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On the court, Glen Davis‘ two-game suspension for verbally confronting Stan Van Gundy is mostly irrelevant. Davis has for the most part played to the back of his basketball card in the first 22 games of his new four-year contract, averaging 11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, while shooting poorly from both the field (36.5%) and the line (73.2%).
If anything, Davis’ absence clears more space for Ryan Anderson as well as Earl Clark, Justin Harper and Daniel Orton. As it happens, Harper and Orton were not released from witness protection to participate against Cleveland on Friday, but Van Gundy may call on them Saturday to match up against the Pacers’ bigger front-line. Clark also impressed after finding his rhythm in scoring a season-high eight points and grabbing a season-high five rebounds.
Because he has made little impact on the court, and, thankfully, refrained from going all Latrell Sprewell on Van Gundy, the only casualty from this latest Magic distraction is whatever is left of Otis Smith‘s reputation.
No matter what you hear from Howard or fans of the Oakland Athletics, the main fault line in sports right now is not large vs. small markets. Intelligence, not money, makes winners.
This is the case in each of the major American sports. But in the NBA, with relatively strict limits on salary and just one basketball to share, stars get the headlines, but role players win the championships. In fact, the most valuable dividend of a star player’s acquisition is the stream of role players who line up in his wake, offering to take less money or fewer years to play with a winner. Star-laden teams that completely neglect their bench (the Knicks), or who sign miscast role players (Shaq in Cleveland, for example), fail to reach their potential.
Wise management provides stability, if not championships, over the course of years.
Drafting late in the first round every year since 1997, the Spurs have come up with a superstar like Tony Parker and solid role players like John Salmons, Leandro Barbosa, Beno Udrih, Tiago Splitter and George Hill. That is not to mention second round steals like Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and DeJuan Blair.
Poorly-managed teams like the Magic follow an extreme boom and bust cycle, ultimately leaving everything to chance. They punt seasons at a time in hopes of landing big-money free agents, winning the lottery or both.
The Magic are lucky to have won the lottery three times, driving their two runs of success. They were denied a third when Tim Duncan spurned them in 2000 and injuries crippled and limited Grant Hill‘s tenure.
But with Dwight Howard on his way out, and a raft of hefty contracts on the books, nothing better than mediocrity seems to lie on the horizon.
Which brings us back to Otis.
In the NBA, general managers have three jobs. Acquiring or keeping star players is not one of them, because as we have seen in recent years, they will decide where and with whom they want to play.
GMs can make their mark, though, in their selection of a coach, in the draft and in the way they apportion long-term contracts.
Smith made an excellent decision in hiring Van Gundy, but has failed miserably in the draft and salary-cap management. A full accounting of Smith’s failures in those areas is a topic for another post. But one need not look beyond this weekend for evidence.
Last night brought Anderson Varejao to Orlando. On draft night in 2004, when most Magic fans were celebrating the additions of Howard and Nelson, I was cursing the Magic (led at the time by Jon Weisbrod, but with Smith playing a considerable role behind the scenes), for giving away Verajao, Drew Gooden and Steven Hunter, in exchange for Tony Battie and a second round draft pick that became Martynas Andriuskevicius (he never played for Orlando… and ended up back in Cleveland in a draft-night trade a year later).
The pre-ESPN version of John Hollinger even called the Varejao deal “one of the worst deals in history.”
Tonight the Magic will see David West, who is a far better player, on a contract two years shorter, than Davis, and Danny Granger, whom Smith overlooked in 2005, his first year completely at the helm, in favor of Fran Vazquez (yet to come over from Spain).
Smith has had his moments, notably the Van Gundy hiring, the (first) Hedo Turkoglu acquisition, and his bold decision to shun sentimentality and trade Courtney Lee after the 2009 Finals, in failed pursuit of that still-elusive go-to scorer.
Still, his poor decisions are increasingly demoralizing Magic fans.
Big Baby, who was apparently acquired because of his friendship with Howard, is just the latest example. But if the trend continues, whatever set him off Friday will pale in comparison to all the losing he faces over the next four years with Orlando likely stuck with long-term deals and under-achieving players.
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