So, my championship pick isn’t looking too good right now.
You could say that my contarian nature played a part in picking the Orlando Magic to win their first title a year after getting quickly dismissed in the conference finals by the Boston Celtics. But there was also some logic to it as well.
When it came to point differential, the Magic were the best team in the league last season. For the last three seasons, they’ve been one of a select few teams with the ability to play at an elite level on both ends of the floor. They ranked second in both offensive and defensive efficiency last year, and that was before Dwight Howard added some polish to his offensive game last summer.
But Howard’s first supporting cast had a disappointing start to this season. After Otis Smith shook things up with a pair of trades in December, Howard’s second supporting cast had a disappointing finish.
The Magic were still a dangerous team entering the playoffs (and that Magic-Bulls would have been a great series if the first round went differently), but they ran into a team that clearly had their number. As they get set for their third straight trip to the conference semifinals, the Atlanta Hawks have been outscored by 78 points by their opponents this season, but they won seven of their 10 games against the Magic.
Even if the San Antonio Spurs are eliminated by the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday or Sunday, I would argue that the Magic were the most disappointing team of the 2010-11 season. And not just because I picked them to win the title.
With Orlando’s season over, the speculation about whether or not Howard wants to seek out another supporting cast is picking up.
Howard seems like a loyal guy, but there’s no getting past the fact that the Magic have little flexibility when it comes to improving their roster. Over the next three seasons, they owe a total of $92 million to Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu. It’s likely that the only way they’re getting rid of either of those contracts is if they’re included in a Howard trade.
In the wake of Thursday’s loss, Magic GM Otis Smith made it clear to ESPN’s Michael Wallace that such a trade isn’t happening.
“We’re not trading him,” Smith told ESPN.com on Thursday regarding Howard. “You can print it wherever you want it, but it ain’t ever going to bed until he signs a contract extension or signs somewhere else.”
Smith said Howard has never given the Magic any indication that he wants to be anywhere other than Orlando. Because of that, Smith said, there is no circumstance under which he would consider entertaining trade offers that are certain to come this summer and leading up to next year’s trade deadline.
I asked Smith whether Howard has told him directly that he wants to remain the Magic’s cornerstone.
“Yeah, and he’s said it to you guys, too,” Smith said. “But it’s not enough [for the media]. It’s not enough until he signs. [The media] is going to talk about it, and everybody else is going to talk about it until we’re blue in the face, no matter what he says.”