Thursday, August 30, 2012

Orlando Magic Signs Promising Guard E'Twaun Moore

The Orlando Magic, according to the Orlando Sentinel, have agreed to sign guard E’Twaun Moore to a two-year deal.

In reading that, Moore’s name isn’t one that jumps out of the page at you. But maybe there is some up-side to the deal.

First it starts as a numbers game.

Before bringing in Moore, the Magic have 16 players listed on its roster. Only four of those players—Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, J.J. Redick and Ish Smith—are guards. The team could use some extra depth at either of the guard positions.

Since college he’s played mostly as a two-guard but he did spend some time in blowouts with the Boston Celtics last year playing a little bit of point guard. The Magic will give him a shot at playing both positions and his flexibility coming off the bench will help his case.

Also Moore is only 23-years-old and has been in the league for only one season. He’s a young player that still has time to develop. He didn’t see many minutes with the Celtics in his rookie season but the 2012-13 Magic season will likely be a league-wide try-out for a lot of guys to see if they can play in the NBA.

What may be hidden behind Moore’s 8.7 minutes per game and 2.9 points per game as a rookie and his second-round draft pick status may suggest, Moore was a pretty accomplished college player at a pretty big basketball school.

Moore was a four-year player at Purdue University. There he became the school’s third highest scorer (2,136) and finished first in three-pointers made (243), games (140), games started (137), minutes played (4,517) and wins (107). He led the Boilermakers in scoring his first three years on the team and was a AP honorable mention All-American.

In the summer league in July Moore led the Boston Celtics squad in points per game.

He wasn’t a high pick or expected to do much for Boston last year but people have started to wonder how high his ceiling is.

Moore can shoot the ball—something Orlando teams in recent years loved to do—and in college he was able to score in a variety of ways and spots on the floor. But in an article for ESPN Boston Chris Forsberg wrote that Moore was fearless and “unflappable”, a trait that endeared him to the Boston front office.

The Orlando Magic will be a proving ground for young players this season. And with what Moore did this summer as well as his college resume, he does seem like a good player to give a bigger opportunity to and take a chance on.

Photo Credit.
AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

Jameer Nelson Is Orlando Magic Team Leader, for Better or Worse

After playing second fiddle to Dwight Howard ever since the two arrived on the Orlando Magic roster as rookies in 2004, Jameer Nelson is finally starring in the lead role for the Orlando Magic—for better or worse.

Just this past off-season, Jameer Nelson re-signed with the Magic for a three-year deal. It was a surprising move, considering the Magic were looking to trade Dwight Howard and move into a rebuilding phase. Why commit to a 30-year-old point guard who has been in decline for the past three seasons?

The answer is simple: leadership.

Ever since Nelson broke onto the mainstream basketball scene as a senior at St. Joseph’s, people have raved about his leadership abilities and his heart.

Nelson was the leader of an underdog St. Joseph’s team in the 2003-2004 season that went 27-0 in the regular season and finished 30-2 and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight. It was the best season in school history. Nelson won the Wooden and Naismith awards. A Sports Illustrated article by Michael Bamberger called him, “the best player in the nation.”

In Orlando, he started on the bench and earned his playing time and made All-Star Steve Francis expendable. He’s worked hard on the court and plays good defense.

He had his best season in 2008-2009, averaging 16.7 points per game, 5.4 assists per game, 1.2 steals per game and shooting 50.3 percent from the floor while earning his one and only All-Star selection. And while the Magic made it all the way to the NBA Finals that season, Nelson got hurt and missed the second half of the season and the majority of the playoffs.

He hasn’t been the same player since then. His past three seasons have been three of the four worst shooting seasons of his eight-year career. He had his lowest points per game average in five years. With the Magic still fielding a competitive team with Dwight Howard, there was much rumor and speculation that an upgrade needed to be made at point guard.

This year, the Magic have low expectations, much like his St. Joseph’s team did. And while he doesn’t have Dwight Howard to execute the pick-and-roll with him and toss alley-oops to, he also didn’t have him at St. Joseph’s either.

The Magic won’t be expecting Nelson to guide the Magic as far as he did St. Joseph's. But they do want him to bridge the gap between that Magic team that made the finals and the next Magic team they hope will do the same.

His backup is the young and unproven Ish Smith, so it’s likely Nelson will get a lot of minutes; really making this his show to run.

Nelson is there to provide a veteran presence to a young team. He is there to be a steady, consistent performer on a team without much direction currently. He is there to show the new guys what you can achieve with heart and hustle and how to act like a professional.

Gone are the wishy-washy, indecisive and immature (remember all those silly technical fouls?) ways of Howard. Nelson’s high-character attitude will be counted on to mentor the younger players and help them through what could be a frustrating season.

Does Jameer Nelson being the team’s best player mean that they’ll win a lot of games? Probably not.

But they won’t ever quit, and that will be an important attitude moving forward.

Photo Credit.
AP Photo/John Raoux

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Should the Orlando Magic Sign Greg Oden?

While the Orlando Magic traded away a former seven-foot No. 1 draft pick, there have been rumblings of another former seven-foot No. 1 draft pick possibly coming to Orlando to play for the Magic.

When the Magic traded away Dwight Howard as part of a four-team deal, they lost a franchise center. The package the team got in return made it clear that this team is in full-rebuilding mode. It seems bottoming out and getting another crack at the top pick in the NBA Draft wouldn’t be an unwelcome event for management.

But as the team looks to the future and life after Dwight Howard one player that there have been rumors of coming to Orlando and working to take Howard’s place in the lineup is former top-pick Greg Oden.

Oden, like Howard, has been a bit indecisive about his future in the NBA. In an interview with Grantland writer and former Ohio State teammate Mark Titus, Oden said he plans to take the 2012-2013 season off in order to properly rehab his knee.

“I just want to play basketball. I could've signed with a team after Portland cut me and just sat on the bench and collected paychecks, but that's not my style,” he said. “That just seems really unethical. Besides, money doesn't matter to me. I've got enough money. All I want is to get 100 percent healthy and get back on the court.”

According to the Tribune-Star in Terre Haute, Ind. playing in 2012-2013 isn’t totally out of the question.
It says that his agent, Mike Conley Sr., said the Oden was talking to the Miami Heat about joining their team.

Oden spoke on that, saying, “What I told Mike was ‘Look, I want to get back with a team. I want to play. If there’s a chance that later on in the [NBA] year, if I feel good or if I’m healthy enough to play, I would love to play this year.’ That’s the conversation we had. I think some people kinda blew that up and took his words and kinda changed them around. I know I need to get healthy first before I do anything.”

In response to this chatter,’s John Denton wrote that the Orlando Magic were reportedly one of a few teams to be interested in Oden’s services.

If Oden were to get healthy and he was still committed to playing basketball—two strong “ifs” right now—could Oden be a viable replacement for Howard at center?

After all the injuries, cell phone pictures and overall disappointment from his production, many forget that coming out of college in 2007 they hype for Oden was even bigger than it was in 2012 for Anthony Davis.
ESPN NBA writer Chad Ford said at the time, “In a league devoid of big, traditional centers — Oden’s numbers add up to a perfect 10,” and “Oden’s agility, flexibility, balance and explosiveness are remarkable for a player his size. He’s a 2 guard in a center’s body.”

Oden was marked as an exceptional shot blocker with a solid low-post game. Even looking back at the draft and knowing the success that No. 2 pick Kevin Durant had and will continue to experience, Chad Buchanan—the team’s acting GM in 2012 and former Director of College Scouting—said in February that he would still have drafted Oden, standing by the team’s decision.

“I was very excited,” he said. “A chance to draft a player who could potentially get your franchise to your ultimate goal. Looking back on it, we were all excited. We had visions of Greg being a great player for us for years to come.”

Looking at the Magic roster, two of the prime contenders to get major minutes at center are second-year pros Gustavo Ayon and Nikola Vucevic. As rookies in the lock-out shortened 2012 season, Ayon, 27-years-old, played in 54 games starting 24 of them, averaged 5.9 points per game, 4.9 rebounds per game, 0.9 blocks per game and shot 53.6-percent from the field.

Vucevic, 21-years-old, played in 51 games with 15 starts, averaged 5.5 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game, 0.7 blocks per game and shot 45.0-percent from the floor.

That’s not to say either couldn’t develop further, especially the much younger Vucevic. But in Oden’s 82-game career, despite being constantly hampered by injuries, Oden averaged more minutes per game than either player, has career averages of 9.4 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 57.7-percent.

Take a look at his numbers before his injury in the 2009-10 season. Oden had started every game and had increased his shooting percentage, free-throw shooting percentage, points per game, rebounds per game and block per game compared to his rookie season. It suggested a player on the rise.

With the Magic in full rebuilding mode, would it hurt to take a flier on Oden?

In numerous articles it has been speculated that the Magic took back such a paltry offering in return for Howard in order to bottom out and receive a high draft pick to rebuild around. And that could still happen.
But in bringing in Oden the team could add another former No. 1 pick, a guy that was supposed to be a franchise-changer.

With the right deal, the upside is that with a change of scenery and training staff—Oden said he felt rushed to return in Portland—and with a franchise that seems to want to be patient with its roster Oden could finally heal properly and return to the court. From there he could either develop into the franchise player everyone had hoped he would become (yes, a long-shot but it would be the best-case scenario) or a solid center that gives you a double-double night -in and night-out.

Worst case, Oden never heals and continues to be hurt and the team cuts its losses, which should be very low considering Oden doesn’t have too much contract leverage; he hasn’t played since December 5, 2009.

The Orlando Magic could be the right opportunity for Oden to continue his basketball career. It all starts with new GM Rob Hennigan’s emphasis on being patient with this team and continues with an opportunity for playing time because of a need for good players.

Oden always was a good player.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Don Ryan

Thursday, August 16, 2012

United States Gets Historic Victory Against Mexico and Closes the Perceived Gap

Mexico blanked the United States in the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup final 5-0.

Mexico came from behind in the 2011 Gold Cup final 4-2, which led to U.S. Soccer Federation relieving head coach Bob Bradley.

Then Mexico won the gold medal in the Olympics August 11 by beating Brazil while the United States team failed to even qualify.

With the likes of young, rising stars Javier Hernandez, Oribe Peralta and Giovani dos Santos the talk of the town has been large the gap is between Mexico and the U.S.

With the United States’ historic 1-0 victory over Mexico in a friendly at Azteca Stadium Wednesday, the first time in 75 years the U.S. has beaten Mexico in Mexico, the gap may not be as big as people have made it out to be.

Sure, Mexico’s roster didn’t feature any of the players from the gold medal-winning team, but Hernandez was playing as was goalie Guillermo Ochoa. Mexico was still supposed to have an advantage in quality over the U.S., especially an American roster without Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

Mexico was 23-0-1 against the U.S. in Mexico for the past 75 years and was 19-0-1 at Azteca. Mexico had outscored the U.S. 81-14 in that time frame.

Even in the game the odds were stacked against the U.S. Mexico spent most of the game, especially in the first half, attacking. Mexico outshot the Americans 15-6. They had 10 corner kicks compared to zero for the U.S.

But the U.S. defense, led by goalkeeper Tim Howard and the unusual pairing of Maurice Edu and Geoff Cameron at center back, was strong all night and never broke.

The team was also opportunistic, taking advantage of its shots on goal, and doing so before Mexico did, and got a goal from the unlikeliest source—Michael Orozco Fiscal, scoring his first international goal off a nifty back-heel from Terrance Boyd.

The difference in this U.S. team may be the man who took over for Bradley, Jurgen Klinsmann.

Klinsmann has his team doing things it’s never done before. Not only did the team get this monumental victory in Mexico, but it also defeated Italy for the first-time ever—in Italy nonetheless—in a friendly in February.

“I think it’s huge. It’s huge for all American fans and it’s huge for the team. It’s historic. We were well aware that we’ve never won here at Azteca and this is an amazing experience for all the players. We told them before the game, ‘This moment is for you, go and grab it.’ We are aware that is was a lot of work,” Klinsmann told the press after the game. “Tim Howard kept us in the game I don’t know how many times. It was an absolutely fantastic performance by Tim. Also, the back line were holding their strength for the whole 90 minutes. It was a fantastic team performance. We know we still have to improve in many elements. We have to keep the ball longer, we have to create more chances and we have to do a lot of work still, but I think this gives us a lot of confidence.”

With Klinsmann providing encouragement, a new attitude and a new vision for the federation and the team getting these big results the future is bright for American soccer.

Mexico may be getting all the press right now, but the long-term goals are winning World Cup Qualifying and the World Cup.

Moments like these will steer the American team in the right direction and make people believe that the gap between Mexico and the U.S. is not as large as they once perceived.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Tom Mihalek

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dwight Howard Trade: Coming to Terms with It from the Viewpoint of a Little Kid

The majority of people who get involved in sports media start as huge sports fans, usually at a young age.

That statement holds true for me as well.

So when I flipped on SportsCenter and watched a snippet of Dwight Howard speaking at his press conference following his trade to the Los Angeles Lakers the fan in me couldn’t help but come out, specifically the little kid in me.

Now, Dwight Howard has done nothing to me personally. He seems like a nice guy, even if he does have a little trouble making up his mind. He gives back to the community. The adult and objectionable journalist in me understands that this man made a decision on what he wanted to do with his life that was perfectly legal.

The biased little kid in me, however, felt betrayed. That little kid thought back to the last time he felt so strongly against a player: when the Phillies traded third baseman Scott Rolen.

When Scott Rolen made his Major League debut with the Phillies, the team that drafted him, I was in first grade. It was the first year I started paying attention to professional sports and the Phillies were my team. I listened to the game broadcasts on the radio on the beach in afternoon games and watched the games on television by night.

The next year was his official rookie season and it was the first time I saw a baseball game live. It was 1997, the first year there was Interleague play. It was the Phillies against the New York Yankees at Veterans Stadium. Curt Schilling against Hideki Irabu. Scott Rolen was playing third base and it was an incredibly hot day out. The Phillies won. It’s a day I’ll always remember, and Rolen played a part in it.

He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1997 and I couldn’t be happier that my guy on my team was getting recognized; and this was when the Phillies were the cellar-dwellars of Major League Baseball.

Over the years I would watch Rolen come up with big hits, make incredible diving stops and showcase his arm and throw a runner out. One year for Halloween I even wore a Phillies hat and jersey and taped “Rolen” and “17” on my back as my costume.

Then in 2002 he was traded. He had made it clear he was unhappy in Philadelphia, that he didn’t think the management was making the right moves in order to win, told everyone he would leave the team via free agency and rejected a huge contract offer.

Not wanting to lose him for nothing, the Phillies traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals. And just like that he was no longer my guy. He was a traitor.

I felt jilted, rejected. What my thirteen-year-old self thought was that by Rolen refusing to play for the Phillies it meant that he was refusing to play for me, in front of me. All those memories we “shared” of me watching him, growing up with him, rooting for him were for nothing. He threw them away by forcing his way out.

I booed him when the Phillies played against him. When I would play baseball video games and Rolen would come up to bat I would bean him in the head. It was how I treated someone that betrayed me.

Now over time my feelings have softened. The Phillies moved on without him, brought up a bunch of other guys that they drafted that I could grow up with (Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell and Cole Hamels) and won a World Series. Now when I see Rolen make his patented diving stop and throw across the diamond I forget the hate, smile and think back to the good times I had watching him do it in a Phillies uniform.

Now back to Dwight Howard. I have been an Orlando Magic fan since the first grade as well (I marveled at Shaq’s skill and fell in love with his fun-loving ways). Shaq was one of my favorites and Dwight Howard was just as special.

He played the game with so much power but always had a smile on his face. There were the Superman moments at the Slam Dunk contest. I defended him to my friends about how he should be the league MVP. Just all his sillyness, impromptu dance competitions and thunderous slam dunks. I went to an Orlando Magic-New Jersey Nets game in New Jersey with my girlfriend in January 2011. We watched Dwight come out of the game—an Orlando blowout—and hang out on the end of the Magic bench with Jameer Nelson and secretly eat a hot dog. When the game ended he walked past our section and threw his shoe into the stands and it landed a seat over from our seats (what a mob it was of people fighting for that!).

But then there was last season. The trade rumors. The refusal to sign an extension. The famous smile was gone. It didn’t look like Howard was having fun anymore. There was the bickering with Stan van Gundy. And then there was the back injury that sidelined him for the end of the season and the Magic crashed and burned out of the playoffs.

The end was coming and I had come to terms with that as a fan. Maybe it was the fact that he was gone for the end of the season and playoffs and that you hadn’t heard from him himself in the media that I just got used to him being around.

But then he popped up in this press conference. He was smiling. He was making jokes. “Hey,” I thought to myself, “he wasn’t doing this last year.”

And then he said, “I’m happy to be a Laker. I’m so excited.”

The little kid in me perked up. “You’re happy? You found someone better? Was me rooting for you not enough?”

Silly, yes, but sometimes we can’t hide those moments when sports bring out the little kid in us: all the joy in winning, the disappointment in losing, and the childish response to grown men making perfectly normal decisions on choosing where to work and what organization will make them happiest—really the same decision I am attempting to make in my professional career.

Just like anything in pop culture—movies, television, music—we invest time in sports, we invest interest in sports, we allow ourselves and our emotions to escape and run free in sports and what we invest in are the memories: the moments that put us in awe, where we were and who we experienced them with.

All summer in my house my family has asked me where Dwight was going. When he was traded my mom and one of my brothers texted me. We talked about the memories we had watching him play or his interviews and we laughed.

Memories and shared experiences that were brought on by sports and in this case, Dwight Howard. So in this case I’ll allow the kid in me to come out a little and tell him it’s ok to feel a bit spurned. I’ll let myself feel that strongly because it means that there are some strong emotions and memories tied to Dwight being in Orlando.

And creating those memories in the first place is the great thing about sports in general.

Photo Credits.
Dwight Howard:  AP Photo/Reed Saxon
Scott Rolen: AP Photo/Chris Gardner

Dwight Howard Trade: Magic Fail Again at Getting Fair Value for Franchise Player

Since the start of the new millennium the Orlando Magic have been lucky enough to have, at different times, two franchise players: Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard.

Both players were All-Stars with unbelievable talents that the team attempted to build around. Both led the team to the playoffs—in 12 seasons since the 2000-01 season the Magic have made the playoffs nine times—and Howard even led the team to the NBA Finals in 2009. Both were MVP-worthy players that the fans adored.

Both McGrady and Howard also grew very unhappy in Orlando and demanded to be traded. Those wishes were granted now that Dwight Howard has been traded to the Lakers in a four-team deal.

The Magic look to recoup just as they did when they dealt McGrady and lost Shaquille O’Neal in free agency before him. Trading away franchise players is never a fun task for any organization, but how have the deals worked out for Orlando?

Magic trade Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines to Rockets for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato

At the time this deal was completed it was often viewed as a fair trade. In retrospect, Orlando was the clear loser in this deal.

Francis was the centerpiece the Magic received in this deal. In his first game with Orlando he hit a layup at the buzzer to lead the team past the Milwaukee Bucks. But after 23 games with the Magic, Francis also grew upset because the team dealt Mobley, who Francis had played each of the previous six seasons with.

“I can't put it into words,” he said at the time. “Playing with a guy, living with a guy, just knowing that every day when I wake up that's something I can count on, that I'm going to be in practice or in a game with Cuttino. Him not being here is going to be tough for me. I don't know what I'm going to wake up for.”

Mobley was a talented offensive player who was sent to Sacramento with Michael Bradley for the defensive-minded Doug Christie—another failed move.

Francis finished the season with 21.3 points per game, a shade under his career high, then was traded to the New York Knicks at next season’s trade deadline for Trevor Ariza and Penny Hardaway’s expiring contract.

Cato was also traded in February of that second season after the deal to Detroit for Darko Milicic and Carlos Arroyo.

The Magic got three players for Tracy McGrady—who was named to four more All-Star games in six seasons with Houston—and all were gone within two years. None brought in draft picks or franchise altering players. The Magic didn’t make the playoffs either season. Also, Howard would be Houston’s starting power forward the next three seasons, a solid addition to the lineup.

Magic trade Dwight Howard, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark to Lakers and Jason Richardson to 76ers. Magic receive Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington from Denver, Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless from Philadelphia, Josh McRoberts and Christian Eyenga from the Lakers and a lottery protected first-round draft pick from the Lakers, 76ers and Nuggets.

The Magic trade away the league’s best center and multiple Defensive Player of the Year award-winner. Howard wanted out and things were getting ugly. The Magic also relieve themselves of expensive contracts given to Richardson and Duhon.

What they get in return is a bit uncertain, however. The Magic didn’t land the second or third-best player in the deal (Andrew Bynum or Andre Iguodala in whatever order you like). They didn’t get an All-Star in return. They didn’t wind up getting Pau Gasol, like some earlier versions of the deal suggested. They also couldn’t shed Hedo Turkoglu’s awful contract, one that they originally refused to give him when he left after the 2009 NBA Finals trip before Orlando traded back for him.

They got Arron Afflalo, a nice defender who was also Denver’s second-leading scorer last season with 15.2 points per game last season.  His points per game totals have risen the past few years. But will Orlando be balanced enough for him to succeed, or will he be the key guy that team’s focus on and he struggles?

Since the 2001-02 season Al Harrington has never averaged fewer than 10.5 points per game. He’s another solid scorer who is a good secondary option for a contending team. But it’s hard to imagine the Magic contending this year and some in the media are already saying he could be moved by the February trade deadline for an expiring contract. He’s 32-years-old and has three years left on his deal.

Eyenga is 23 and only played in seven games last year. Harkless is a first-round rookie with a lot of athleticism. Vucevic and McRoberts are average low-post players that will compete in a crowded frontcourt with Glen Davis, Gustavo Ayon, Justin Harper, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn for playing time. Vucevic seems to have more upside than McRoberts.
The first-round draft picks are nice, but will be spread out over the next few years, will most likely be later in the first-round and are lottery-protected (for the best center in the league the Magic couldn’t even get unprotected picks?) There are also talks that the picks could also be traded in the future. Without knowing who will be available or what future trade packages they can get for them, the value is really up for debate.

It’s obviously easy to rate the McGrady deal in hindsight and who knows if any of the young players (mainly Harkless, Afflalo and Eyenga) could blossom into bigger roles than with their previous teams.

But with the way the McGrady trade panned out and with the initial reaction towards the Howard deal, it’s apparent that Orlando has struggled in getting fair value in return for their franchise players.

Photo Credits.
Dwight Howard:  AP Photo/John Raoux, File
Tracy McGrady:  AP Photo/Ed Betz
Arron Afflalo:  AP Photo/ Jack Dempsey, File