likely to be able to retain Wilkins than Strong, though. His fg% (42.6%) and age might keep the bidding from getting out of hand. Point Guard: Penny had a sub-par season. Early injuries and a premature return hurt him. A simmering conflict with Brian Hill didn't help. The year ended on an up note: His play against Miami in the last three play-off games was nothing less than spectacular. It wasn't lost on Chuck Daly, who will push Penny hard if necessary (and it probably won't be) to play at that level consistently. Orlando will be looking to move Penny to SG, if at all possible. I expect a return to 1st team All-NBA status next season. Penny's primary back-up was Brian Shaw. He continues to be a strong defender. A poor fg% and too many turnovers continue to make it impossible to make him the starting PG. He has one year remaining on his contract. Next summer, he will in all likelihood be sacrificed to create room under the salary cap. Darrell Armstrong broke out in the playoffs. As a result, there has been an outcry to make him the starting PG next season. My question is: why didn't I see his playoff game during the regular season? His fg% in the regular season (38.3%!) was abysmal, and he had more turnovers than assists. He may get the nod as starter - but only if he earns it with his play in the summer leagues. Here again, Daly has to find a way to inspire Armstrong to show us his "Miami" game every day. Coach: Chuck Daly's contract is for two years with an option for a third. I hope we get all three. I doubt we can expect more. Which will leave Orlando with three choices: make another run at Phil Jackson, name Dr. J head coach, or give the job to one of Daly+s assistants. Brendan Suhr already has agreed to rejoin Daly. There are reports circulating that Tree Rollins will be kept on. I hope Daly also hires Dennis Johnson, who did a great job under very trying circumstances up in Boston. I don+t know why Pitino let him go. I hope Daly takes advantage. Getting Dr. J to join the management team was a coup. Summary: Orlando+s biggest needs are a starting PG and back-up help at PF/C. We+re not going to get a PG who can play starter+s minutes with the 17th pick, so I expect Orlando will simply be looking to take the best player available. The biggest questions facing Orlando this summer are: Who is going to be our starting PG? Do we trade Nick Anderson? Do we trade Dennis Scott? A trade involving Nick Anderson is a possibility, particularly if we see him signed to a long-term contract (which would effectively scuttle Orlando's chances of being able to sign a major FA next summer). A trade involving Dennis Scott would be welcome, but I don't see it happening. Only a trade involving Penny is out of the question. Orlando will be pushing hard to land a starting PG (unless Armstrong proves early on that he can be consistent over 82 games) and more muscle at the 4/5 spots. Free-agents the Magic might pursue include: PG's - Eldridge Recasner, Howard Eisley, Joe Dumars (who would come only as a personal favor to Daly), Greg Anthony. None of these (except Dumars) could be counted on to be a starter long-term. They might be able to help a team through one year (look at Matt Maloney). In the next draft we have the rights to Golden State+s pick, which should be a lottery pick. PF/C's - Andrew DeClerq, Othella Harrington, Travis Knight, Antoine Carr. The big push will happen next summer. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Orlando's selection: Danny Fortson, PF, 6-7, Cincinnati We know he+s a tweener. We know he has no hops. But he+s mean; he+s not afraid to mix it up in the low blocks; and his work ethic is stellar. At worst he+ll be a very capable back-up. He could be a lot more than that. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Who else we considered: The only other player we considered was Jacque Vaughn. If Orlando is very lucky, Vaughn will still be available at 17 in the real draft. We simply think Fortson is better. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Who the team will probably take: Orlando hasn+t brought anyone in for workouts yet. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Austin Croshere and Bobby Jackson will be given workouts, so I would make them the early favorites. The Magic may also be looking to package their pick this year, Golden State+s pick next year (very likely to be a high lottery pick) and a player (most likely Rony Seikaly) or players to move up into position to get either Daniels or Billups. Barring that, they could also try to package the pick in a trade, probably for a PG to take over for Penny. They won+t want to get saddled with a guaranteed three year rookie contract unless they feel very strongly that they have been (or will be) able to draft a real contributor (unlike Vaughn or Evans). Both Fortson and Vaughn fit that description.
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