Monday, May 21, 2012

Orlando Magic: Is Mike D'Antoni the Best Fit for the Head Coaching Job?

The Orlando Magic firing general manager Otis Smith made sense. The team rid itself of a person who made questionable moves regarding the roster and ultimately did not get the job done.

The writing was also on the wall for head coach Stan Van Gundy. The team terminating him signifies that priority number one is to keep Dwight Howard on the team. While the franchise center may not have asked Magic CEO Alex Martins to fire Van Gundy, as both have claimed, the poor relationship from the start had obviously deteriorated.

A choice needed to be made—Van Gundy or Howard—and ownership, right or wrong, went with the player.

The Magic are invested in winning with Howard. The front office makes personnel moves centered around who he will work best with, both on the bench and on the court.

With Howard on the court, the team thrives on teams doubling the center and the ball getting kicked out to a bevy of shooters on the wings. They made the NBA Finals with a similar approach only three seasons ago and even last season had the third-best record in the conference for most of the season.

Without him the team struggles to find that space, evident in the playoffs against Indiana. Individually the talent is mediocre. There are a few solid supporting players but without Howard the roster is not good enough to contend for a playoff spot, let alone a championship.

The bigger issue is that the team is full of bad contracts that would be extremely difficult to maneuver. Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Glen Davis are locked in to contracts that are not friendly to trade. So improving the roster will be very hard, with the 19th pick in the first-round and the mid-level exception the best options to add some much needed firepower to the offense.

So if it will be difficult to improve on the individual talent on the roster why not put in a system that will work to get the most out of them?

That’s where Mike D’Antoni steps in.

The 61-year old coach is known as being an offensive-minded coach who loves to push the ball in transition and shoot from outside frequently.

The Magic is a team that, while Dwight Howard is the centerpiece, actually relies more on its outside shooting.

Putting D’Antoni in charge of the offense really would only tweak the way they got those shots off.

Things with the Phoenix Suns didn’t end up in a championship mainly because there just was not enough size or emphasis put on defense. But when Howard is healthy—which is most of the time—Orlando has the best center in the league who is the only player to win three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards in league history. From the ’07-’08 season to the ’10-’11 season the team was always a top 10 team in defensive efficiency.

New York didn’t end well for D’Antoni but there were certainly some strenuous circumstances that ultimately cost him his job. In the beginning there just wasn’t a lot of talent and the salaries that were acquired in the previous regime would take some time to correct those mistakes.

There were a lot of injuries this past season, which always hurts a team.

The Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony, who is a talented offensive player. But the system that works best for Anthony is an isolation offense as opposed to D’Antoni’s ball movement and shooting offense. Then when Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin were all on the court together there were struggles in sharing the ball and not enough practice time for them to gel as teammates.

With Orlando it is obvious that the team is at its best when it’s moving the ball and shooting three-pointers. They have a star player in Howard, but he isn’t necessarily the focal point of the scoring.

Bringing in D’Antoni would keep the Magic a shoot-first team. Howard would get open for more looks running the pick-and-roll. And if Howard misses games due to suspension or injury then Orlando would still be able to find open looks from beyond the arc—unlike in the playoffs—because the offense would push the ball in transition resulting in fast breaks and more space.

Also if the team were to bring in D’Antoni there is an increased chance they could sign Steve Nash with the mid-level exception to run their offense at least for a year.

After Jameer Nelson’s struggle of a season the Magic organization was rumored to be looking to upgrade the point guard position. Nash was a name often linked to the team. He’s still playing at a high level despite his advancing age and if he flourished under D’Antoni’s system, winning two MVP awards.

He’s also done pretty well in Phoenix the past few years with a roster arguably less talented than the one Orlando has. And with Nelson rumored to be interested in declining his player option and becoming a free agent, point guard could be an even bigger concern for the Magic.

A Nash and D’Antoni reunion in Orlando would be interesting, but D’Antoni also has experience coaching a number of Orlando’s players. He worked with Quentin Richardson, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark in Phoenix, Chris Duhon in New York and Howard himself as an assistant on the USA team that won gold in the 2008 summer Olympics.

There’s no guarantee that D’Antoni is the best coach available or that it will work out in Orlando, but there’s no guarantee with any of the other coaches on the market either.

There’s no guarantee that Howard will stay (and if he doesn’t then maybe the team should look into a different option for a coach), but he is on the team right now and all signs point to the Magic committing themselves to retaining him.

So with little flexibility the best way for this team to contend may be to let D’Antoni run his offense with one that already is loaded with sharpshooters and finally give him a defensive presence to rely on.
Photo Credits.
Mike D’Antoni: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Dwight Howard (left): AP Photo/John Raoux
Steve Nash (right): AP Photo/Matt York

Thursday, May 17, 2012

New York Red Bulls Trading Juan Agudelo For Heath Pearce is a Good Move

Juan Agudelo is currently one of the United States’ most popular and exciting young players.

New York Red Bulls fans were excited to call him their own. Their opinions were heard when Hans Backe wouldn’t play him. Many were surprised and disappointed to hear that the club favorite was traded to Chivas USA.

But after the shock subsides, Red Bull fans should know one thing: the trade actually works in the team’s favor.

The deal that has been reported is that the Red Bulls will send Agudelo to Chivas USA in exchange for defender Heath Pearce. New York will also receive allocation money, a cut of any sale of Agudelo to a foreign league and Chivas will pay for part of Pearce’s salary.

It’s quite a haul for a player that has only appeared in four games this season and isn’t considered a starter when the entire first team is healthy.

Fairly or unfairly, whatever the case, Agudelo has been stuck on the bench and in head coach Hans Backe’s doghouse the past two seasons.

Last year Agudelo did manage to score six goals and have two assists in 27 games played (12 starts) but even when forward Luke Rodgers was injured (which was often) Backe preferred to play Dane Richards up front before letting the young American into the lineup.

This year he spent time with the US team that attempted to qualify for the Olympics and there he picked up an injury. Agudelo was available to play in the team’s past two games but came off the bench, even with Thierry Henry injured.

The Red Bulls will get Pearce, another member of the USMNT player pool as well as a versatile defender to shore up the patchwork and inconsistent defensive line.

Although the Red Bulls had three straight shutout victories prior to Sunday’s 3-2 win over Philadelphia only two teams have yielded more than the 16 goals the Red Bulls have surrendered over the course of the season.

They have started an inexperienced back four of Markus Holgersson, Tyler Ruthven and Conor Lade recently along with Jan Gunnar Solli or Roy Miller.

Pearce is a versatile defender that is one of the league’s best at either the left back or center back position. He also does a very good job of getting forward and crossing the ball while not compromising his defensive responsibilities.

For Chivas to pay part of his salary helps free up cap space to use on additional help, as does the nice sum of allocation money the team receives.

The Red Bulls front office is notorious for preferring to sign international talent, so having extra allocation money will help bring in the additional midfield playmaker and depth at forward (possibly Rodgers if he can get his visa issues straightened out) that the team needs.

Another question is how long Agudelo will stay in MLS. European clubs came calling this winter and they probably will continue their pursuit of the American prospect this summer. If Agudelo does in fact get sold, the Red Bulls will still get a cut of that transaction.

It’s not to say Agudelo isn’t or won’t be a good player. He could have great success with increased playing time and support. But New York received plenty of value in exchange for him. They received assets that can immediately help the team in pursuit of its first trophy.

For a player that was having difficulty coming off the bench and making an impact receiving this much compensation—essentially selling high—is a best-case scenario for the Red Bulls.

Photo Credit:  AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez