Dwight Taking Flight in 2012? — Will poor contracts cause the D12 reign to end in Orlando?
Posted by RichieZ23 on April 6, 2011
With the NBA playoffs approaching, the playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference are nearly set.
Chicago will most likely hang out to the No. 1 seed. Miami or Boston will have the two and three slots, and Orlando has locked up the fourth.
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than one of the above four teams making it to the NBA Finals. On the broad shoulders of Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic will be looking to make its third straight appearance in the Conference Finals, and its second Finals appearance in three years.
The run in Orlando with D12 has been a success so far, even though falling short of the ultimate goal. However, how much longer is Howard looking to stick around town?
Should I stay or should I go?
With Lebron James making The Decision this past summer to take his talents to South Beach, the expectation is that Dwight Howard will follow James’ footprint and leave Orlando in the summer of 2012.
First off, it is not a foregone conclusion that Dwight Howard will bolt out of Orlando in 2012 — the year he can opt-out of his contract. Some are already claiming that he’s as good as gone to Los Angeles, just like Shaquille O’Neal back in ’96. However, Howard isn’t looking to sell out like Shaq was with movies and rap albums.
However, it also is not a foregone conclusion that he will resign with Orlando either. Despite recently being on the Jimmy Fallon show saying that he wanted to stay, calling Orlando a “beautiful city,” there is a chance that Howard leaves if he feels Orlando does not give him a good chance to compete for a championship.
For the sake of argument let’s agree that Howard genuinely wants to remain in Orlando and will resign if he feels they are contending, or will soon contend for a championship.
The question now becomes, can the Orlando Magic realistically compete for a championship with their current roster?
No one knows for sure, but from what we have seen so far this season, the answer seems to be pointing towards no. While the Magic remain a team that can beat anyone in the NBA on any night, they cannot seem to beat elite teams with any consistency.
Too many mental mistakes. Not enough effort on the defensive end. Sloppy and careless mistakes.
In Orlando’s defense, they revamped their roster just a month and a half into the season. Chemistry and cohesion take time, and if they find it in the playoffs, they will be a tough team to beat with the Superman manning the post down low. It’s just hard to suddenly flip on a switch, when the switch hasn’t been turned on very much of the season against elite competition.
(Costly) Familiar Faces
The Orlando Magic lineup consists of the best big man in the league surrounded by role players, with possibly one or two B-list players capable of taking a game over if necessary in Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson. Orlando also has the third highest payroll in the league at $89 million.
Of this third highest payroll, 11-of-13 of the players currently on Orlando’s roster are under still under contract with the Magic for the 2012-13 season. Only Jason Richardson and Malik Allen are not under contract to return with Orlando in 2012.
With this, means Orlando’s cap-space is tied up as well in the returning players.
The Magic are committed to over $75 million for the 2012-13 season. At the top of the list not named Howard are Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu. Arenas will be making nearly $21 million, while Turkoglu will be making $11.4 million. That is over $32 million on two players that are giving Orlando a combined 19 points in 55 minutes per game so far in 2011.
That is not enough for a championship contending team.
Factor in Arenas’ 33-percent field goal percentage, his on-going knee issues, and poor decision making; combined with an aging and step slower 32-year old Turkoglu and you have quite possibly the most overpaid duo in the league come 2012.
And without making salary cutting decisions, the Orlando Magic will not have the needed cap-space to sign a free agent — or two –who can match and most likely exceed the production received from Arenas and Turkoglu come 2012.
Take away the $32 million invested in cap-clogging dollars, and you have enough to sign a max-level contract in free agency to pair with Dwight Howard. Deron Williams will be an unrestricted pickup, and Chris Paul could opt out of his deal in the summer of 2012 and become a free agent as well. Anyone else see a CP3/D-Will and Howard pick and roll as nearly unstoppable?
If have the needed cap space to woo an elite free agent such as Williams or Paul to come ball with Dwight Howard I don’t think it would be a hard decision for them. There is no state income tax in Florida. And besides the money, every point guard wants to play with a big man like Dwight Howard. There’s a game played, “Go get it” off the pick-and-roll, and Dwight is one of the best in the game at it. Chris Paul turned Tyson Chandler into a monster back in 2008 because of it.
A sign and trade would also be a possibility as well, as evident by Orlando doing this exact same thing with Turkoglu two seasons ago when they didn’t want to pay him a ridiculous salary — to which they are paying right now.
The problem is getting rid of that money. Arenas has three years remaining with $60 million due, and Turkoglu also has three years left with $43 million owed. Who is going to want to take on that money and time frame?
There probably will not be too many teams knocking on the door unless Orlando would essentially want to give away Arenas or Turkoglu for a far lesser player with an expiring contract.
But it’s either that, or roll with the same squad they have right now for the next two to three seasons. And in doing so, banking on Arenas and Turkoglu to be your X-factors along with Jameer Nelson in order to seriously contend for a championship and keep Howard.
Perhaps Orlando has to temporarily flop before they can fly?
Miami took a similar approach in 2009-10 and coasted the regular season with decent talent and one star player in Dwayne Wade. The Heat went 47-35, only to lose in the opening round to Boston, 4-1 before signing Lebron James and Chris Bosh in the offseason.
Does anyone think Wade would have stayed in Miami had the Heat not been able to sign either Lebron or Bosh? It seems highly doubtful Wade returns with a lineup returning 11 of the 13 players from the 2009-10 Heat that gave him little help.
If Orlando does not go on a serious run in the NBA playoffs they need to cut costs immediately in the offseason.
If they want to retain Dwight Howard and realistically contend for a championship, they need to concede a year of telling themselves they are contending for a championship. Cut the salaries in the 2011-12 season at all costs and pick up as many expiring contracts as possible. Coast through the regular season and hopefully get a mid to late seed in the playoffs.
With that, you have the needed cap space to woo an elite free agent to come play with Dwight Howard in Florida and give the Magic a better and more realistic chance of winning a championship.
Will general manager Otis Smith and head coach Stan Van Gundy stay put with their current roster to entice Howard? Or will they try to cut salary in order to obtain an elite player to pair with Dwight?
One thing is for certain. None of this will matter if Orlando can get hot in the playoffs. As poorly as the Magic have played at times this season, when they are a team that are capable of beating any team in the league n a seven-game series when playing their A-game.
The great part is that we have the next two months to sit back, watch and find out during the NBA playoffs.