ORLANDO HAS THE RIGHT MAGIC

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The young Magic squad has been on a tear. Photo courtesy of fansided.com

The Orlando Magic keeps winning.

A team that was thought to still be in a rebuilding phase, is just 3 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, who owns the top spot. And with another convincing win against the New Orleans Pelicans on Dec. 28th, it’s safe to say that Orlando would stay in the hunt.

And they’re doing it offensively.

This is the fourth game Orlando has shot the ball over 50% from the field. Thanks in part due to the shake up on the lineups made by head coach Scott Skiles, putting Victor Oladipo coming in off the bench and starting Evan Fournier and Channing Frye, to provide shooting and adequate spacing, in which their ball movement has been much more vital due to the open lanes on the floor. They’re 7th in FG% in the league, shooting 47% making them one of the very efficient offenses in the game so far.

Victor Oladipo coming off the bench has been a positive thing for the Magic as well. Since moving to his 6th man role, he has become the primary ball handler in the second unit. His assists numbers are up from 3.6 to 4.3 since the move, and his +/- went to 4.6, a big jump to a -2.9 while he was starting. And while he’s still not shooting the ball well, 40% from the field is an upgrade over his 37% rate as a starter. The Magic’s big surge has started when he moved to the bench. Oladipo, coming in as a sub, improved from 99.2 to a 104.5 in ORTG, and posting an impressive 96.1 DRTG, big upgrade over 104.5 as a starter. He has changed the way the Magic has been playing since the move.

Another factor has been Nikola Vucevic, who has been playing well of late. In his last 10 games, he once again looks like a guy who has been snubbed of an All-Star bid, averaging 20.9 points, 8.3 rebound, 3.6 assists and shooting an impressive 57%. The abundance of floor spacing has given Vucevic a ton of room to work on the post, in which he has been excelling, making 59% of his shots from the rim and out to 10 feet.

The offense has been the key. With 5 players averaging double figures in points per game, their attack is well balanced. They’re also in the top 10 in the league in assists, as evidenced by their ball movement.

The Magic has been one of the big surprise this season, and with a steady improvement of still a  very young core, they could be looking at being very successful very early.

LET’S PLAY THE “TRADE DWIGHT HOWARD” GAME.

Commentary:

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Who wants Dwight? Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports

This will be the first time in Up and In where I will be speaking in first person, and I’ll make sure this is going to be fun.

I love NBA trades. I love talking about it, I love reading about it. I love coming up with ideas about trading someone to somebody. With Dwight Howard being in the center of trade rumors, it got my armchair GM blood pumping.

In an article by Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops (link right here), it was mentioned that Houston Rockets’ Center Dwight Howard is unhappy about being the second fiddle to James Harden. Also on a piece on ESPN (linked here), it was stated that Howard is also unhappy about the losing. With these circling around, rumors have been heavy about Howard asking for a trade, in which was denied by him, according to sources (according to the same ESPN article), but could be a free agent this summer by declining his Player Option.

So far, Howard is averaging 12.3 points per game this season, on a Rockets team that has been all but disappointing so far, . Those twelve points are coming in on 8.3 shots per game, ties his career low that he posted during his rookie year, so the idea that he’s unhappy being the second fiddle has a ton of merit.

Here’s the problem with Dwight though, at 30 years old, with a huge salary and a player option for next year, it could be really difficult to find a trade partner for Houston to unload Howard. Now, add to it that he can opt out this year, the task has gotten into ultra hard mode, as chances are teams who would trade for him might end up just having him for half a season. But regardless, we have a player who’s being rumored that wants out and could be traded, why not find a trade that could work?

Two trade proposals have been mentioned by known NBA writers. Let’s dissect them and see if it makes sense.

Miami Heat:

In the same article, Chris Sheridan suggested Miami is the good place to trade Dwight Howard. He mentioned that he could be the alpha dog in that team, and Miami would have the pieces to entice Houston for a switch. He had two proposed ideas.

This.

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And this.

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Basically, the two main pieces that would move would be Howard and Hassan Whiteside, a player who Miami is also having problems with trying to keep him. But here’s the concern, both trades involve rookie Justise Winslow and Luol Deng.

Now, set aside for a second the idea that Dwight Howard is a better Center option than Whiteside (both can impact the game defensively, both can’t hit Free Throws, both kill spacing), but Miami would have to give up both their Small Forwards in this deal. If this pushes thru, they’d end up having Gerald Green at the 3, a decent player in that spot, but no where close as good a defender as Winslow or even Deng in his declined state. Does Miami trust Howard’s defensive impact that much that they would be okay giving up both their reliable SF’s?t

Also, with Wade and Bosh on the team, does Miami really need an alpha dog in the middle? Hassan holds his own defensively, which is what Howard’s main strength coming in, so why give up Winslow for basically close the the same player?

Washington Wizards:

Another trade idea that surfaced was from Bill Simmons. In his Twitter account, he suggested that the Washington Wizards should go for Dwight, in exchange for Marcin Gortat, Nene’s expiring contract and a 1st round pick. Now while this makes sense, as the Wiz needs an upgrade in defense, the risk would be Howard staying. Unlike Miami, the Wizards are not a guarantee to make the Finals even with Dwight in the lineup, and the chances of him opting out and leaving for better pastures could be likely. Basically, this could end up with Washington paying Houston a 1st round pick for a Dwight Howard rental.

And, if we want to go more deeper, it would also face problems if he stays. If he picks up his Player Option, then there goes the chance on Kevin Durant going home.

Dwight Howard would be a welcoming upgrade for the Wizards. But unless they win the Championship this year, it’s highly unlikely he stays.

So, we broke down the media suggested trades. There could be more out there I haven’t read, but let’s just do that two for now. Now, are there other trade scenarios? Something that could make sense? Something that could work for both teams?

Well, maybe I got a few ideas…

New York Knicks:

This could be very interesting here. A package of Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams and Kevin Seraphin will work salary wise to get Dwight Howard. The Knicks may need to add a first round pick here, but they could easily leverage Houston into the deal due to Howard’s contract length and opt out ability.

This works for the Rockets as they get a Center who may not be as good as Dwight, but a solid player all around,  a better FT shooter and a guy who would not ask for a lot of touches of the ball (perfect for a James Harden ISO heavy system).

The Knicks, meanwhile, would be a good place for Howard to be the alpha dog, even with Carmelo Anthony in the team. What also makes this enticing is that rookie Kristaps Porzingis is the perfect big man tandem for Dwight, as he is a three point shooting threat, stretching the floor for Howard to be able to work down low.

For Houston, an unhappy Howard that possibly would move on after this year, Robin Lopez and a 1st round pick would not be a bad return.

As for New York, a Howard – Porzingis – Anthony – Afflalo core could make noise in the East, a lot of noise. Yeah, that looks like a team right there.

Phoenix Suns:

This works exactly like how it would with New York. Phoenix could trade Tyson Chandler, Mirza Teletovic and a 1st round pick (Phoenix has their own and Cleveland’s via Boston, which is protected 11-30, so yeah, that’s going to convey).

Houston gets a stretch 4 they’re looking for in Teletovic, and a replacement defensive specialist big in Tyson Chandler. Only concern here is Chandler is locked up for 3 more years after this season, and he’s on the wrong side of 30. But then again, with the cap rising, $13 million a year for 3 more years should not be that much of a burden.

Howard could be the alpha in Phoenix and there’s enough shooting in that squad to provide him a lane he can make work on. He would have PG’s who can get him the ball too with the Suns. Those touches he’s been wanting to have in Houston this year, that’s coming in Phoenix. And there’s plenty of help with Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe to form a core trio that could definitely contend for a post season berth.

But as with most of these trades, the problem relies on Howard and his Player Option. Would Phoenix be willing to pay a 1st round pick knowing that Dwight can leave at the end of the year?

Boston Celtics:

The package would be David Lee’s expiring contract, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller and a first round pick that’s not Brooklyn’s 2016 (hell no).

This is going to be a very good trade for Houston. They get a draft pick, a young player who could be really good moving forward, a player who plays a the same position as the player leaving, and an expiring contract to free up room to be able to sign players next year, which also happens to be a good player on his own too. That’s going to be a very good haul for Dwight.

So why do this for the Celtics? Well, Dwight is looking to be the man, the Celtics need a man. Perfect match, assuming Dwight would be willing to BE the man. Kelly Olynyk and even to some extent Amir Johnson can hit three’s, which gives Howard a lot of breathing room down low. He can get most of the shots, and Brad Stevens has shown he can put players in situations where they would be successful, he can surely come up with a system than benefits Howard’s inside presence.

Also, just for a second, look at this potential lineup.

Smart – Bradley – Crowder – Johnson – Howard.

That’s a heck of a defensive lineup. Howard can still make a tremendous impact defensively, patrolling the lane, cleaning up the boards and altering shots, and he will be surrounded with 3 excellent perimeter defenders and running mate on the front court who’s also good enough to help protect the rim.

This is somewhat personal to me. I thought Dwight Howard is not someone you build around with. Very limited offensively, doesn’t show up in the 4th quarter, and could easily become a whining diva in the locker room. But the more I think about this, the more I’m being convinced this is going to be good for my Celtics (yes, I called them MY Celtics, now you know).

Los Angeles Lakers:

Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams for Dwight Howard, Marcus Thornton, and a 2nd round pick. You know, just to piss him off for acting out too much. But hey, if he just waits half a year more, Kobe will retire, and no one will torment him. He’ll finally be the man in LA.

(this part is satire, alright?)

In any case. Houston is facing a tough situation with Dwight. He’s not happy, and he could leave next year. Maybe it’s time to consider moving him, regardless if he asks for a trade or not.

 

TRUST THE PROCESS, PHILLY. WHATEVER THAT WILL BE.

Commentary:

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There could either be new hope or at least one more year of terrible basketball for the Sixers. Photo courtesy of Philly.com

The Philadelphia 76ers hired Jerry Colangelo to become Chairman of Basketball Operations and on Monday, signalling what could be a change in the Philadelphia 76ers’ philosophy in managing and running the franchise when it comes to the product on the court. Sam Hinkie, the architect of what should just be known as The Process (a three year tank job in the hopes to land a franchise type player in the draft) is still going to remain the GM of the team, but with Colangelo on board as the Chairman and Special Advisor to owner Josh Harris, The Process might be on the verge of being altered.

By the way, do you know this guy Ben Simmons? He’s really good.

The Sixers have been awful for the last three years, and on purpose. The idea of losing and get rewarded in the NBA is being taken advantage, fully, by Sam Hinkie and Philadelphia. Unfortunately for them, they have struck out three times they tried it so far. While Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel are not bad consolation prizes for being horrible, they haven’t found that person. That player that they think all this losing is worth for. It remains to be seen as to what they have with Joel Embiid (who came in potentially as the closest thing the Sixers wanted as the result of The Process) and Dario Saric, but so far, that guy, that franchise type player guy they are looking for, and doing this philosophy for, hasn’t arrived yet.

Seriously. Check him out. 6’10”, 225 lbs. Can play either Forward positions. Very skilled. His game is well advanced for his age. Has the passing instincts of LeBron, and the scoring mentality with the best of them. He’s special.

Technically speaking, it sounds smart to, in a way, buck the system. Why not? The bad teams have the higher chance of getting the best young prospects that are coming out, it’s a very cost effective way of rebuilding. But what it doesn’t account for is the negative effects of losing, and is something that either Hinkie knew coming in or didn’t. The fan base have been alienated. Attendance have dropped. Most of the fans have lost interest. The Sixers have been a laughing stock in the league, has been a symbol of atrocity. And while it hasn’t been very evident, there’s a big effect on the players as well. Guys carry with them every loss, as they are competitive. Morale is at it’s lowest point, and most are playing with the uncertainty of being cut or traded, so focus could also be missing. The entire Jahlil Okafor incident, in which he had brushes with the law could be triggered by the fact that he never lost as much in his life than now.   The Sixers, because of The Process, are now being associated with mediocrity, losing and being terrible, breaking the worst records possible in the process. Gone are the days where if people mentions Philly, they think Dr. J or Moses Malone or Allen Iverson, instead, tanking is they first thing that comes to mind. And for fans, and players, it’s easy to figure out why it could be frustrating.

Ben Simmons is averaging 19 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists on 53% shooting this year. His FRESHMAN year. At one point he had a game where he only had 4 points, but grabbed 14 rebounds and dished 10 assists, blocked 3 shots and had 3 steals. Heck, he had a game where he posted 43/14/7 on 75% shooting. That hasn’t been done by a college basketball player in 20 years. You have to see this kid. You have to. You don’t want to miss whatever he’s going to do next.

 

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Jerry Colangelo hired on December 7th as Chairman of Basketball Operations. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Jerry Colangelo coming in should suggest changes, maybe big changes. This is a guy who has a no nonsense approach, and has been part in many successful teams in the NBA, including the 1992 Phoenix Suns that traded for Charles Barkley, and reached the Finals, and won four Executive of the Year awards withing the Suns organization. The Sixers hired a man who knows how to build a winning team. He’s going to be in the ear of the Sixers management, telling them what should be done, and for good reasons. He is a very good, very experienced basketball mind, and one would say a great hire, finally, for the organization to now get out of this disastrous situation they have been stuck with for years.

Ben Simmons is being compared to LeBron James. LeBron FREAKING James. No college player has had that comparison since. He’s got the physical tools, the basketball IQ, the competitiveness. The potential is sky high. This kid could turn out to be really, really good, if not all time great.

Now there’s a contrast, with Hinkie’s process and Colangelo’s no non-sense take of the game. The Colangelo hiring pretty much suggests that Philadelphia is going to move to a new approach. One that doesn’t involve sucking. His track record of success could be very exciting for Philly and it’s fans, and there’s a sense of optimism now with Colangelo on board, with his history of being able to build great teams. Changes could be swift. Philadelphia has a ton of picks that they can offer for trade to get more established talent, if they so choose to go that approach.

The contrast is Hinkie’s idea could never be more important, more vital, and absolutely makes a ton of sense. Ben Simmons is coming to the NBA, and he’s as good a prospect as Kevin Durant was, maybe better. He’s the kind of kid teams would absolutely love to have, and Hinkie’s process put the Sixers, once again, in prime position to land him. Now more than ever the Process is going to be very vital moving forward. Okafor is looking like at worst, he could be a starter in this league. Nerlens Noel is showing he could be elite defensively. Hopes are still high on Embiid as he recuperates, and Dario Saric is still an enigma, a positive enigma. Adding Ben Simmons to that very young core will put the Sixers to be all set to go in the next 10-15 years, either via developing their talent or trading them for more established personnel to add to Simmons. But for the Sixeers to land him, they have to be, once again, in the bottom of the standings. It’s not a guarantee to get the #1 pick, and Philadelphia knows that, but this is the time, now more than ever, to be in the running for it.

Jerry Colangelo has built good teams, contending teams. He’s great. But seriously, Ben Simmons. BEN SIMMONS. He could be the franchise altering player that the Sixers are looking for. He’s going to be the #1 pick. Are you sure you don’t want to be in contention to get him?

In any case, there is going to be a process in Philadelphia. Either a new approach or the old ideology, the thing that’s certain is Philly will not have to suffer from this anymore. Well, maybe just a little bit more, but that should be it.

Happy birthday, Mike Esquibel.