Time to Re-Evaluate Otis Smith


When August starts, we usually begin evaluating how the summer went. Free agency would be winding down and we would know who is coming to camp and what the team will look like.

In that sense, this might be the worst summer to have a lockout then. The Magic need some type of re-tooling after their surprising first round exit and with you know what happening you know when (if I really have to spell it out at this point, you probably don’t follow the Magic, the NBA or ESPN at all). There is a championship team in Orlando somewhere, it just is going to take a lot of things breaking the right way.

The problem is true championship teams need fewer and fewer things to break the right way. Championship teams can pass any test period. The Magic are not there yet.

Otis Smith has work to do.

The problem is, he can’t get any of it done. The lockout prevents him from talking with players on the team, including mentee Gilbert Arenas. As Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel notes, the hands-on Smith can’t do much to solve his way through this problem. And that probably hurt most of all — for both Smith and Magic fans. We are antsy to get back to business.

Mike Prada of SB Nation released his annual ranking of NBA general managers and slotted Otis Smith at No. 19, two spots down from last year. That is not as far down as you would think when considering the salary cap hell the Magic appear to be in with the second highest payroll in the country and two categorically bad contracts in Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas. But it also might be a sign of the job Prada thinks Smith is doing.

Prada describes Smith as a “Mover and Shaker” which clashes with Smith’s seemingly pragmatic approach, but not with the deals he has done. Smith has never been afraid to pull the trigger on a big deal, completely remaking the roster in the wake of Hedo Turkoglu‘s departure in 2009 and then doing it again in December 2010. Smith is definitely proactive. Those are two pretty major makeovers in a very short period of time — following a trip to the Finals no less.

Smith’s body of work, when you take a step back and look at it, is not quite as impressive as we usually think.

“Little has changed to convince me that Smith is overrated,” Prada writes. “The biggest feathers in his cap are [Dwight] Howard (who was drafted when he wasn’t GM, though he played a role in the decision), coach Stan Van Gundy (who only came after Billy Donovan changed his mind) and [Jameer] Nelson (an affordable point guard). Smith is the definition of someone who has one of the five best players and coaches in basketball, and therefore can’t really lose. It’s less a sign on him than on his luck.”

And that might explain a lot of the trust in Smith and a lot of the frustration at this point in his career as general manager. Smith has had a lot of luck, something a lot of Magic general managers have had. We applauded him for bringing in Rafer Alston because it was simply the kind of move the Magic never pulled.

But Smith’s biggest moves weren’t necessarily really Smith.

Howard was drafted under the Jon Weisbrod regime, with Smith and Dave Twardzik handling a lot of the scouting and evaluating underneath Weisbrod. He really dodged a bullet when Billy Donovan elected to return to Florida, allowing him to get Stan Van Gundy.

That leaves Jameer Nelson, the signing of an above-average point guard to an affordable contract, as one of his best moves — re-signing Dwight Howard is too much of a no-brainer.

The Vince Carter experiment did not work or was abandoned too quickly (if you were not satisfied with the final result of the 2011 season, think about what might have happened if the trades never happened). Wholesale changes seem to come at his whim. And, with the green light to spend money, Smith has not necessarily spent it wisely in acquiring talent.

There will be a lot of time for Smith to at least plan what he wants to do during the summer, at least under the current collective bargaining agreement. What he can actually do, including any amnesty clauses to get out of some of his mistakes, is yet to be determined. There is no point in looking at what potential moves Smith can make at this point.

But we know he has to do something. This roster is not a championship roster on most days (some nights, it certainly can be). And Otis Smith has lots of work to do to repair his reputation and, potentially, his job security.

Photos via DayLife.com.