No. The Magic are not crazy. (Post is long. Bring snacks.)

Hey there. I usually do posts about the Pistons all the time over in /r/detroitpistons, but its a pretty slow time right now, and I wanted to do a post about the Magic, so here it is lol. 

 

FULL DISCLAIMER: I am a Pistons fan first. I watch all the teams on League pass and watch any games teams play against the Pistons (including the Magic obviously) but I am not a super fan of the Magic by any stretch. I have done enough prep for this that I hope I don't end up saying something totally wrong or generally talking out of my ass, but it is certainly possible. If I do such a thing, just say so and I will correct it lol. 

Also, just to be clear, I am kind of playing devils advocate here in a way. I don't really like a lot of what the Magic have done this offseason, but this post is more so in response to all the people who are so confounded by it. Just because I don't think they are the right moves doesn't mean they make no sense. They do make sense, they just are not the ones I would've made.

LASTLY AND MOST IMPORTANT PLZ GOODNESS. I am going to say some unkind things about some players. There are no perfect basketball players. You can pick apart anyones game. It does not mean I hate Victor Oladipo or whatever. I'm just saying what I see. If you disagree, then say so. So yeah, here goes.

 

So why are the Magic not crazy? Everyone is making fun of them for being crazy?

Last season's mark of 35 wins was their highest total since Dwight Howard left in the summer of 2012. Zach Lowe has said several times that this is what can happen when you don't manage to land a foundational star. The Magic have had lots of players that everyone "likes" and yet they can't manage to actually win anything. They have not really had an identity, and while I suppose most people would say that Gucci Mane has been the de facto top dog on the team, it is not really that clear cut. Simply put, the Magic looked to be in NBA hell, with no superstar to carry the team, and no great identity/team culture to overcome the lack of a superstar. The front office decided that they didn't want to be in that spot anymore, and that the previous core of players did not cut it. So it needed a shake up. By getting Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyambo, and Frank Vogal, (not to mention Elfrid Peyton) combined with Aaron Gordon figuring to be in the starting lineup full time now, they have the right pieces to have a real identity of a team that plays defense like crazy, and grinds out wins. Will it work? We will see. But there is definitely a method to what they are doing. Now onto the actual basketball stuff.

 

The Ibaka/Olidipo Trade:

Just in case you've been out of the loop, the trade was Ilyasova, Oladipo, and Sabonis (which in essence could be said just their 2016 first round pick because they drafted Sabonis for the Thunder.) in exchange for Serge Ibaka. 

Immediately after this trade, everyone exclaimed what a steal it was for the Thunder, and wondered WTF the Magic were doing. 

 

So, um, what were they doing?

Well, the first mistake everyone who instantly declared this trade a steal for the Thunder is the big name overratedness. (totally a word. I don't care what spell check says. I'm not a part of this system.) If Oladipo (and you can throw Tobias Harris in this one as well) was as good as a lot of people have acted, then the Magic would have maybe made the playoffs in a fairly weak Eastern Conference. A lot has been made of what a incredible defender Oladipo is, which is mostly true, he is a very good defender. But he has a problem, it is what I call "KCP Syndrome" (once again, Pistons fan) which essentially means, he is a wonderful defender, but he is not able to be a true game changer on the defensive end. There are really two ways that you can be a true game changer defensively, the first is to be an elite defensive big (mostly rim protection, but in todays NBA, being able to switch with some credibility is also important) because big men are simply more important than guards on defense. The second way is to be a Kawhi Leondard type who can guard the opposing teams best player regardless of position every night, (and once again, size matters. Rebounding is an important part of defense.) And as good as Oladipo is, he is not really big enough to take on the big wing scorers of the NBA, and he is obviously not doing any sort of rim protection or other big men duties. (Although he is strong enough to at least hang with bigger SGs like Jimmy Butler, which is more than KCP can say.) The reason I call this a Syndrome is because it can be so hard for people to separate a guy who is a really good defender, from how much he actually helps to make you a better defensive team. If you don't believe that guards don't impact defense that much, remember that the Spurs and Hawks were the best 2 defensive teams in basketball last season, and they had Tony Parker and Jeff Teague for starting PGs respectively. Meanwhile, the Magic had Peyton and Oladipo for a backcourt, and were mediocre defensively. 

Offensively Oladipo is a guy who can put the ball in the bucket, but not terribly efficiently. (Certainly not bad, just, certainly not great.) With shaky shooting and facilitating. His shooting (and offense in general) has taken little upticks each season, but as of now, he is still just a alright offensive player.

Essentially, a lot of people are acting as though the Thunder got a star in Oladipo, where the reality is that he is a pretty good player who does good things on both ends of the floor, but is lacking in true game changing skills as of now. He certainly could continue to improve his offense to the point that he is a star 2 way player. But he is 24, and he seems more likely to top out as a solid 3rd or killer 4th player on a team. Essentially a step above being a role player. Which once again, is fine, and he should do well with the Thunder. 

Beyond the fact that the plebeians of the sports world seem to overrate Oladipo, is that of all the young guys the Magic have, Oladipo probably makes the most sense to let go. Mario Hezonja is probably best as a shooting guard, and moving Oladipo will open some more minutes for him. (And after a quiet rookie year in a year with so many big rookie seasons. People are already forgetting how much potential that guy has.) And Evan Fournier is probably (IMHO) best as a SG as well. And unlike Oladipo, both Fournier and Hezonja have more positional flexibility. (and if you want another thing that so many people don't seem to realize. Is that Fournier is probably better than Oladipo.) With Oladipo likely searching for a max contract after next season, and with 2 other guys on the team who can play his position who are more versatile, he was the most sensible one to move. 

Another thing to keep in mind from that so many people seem to have just ignored for some reason is that following the trade, the Thunder theoretical starting lineup is: Westbrook, Oladipo, Roberson, Ilyasova, and Adams. That is a lineup with 1 good shooter, 2 non shooters, and 2 iffy shooters. The Thunder roster has some serious issues they will have to work through. (And an underplayed thing for next year will be how Westbrook does without the great spacing that was mostly afforded him by playing with Ibaka and Durant. His drives might not be quite as terrifying with really crowded lanes.)

 

Ok, so maybe losing Oladipo isn't that big a deal. But why Ibaka?

Lost in everything that happened with the Thunder last year, is that Serge Ibaka is really good. He saw his role diminished a bit with the arrival of Enes Kanter, which combined with Steven Adams really coming into his own as a player, Ibaka fell into a sort of "Cleveland Love" mode. Where several of the things he did best were covered just fine by other guys, so the team asked him to move out of his comfort zone. 

Adams really coming into his own as a defender and particularly as a rim protector meant that the Thunder needed Ibaka's own rim protection a lot less, so they were more willing to move him away from the hoop on defense, while on the other end, Adams rolling to the hoop alongside Russell Westbrook became a lethal combo, one that was quite possibly the Thunder's best offensive weapon last year. But to make it so leathal, they needed everyone else to become spot up shooters. Ibaka could do that, so they had him do that. However, when switched around, Adams can't shoot at all. So Ibaka saw fewer pick and rolls as the roll man, something he is really good at, simply because it was not as effective because the Thunder didn't have another effective stretch 4. (Other than going small with Serge at the 5 and Durant at the 4. Which remember, was hugely effective against the Warriors in the Playoffs.)

Kanter pushed Ibaka away from one of his main feeding grounds as well. That is, mooching off of Westbrook and Durant with offensive rebounds and easy (short range) spot up looks and dunks. Ibaka had his worst offensive rebounding season of his career last year, after generally being a very solid one before Kanter's arrival. 

Essentially, starting last season, the Thunder suddenly found themselves with 2 other very talented bigs, but neither of them could stretch their games in the same way Ibaka could, so Ibaka was forced to change for the good of the team, while Kanter and Adams got to stay in their lanes. The lanes that Ibaka used to dominate. 

With the Magic, Ibaka should be able to get back into some of those areas. Playing alongside Vucevic will give him plenty of rim protecting opportunities. (more on this later) And Vucevic can actually shoot, and also is not a great roll man, so Ibaka should be able to spend more time around the basket and as a cleanup guy. While still being able to make good use of his skills as a shooter and perimeter defender. 

One other thing that is an angle to the Ibaka trade that I haven't seen many people talk about is that it can almost be seen as a test for Vucevic. For years now, defenders of Vucevic (which includes me) have said that he can work if he could get a guy next to him who could protect the rim and generally play defense like crazy. Ibaka is literally the exact guy that Vucevic should need, throw in that Aaron Gordon will be playing SF (probably) most of the time, and Vuc will actually be playing with a pair of forwards who are super athletes who play defense like maniacs. Throw in again that Peyton is a good defender at PG and Fournier is not a bad one. (I admit, I don't have a good grasp of his defense. Defense is something that you have to watch really closely for on a player, and I just haven't done that with him. Whenever I watched the Magic he never really stood out to me either way on defense though.) And if the Magic are still a mediocre defensive team, and/or just not good with Vuc in the starting lineup, then that would probably mean the end of Vuci Mane as the essential head dog of the team. Fortunately for the Magic, if he does prove to just not be able to play enough defense to be a good starter, with the new cap his contract is small enough that he can be a 6th man and it would work fine. (as long as he was willing to take on that role at least.)

 

But do you really want to give Serge Ibaka a max contract?

I mean, I wouldn't. Just because I don't think he is good enough a player for it. He's really good, but I wouldn't give a max contract to anyone except a franchise cornerstone type player. Which I don't really think he is. HOWEVA, I would like to remind everyone, that Oladipo is likely to recieve a max contract (although his will be smaller than what Ibaka can get) and I think I would really rather give a max to Ibaka than Oladipo. The big question there is actually Ibaka's age. IT is a bit overplayed, but when considering if you are about to give a guy a 4 or 5 year extension, even a year or 2 off (something that it could be a total accident, as in, As far as anyone knows, Serge is actually 26 but is actually 28) matters. Because if he is actually 26, you give him a 5 year deal without question. You get him through his prime and he comes off the contract just as he (theoretically) starts to decline. But if he were to actually be 28. Then you will be getting the start of his decline. 

On the plus side, if the things I've pointed out already prove to be true, and moving back closer to the basket and to the things he thrives at do indeed signal a return to form for Ibaka, combined with him getting a bigger role and spreading his wings a bit to really excel, and he could be absolutely worth it. 

 

What about the Tobias Trade last season?

This is harder to defend for one reason, and it's that they sold very low on Tobias. Letting Tobias go is a move that made plenty of sense, for many of the same reasons that letting Oladipo go made sense. But the difference is that Tobias is on a very decent contract and they essentially dumped him for cap space. Even though Ersan was a part of the Ibaka trade, its probably fair to say that if the Magic didn't have Ersan they probably can still get that trade done.  The reason that selling so low makes it hard to defend is that they simply didn't need to dump him at that point. They could have gotten a deal like that at almost any time I think. Particularly once teams saw some of the contracts that were given out this offseason. It is unfair to say that "they dumped Tobias so that they could sign Jeff Green" because Green is only signed for 1 season, because once again, they want to have cap space for next offseason. And that is, once again, why selling so low on Tobias is hard to defend. If offers on par with what the Pistons were offering was really the best they could get, then they could have just held onto him. If they had found someone who was worth opening up the extra ~15 million for they could've dumped Tobias then, and if it turned out like it did, they keep him for another year and maybe get something better.

HOWEVA, just to be clear, them not maximizing their leverage was the mistake there, not giving up Harris. As much as I love him in Detroit and think he is a really good player, he didn't have a very clear fit in Orlando and was taking minutes from a younger guy who they are deciding to put more faith in with Aaron Gordon. Really all the same logic with Oladipo applies to Tobias, the only difference being that Tobias isn't about to make over 20 million per year. And I would once again like to remind everyone (including Pistons fans) that if Tobias was as good as some people would have you think, the Magic would have won a lot more games while he was there. 

One last angle that is not so good with that trade is that it supposedly was done at least partially to appease Scott Skiles, who then resigned at the end of the season. And regardless of everything else, it is not a great look to dump a player at the advice of a guy who then quits shortly after. 

 

What about Jodie Meeks? Like wtf? Are they trying to repay SVG for firing him?

We will see if he is healthy or not. He just had another surgery a bit ago, but the reality is that they gave up damn near nothing for him and he is only making 6.5 million for 1 year. So there is not exactly a lot of risk for the Magic. And the thing is that if he is actually healthy, Jodie Meeks is a good player. He can shoot, draws tons of fouls (and is an excellent foul shooter), and plays hard on defense. And given the potential problems the Magic are looking at with spacing the floor, and having another guy who can really shoot the ball could be a pretty big deal. But once again, even if he never plays a game, they didn't really lose anything.

 

What are they going to do about the Center spot though? They've got a combined nearly 29 million invested into 2 centers, and Ibaka is likely to at least get some experimental time there.

I don't know how I feel about paying your backup 17 million obviously, HOWEVA, there are a few things to keep in mind. First is that I think that people are kind of overplaying the Ibaka at center thing. He can play some minutes there, and they should probably try it occasionally. But Ibaka at center is a counter to small ball teams that Vuc can't hang with, not a regular thing. The second thing to keep in mind, is that Vuc has enough shooting touch to also (theoretically) play alongside Biyambo occasionally. (There are obviously matchups where it would not work defensively, and it might not work well in any matchups, but in theory they could do it.) Plus, it gives them a great ying and yang flexibility for their center spot. Vuc adds a scoring and passing punch that will likely be desperately needed on the Magic. But they can also swap Biyambo in to play alongside Ibaka and Gordon, in a lineup that would defend and rebound like crazy. (They would have to, because I don't know who the hell is going to score, but still.) The other thing about Biyambo's contract, is that, as I noted earlier, Vuc's contract is now small enough for him to not even be a starter, which means that they get to spend extra on the backup. (or potentially just have them switched if that's how it works out.)

 

DJ Augustine?

Is that even controversial? It's a bit odd that it's a 4 year contract, but he's a solid backup PG. And that is pretty in line with what other guys got. I mean the Pistons freaking gave John Leuer a 4 year $40 million contract. (not that it's a bad thing.) 

 

So what's this identity thing?

The Magic lacked an identity. They should have one now. They have a really good coach (we will see just how good) who is very good on the defensive end, and they have a bunch of good defensive players. There is a obvious identity, and that is a real thing. If there is one thing that the last 2 years with SVG in Detroit has taught me, it's that having guys who fit your vision really matters. Like a ton. Building a culture and an identity for a team is not an easy thing to do, it is not a fast thing. But it is so important, especially if you don't have a super-duper star to make up for it. 

 

What good is an identity if it is "Can't score points. Like at all."?

The Pacers under Frank Vogel made 2 straight conference finals with a team that couldn't score worth a crap. But here is the thing with this narrative, is that I don't think the Magic will have quite as much trouble scoring as some think. Obviously they will not be a high powered offense, but Vuc has an argument for being the best offensive center in the NBA, Ibaka is not great at creating his own shot, but he can finish looks very well. And a frontcourt of Vuc/Ibaka is as much shooting in a 4/5 combo as you will find in the NBA outside of the Warriors death lineup. Evan Fournier is a really good shooter and can get his own shot, Elfrid Peyton is a brilliant passer, (more on him in just a bit) and Aaron Gordon should continue to improve as a shooter and ball handler. Throw in offensive spark plugs like Augustine, (assuming last year was a fluke and he didn't actually forget how to basketball) CJ Watson, and if healthy Jodie Meeks, and this team does have some offensive firepower. And that isn't even including Super Mario potentially taking a big step in the right direction. The main worry is that there is not a ton of ball handling/shot creation on the team. But there is some, this is not the blue collar pacers where their offensive options were giving the ball to Paul George, getting an offensive rebound, and the occasional David West post up. There are some good offensive options. (if none as good as Paul George.) Once again, they will not be great offense, but I think that they should be fine, and if a few guys make good progress (Gordon, Hezonja, Peyton) they could actually be good.

 

Anything else you want to touch on?

Yeah, one last thing. How did you know?

I'm you. You're asking yourself these questions. 

Oh. Right.

You should probably see a doctor.

Anyways, yeah. With the Oladipo trade, the Magic are putting a lot of faith and hope into Elfrid Peyton, and he is the dark horse key to making this whole thing work. DJ Augustine can play heavier minutes if Peyton struggles, but he isn't a starter and they just signed him to a 4 year contract. They think Peyton is the PG of the future, and that is clear now. The main question with him is, can he learn to freaking shoot? He did make some improvements, but he is still mostly a non-shooter. And it is hard to make that work with a PG. HOWEVA, there is hope for him here. The most recent example of a non-shooter PG who worked well was Rondo in Boston. A big reason he worked is because everyone else on the floor could shoot, and if Aaron Gordon ccan make some strides with his shot, the Magic could suddenly find themselves in business. Vuc is an excellent shooter for a center, Ibaka can hit 3s, and Fournier is a really good shooter. So if Gordon can find a reliable shot, Peyton could find himself in point guard heaven, weaving through defenses that can't clog the pain or do extra stuff to hinder him, while he probs and prys to find open snipers. Of course, Peyton could also find some scoring and shooting and fix that his damn self.

 

So what do you really think about the moves? Even if you can find sense in them?

I like trading for Ibaka, I don't like the idea of giving him a max contract. I also think that him leaving could potentially be a blessing in disguise because I think Aaron Gordon is probably better as a 3 than a 3, and then you can have Hezonja and Fournier be wings with Peyton as the PG. The Biyambo thing is ok. I don't love giving a guy a big contract where a lot of his value got boosted by a few good playoffs games. (although to be clear, Biyambo had a really good season.) But once again, having Vuc on the contract he is makes that work out ok. As far as Tobias Harris goes, I'll be honest, I think the Pistons freaking fleeced the Magic and that trade was a mistake. If they wanted to open up more minutes for Gordon, then just play Gordon more minutes. They should not have traded him for what they did at the time they did. Jeff Green is fine, he is still a decent player and it's a 1 year contract. 

 

How will the Magic do next year?

I don't wanna spoil a future post so I won't get too much into it. But I think they are going to be a lot better, and people are legit sleeping on them. All of you Magic fans who think "omg ppl are sleeping on us" are not just being homers. There is real reason to think that the Magic will be very good next year. (Obviously they could be not so good too, but I'd certainly lean towards good.)

 

What do you think? Let me know! We all get smarter!