Everything begins and ends with Dwight Howard. Everyone knows that. Dwight Howard knows that (“It starts and ends with me,” Howard said at shootaround Saturday. “I have to do more and lead my team.”). Stan Van Gundy knows that (“If you want to look down the road and talk about playoffs or anything,” Van Gundy said. “If Dwight is not there for major minutes, we’re in trouble anyway.”).
Orlando’s trade with Phoenix brought in Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark. Three guys that bring very different things to the table. What they can do we will all discover when they finally hit the floor Monday night in Atlanta. Rotation questions always come up first whenever an acquisition — especially one of this magnitude — arrives.
Stan Van Gundy said Jameer Nelson will remain the starter and that one of the three new acquisitions between Turkoglu, Richardson and Gilbert Arenas will come off the bench. It is looking more and more like Arenas is sold on the idea of coming off the bench and being this team’s sixth man. What eventually happens is yet to be seen.
What really must be figured out is what to do behind Howard.
Marcin Gortat may have been struggling (or he may not have been), but one thing Orlando knew was that he could be depended on for 10-15 minutes a game and solid defense and rebounding when Howard got into foul trouble. If there is any question mark about how the team will go forward based off these deals, it surely must be who will fill in for Howard for those 10-15 minutes and when he gets into foul trouble. Howard has gotten better at avoiding fouls, but he is far from fallible.
Gortat, despite his poor numbers, had value because of his youth and ability to defend.
“When I first got here, he was playing summer league and we were trying to decide if we were going to bring him back,” Stan Van Gundy said before Saturday’s game. “To see his growth over the three and a half years has been tremendous. He’s a guy who has really wanted more of an opportunity to play. Playing behind Dwight was very difficult for him. He gets the opportunity, and for that I am happy for him. I hope he makes the most of it. He’s a guy who has done a lot for us. I don’t think we probably could have made it through the Charlotte series last year without him.”
Van Gundy said he likes the deals, but it is hard to see the guys go. But Gortat and the others are now gone, and along with them, a gigantic hole in the post.
Howard is going to get the minutes, no doubt. But who will play behind him? That is the question that will have to be answered sooner rather than later.
Brandon Bass is going to start at power forward. Van Gundy said Turkoglu would only play the four against smaller lineups (unlike Rashard Lewis, Van Gundy does not appear to have a lot of faith in Turkoglu playing in the post or filling that role). Behind Howard then remains having Bass play some center, something he did in Dallas, or more playing time for Malik Allen. I doubt Daniel Orton gets much time on the court with major minutes this season.
So unless you have a lot of faith in Malik Allen (who went two for seven and scored four points to go with five rebounds in nearly 22 minutes Saturday against Philadelphia), it appears the Magic will need to find a backup center.
“To say we are done, I don’t know if that would be accurate,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith said before Saturday’s game. “We are going to continue to look at things and see if we can get our team fortified in areas. We will still look. Losing the back-up center is big, so you need a little size for about five teams. That’s really what it comes down to. We will address that over the next month or so.”
Talking to several members of the media at the game Saturday, the pickings are relatively slim — Steve Kyler and Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld were bandying about names like Shawne Williams and Mikki Moore and Primoz Brezec (all just throwing names out there for discussion, nothing substantiated).
Tony Battie, who plays for the 76ers right now and did not log any minutes in Saturday’s game, has also been suggested as a possibility through a minor trade or buyout. Battie was in the locker room after the game to say hi to Dwight Howard and his former teammates. The link and, perhaps, the familiarity are already there. This is all complete speculation and just about any center who does not have a job will be mentioned.
Van Gundy said in the immediate future, he is concerned about the Magic’s front-court depth with Ryan Anderson is still out with an injury. This problem off the bench was taken into consideration. Van Gundy said he and Smith noted and discussed it, but felt it was worth the risk.
“We’re not going to have Rashard playing at the four, so we’ll always be in there with Ryan, Brandon, Malik people like that,” Van Gundy said. “So we’ll actually play bigger up front… or at least bulkier up front then we have the last couple of years when we play [big teams like Boston]. The one concern is that we don’t have a true center behind Dwight. And so, on those nights when he’s in foul trouble or has an injury, it will be more of a struggle than it was with Marcin. I think in a normal rotation thing, we’ll be fine.”