In light of the Orlando Magic making the huge moves to acquire Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu in two shocking weekend trades, I've been trying to think of an analogy that does not have to do with saying the Magic went "all-in." It's kind of played out, you know? Instead, I'll use a different poker analogy: the Magic were pot committed and had to make these moves.
Most of you probably play poker, but in case you don't, being "pot committed" means that you need to keep playing your hand -- any hand -- because you have too much money invested in it. You get to a point where you can't fold your hand because the cost to adding more money into the pot is worth the potential reward of winning it all. Maybe you end up losing more money, but you have to continue because folding means you have no chance to win.
The Orlando Magic, as they stood right now, were pot committed. At 16-9 prior to the trade, they weren't an elite team; they were a sputtering team that had lost five of their last six games, with the only winning coming against the Clippers. They had a superstar that has just two years left on his contract in the modern era of the Empowered Superstar, and they were worried he might leave. The mix they had may have worked a couple years ago, but it wasn't working now. Finally -- and here's the kicker -- they had all this with a $94 million payroll that was way, way over the luxury tax.
Here's where the poker analogy comes in. When you have that big of a payroll, you only have a few means for improving. You can't sign any big free agents, because you're years away from having cap room (in Orlando's case, at least two years beyond this year, otherwise known as the duration of Howard's contract). You probably don't have a ton of trade assets, save for some big expiring contracts that have more value in trade machines than actual value among general managers. Your draft picks are always near the end of the first round, so you're unlikely to get an impact player there. Finally, with a lockout coming up, and the prospect of a hard salary cap approaching, you may not even have the ability to add an average player in free agency using the mid-level exception.
So how, exactly, do you improve? You have to add more payroll. I'm sure the Magic would have preferred to get someone like Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul, but they didn't have the trade assets or the amount of patience necessary to wait those teams out. Failing that, something like this was really their only option.
At the end of the day, they upgraded the talent level on their roster. They sacrificed two core guys that weren't working out (Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis), a backup center that makes an average salary for the next four years to play 13-16 minutes a game behind the best center in basketball (Marcin Gortat) and a backup wing player that had fallen out of favor with his coach (Mickael Pietrus). In return, they got an underrated perimeter shooter, a guy who has familiarity with the system from his time their in the past and a wild card that just might be the X-factor in the playoff race.
Whether the combination of Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas proves to be the mix that gets the Magic over the hump is still an open question, but it's almost besides the point. It's possible Orlando could have thrust themselves back into contention by making smaller moves or by making just one of those trades. They could have settled for taking Richardson and Turkoglu and forgetting about Arenas, hoping Lewis rediscovered his game. They could have kept Carter, traded Lewis for Arenas, moved Brandon Bass into the starting lineup and used Arenas as an Andrew Toney-like scoring guard off the bench.
But those moves, on their own, may not have been enough to bring the Magic to where their payroll demanded they be. As good as Richardson is, is simply swapping Carter out for him really going to push the needle enough? As dynamic as Arenas can be, do you really want to pin your title hopes on him and him alone?
In the end, Orlando's gamble could fail spectacularly, but they had to do it. The alternative was sticking with the team that was 16-9 and in the middle of the pack offensively despite having the most dominant big man in the league.
There's a very good chance that Richardson has a field day raining threes, Turkoglu rediscovers his 2008 self and Arenas becomes Orlando's answer to Toney or Vinnie Johnson when they run into their familiar problem of trying to create offense at tight spots late in games. There's a very good chance Howard can go back into focusing on defense and rebounding instead of having to impersonate Hakeem Olajuwon in his prime. There's also a very good chance the team loses its defensive edge, the lack of depth behind Howard exposes them and the chemistry gets all messed up because of wild cards like Arenas and Turkoglu. This could go either way.
But the alternative is akin to folding your cards when you have $94 million chips already committed to your NBA championship pot. Credit general manager Otis Smith for going for gold while he still can instead of letting his team fade from the title picture.
Angry Coach Face of the Week
All that said, Stan Van Gundy wasn't a happy fellow coaching his new-look team. The Magic lost 91-81, and Van Gundy showed off some brilliant faces during the whole exchange.
This is his "I knew I didn't want to coach this team in a game after we never practiced."
... which I guess makes this his "woe is me for having to coach this new team after no days of practice" face.
Other Screenshots of the Week
Rajon Rondo suffered yet another minor injury this week, this time a sprained ankle. However, it was clear he was hurting before the injury ever happened. How else can you explain him passing on this shot?
Semih Erden is a promising big man that prefers to be looking away when placed in an Amar'e Stoudemire poster.
Gary Neal is a promising wing player that prefers to have a leg in his face in J.R. Smith's poster.
Sorry Carmelo, it was a charge.
If you ever wondered what it's like to be Blake Griffin and be freakishly athletic, it looks a little something like this.
Damn right, D.C. did. (via @CJ_202SB)
JaVale McGee makes the most JaVale McGee play ever in his career, which has filled with many JaVale McGees.
This was a three-point shot by Kobe Bryant in the Lakers-Raptors game on Sunday. It hit off the back rim, bounced on top of the backboard twice, and fell through the hoop. Kobe's good enough where he shouldn't need this kind of help.
Yes, Gilbert, you have Dwight Howard as a teammate now. It's true. Try to contain your shock.