NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Knicks signed former St. John’s forward Orlando Sanchez on Wednesday.
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So much of the excitement surrounding the NBA lies in predicting who within the game’s rookie ranks stands the best chance of achieving superstar status—those who reach the promise bestowed upon many but met by few.
Amongst last year’s surprisingly productive crop, few showcased quite the superstar ceiling of the Orlando Magic’s Victor Oladipo, who finished a close second to Michael Carter-Williams in the league’s Rookie of the Year race.
In less than a month, Oladipo will be headed to Magic training camp as one of the franchise’s unquestioned cornerstones. With a core that includes promising fourth-year players Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic (“He can get you 20 and 20 on any given night”), veteran sniper Channing Frye and rookie point guard Elfrid Payton (“He’s going to be awesome for us”), Orlando’s future is bright indeed. Even if rebuilding remains the name of the game.
In third-year coach Jacque Vaughn, the Magic have a skipper whose offensive principles—cultivated during Vaughn’s tenure under San Antonio Spurs maestro Gregg Popovich—have the potential to inspire one of the game’s elite attacks. Last season’s 29th-ranked efficiency notwithstanding.
“I think we have a good variety of players,” Oldapio told Bleacher Report in a recent phone interview. “Everyone is capable of doing more than just one thing. I think we have more shooters now, which sounds crazy because Arron [Afflalo] is gone. But we’ll be better at the offensive end, especially with our efficiency.”
The loss of Afflalo, the journeyman swingman who very nearly notched his first All-Star appearance as Orlando’s on-court leader a season ago, can’t be discounted. Between his lockdown perimeter defense and ever-blossoming offensive repertoire, Afflalo—who was dealt to the Denver Nuggets on June 26 in exchange for Evan Fournier and the draft rights to Roy Devyn Marble—will be near impossible to replace.
It’s a fact that doesn’t escape Oladipo, who credits Afflalo with imparting upon him one of the most valuable lessons a young NBA player can learn: treating each and every game like Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
“I think the one thing that sticks out is how [Afflalo] had the same approach every night,” noted Oladipo. “When there’s so many games, it’s easy to lose focus. He taught me to bring that same hunger every game, night in and night out. So I’m fortunate he helped bring that to my table early—it didn’t take me a long time to figure out how important that is.”
Truth be told, it’s an ethos that’s come to define Oladipo’s very basketball being dating back to his days as a skinny, under-recruited standout at the legendary DeMatha High School in Maryland.
Four short years later, Oladipo has officially arrived—a two-way talent as adept at handling the ball as he is locking down opposing small forwards, with an offensive skill set that grows more versatile with each passing game.
Watching him lope and glide about the floor, it’s impossible not to conjure this flattering player comparison—one even Oladipo admits has for years served as perhaps his biggest basketball beacon.
“Dwyane Wade is definitely a big one. Growing up, I could relate to him because we were the same height,” Oldadipo said of the 10-time NBA All-Star, with whom he shares a common coach in Indiana University’s Tom Crean. “When I was younger, I felt like, just in case I don’t grow to be 6’9”, I might as well watch someone who’s successful who’s not necessarily the tallest guy even at his position. That was D-Wade for me.”
Owing to the arrival of Payton, Oladipo—who spent 51 percent of his rookie-year minutes as Orlando’s floor general, per 82 games.com—will likely go back to logging a majority of his minutes at his more natural shooting guard position. Still, Oladipo is quick to acknowledge his crash course in Point Guard 101 is one that’s bound to pay lasting dividends.
“It helped me out a lot—to see the floor in different ways, not just playing off the ball,” he said. “Just having the ball in my hand was huge for my development. I feel like I can play both positions, but learning to play point guard more just makes me more of a threat.”
“A threat” probably isn’t how most would describe this year’s Magic; the team, for all its palpable promise, is still at least a year or two away from legitimate conference contention. But as last year’s Charlotte Hornets proved, in an East this weak, authoring an upstart playoff appearance is by no means out of the question.
“I think we can [make the playoffs]. You have to play really well on a lot of nights, but it’s something we’re capable of, “Oladipo Said. “The East isn’t as lopsided any more; it’s pretty even all around. It’s going to be competitive every night, which means we have to bring it every night.”
With Afflalo’s departure, Oladipo will be the one tasked with sounding that mantra, in the process helping forge an even deeper camaraderie in the service of what he calls “a great franchise in a great city.”
“Orlando’s eager for something to cheer about,” he said, “and that’s what we want to give them.”
And while weights and hardwood reps have been foremost on the combo guard’s mind, he’s still found time to take on another routine near and dear to his heart: community service.
Oladipo’s latest initiative: teaming up with Allstate’s Tom Joyner Family Reunion in Orlando to create superhero capes for cancer patients at the Florida Hospital for Children.
“It’s something I feel I’ve always been about, changing lives in any way I can,” Oladipo said. “There’s nothing like giving up your time and energy to kids like this and changing their lives.”
Asked to reflect on the past three years, a span that saw his rise from scarcely-recruited-but-still-serviceable freshman to two-way NCAA standout to the vanguard of the NBA’s youth movement, Oladipo can’t help but invoke a higher power.
Which, whatever one’s beliefs on the matter, speaks perfectly to Oladipo’s well-worn humbleness. Even when such modesty is occasionally tempered by a stronger, more assertive stance—one captured by a passage with which this burgeoning star is doubtless familiar: “From he who has been given much, much will be demanded.”
“It’s been a blessing from God, man,” he says. “Coming out of high school, I didn’t really get a lot of attention. I just always tried to play with a chip on my shoulder. I think that’s what’s helped me take my game to the next step. In the end, I want to be one of the greatest to ever play the game.”
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With Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon, it’s all about potential.
What an annoying term—potential—given the uncertainty attached to it.
But for what it’s worth, Payton and Gordon each have plenty of it. And if it hits four or five years down the road, the Orlando Magic will look back at the 2014 draft as the source for their likely success.
Generally speaking, we could be talking about two long-term starters and cornerstones in Orlando. And together, they can help build and expand on this team’s identity.
With ball-stopper Victor Oladipo already in place in the backcourt, Payton and Gordon give the lineup two additional strong defensive assets.
Payton was named the 2014 Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year while racking up 2.3 steals a game in the process. At 6’4″ with long arms and excellent quickness, he’ll match up with just about any point guard physically.
If you’re a Magic fan, you have to like the perimeter security Payton and Oladipo might be capable of providing.
On the other hand, Gordon finished No. 1 in the country at Arizona this past season in defensive win shares, per sports-reference.com. He ranked first at the NBA combine in the shuttle run, which measures how fast a player can change directions. And at 6’9″ with a near 7’0″ wingspan, Gordon has the size and length to guard bigs and the foot speed to stay with wings.
Gordon’s defensive versatility is likely his current core strength and something he’ll lean on early while he sharpens the rest of his game.
“But what I’m most looking forward to is defending,” Gordon told Jack Winter of Dime Magazine (via Zach Oliver of prestointhepaint.com). “I want to be able to defend the greatest players in the world and see how I stack up.”
Ironically, for Gordon to really take off in Orlando, he’ll need Payton to help make the game easier for him.
Because at this point, his offensive skills just aren’t there. And until he polishes them up, Gordon might find himself stuck in between positions, without the post game of a 4 or off-the-dribble game and jumper shared by most small forwards.
If the Orlando Summer League was any indication of what to expect early on, we’ll probably be looking at a bumpy and lengthy transition.
Still, chances are he’ll never become a go-to guy down low or isolation threat outside. That’s just not his game, which is what makes him one of the more unique high-profile prospects from the 2014 class.
Gordon will make his money off his world-class athleticism and intangibles. It’s a valuable blend you just can’t teach or develop with time and reps. Gordon possesses a combination of strengths that most players will never add, no matter how hard they work or how skilled they become.
From his 39″ max vertical and wide receiver-like coordination to his basketball IQ and instincts, Gordon projects as the type of contributor who can make plays without needing his number called.
Backdoor alley-oops, interior touch passes, putback slams, weak-side blocks, coast-to-coast takes to the rack—Gordon’s energy and nose for the ball lead to easy buckets, rebounds and defensive activity.
Whether Gordon hits his offensive upside might come down to just how well he improves as a shooter, as he’ll need a jumper in the arsenal to maximize his potential. He hit just 16 three-pointers in 38 games as a freshman, and he shot a disastrous 42.2 percent from the line. From a glass-half-full perspective, he did look capable when left open, and he’s still just 18 years old (turns 19 September 16).
I love the Shawn Marion comparison in terms of what type of two-way forward he can be. Marion was a four-time All-Star despite never owning much of a one-on-one game.
If I’m projecting Gordon’s ceiling and most realistic outlook, Marion is the guy I’d expect him to eventually resemble most.
Payton’s appeal stems from his playmaking ability, both as a scorer and facilitator. He averaged 19.2 points and 5.9 assists this past season, when he finished No. 2 in the country in free-throw attempts, a stat that highlights his crafty attack game.
Between his size and athleticism, we’re talking mismatch at the point guard position, where he’s a natural. Payton has a dangerous first step, while his height and instincts allow him to make plays over or through the defense, whether he’s finishing or dishing.
ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace notes how Payton’s physical characteristics should “help ease his transition from unheralded star at mid-major Louisiana-Lafayette to a potential impact player at the NBA’s toughest position.”
But like it will be with Gordon, it’s going to be a process for Payton, who’s played the last three years in the Sun Belt Conference. Against Baylor and Louisville in 2013-14, two NCAA tournament teams, he shot a combined 9 of 30 from the floor.
And until his jumper improves, Payton’s scoring output might suffer. In three years at Louisiana Lafayette, he’s hit a total of 30 three-pointers, never finishing a season above 32 percent from downtown or 65 percent from the line.
But he’s a pretty good decision-maker with the ball, and if a shot isn’t there, chances are he won’t take it. Payton really does a nice job of picking and choosing his spots with regard to knowing when to attack versus knowing when to give it up.
The fact that Payton could shoot 50.9 percent from the floor without a jumper as a junior tells you all you need to know about his scoring prowess around the key.
If Payton ever learns how to shoot, he’ll start looking like a steal 10 picks deep in the 2014 draft.
However, though just 20 years old, we’ve seen Payton fail to improve as a shooter in three years at the college level, leaving less room for optimism and perceived room for growth.
I like the Devin Harris-in-his-prime comparison for Payton, when you take into account Harris’ playmaking ability inside the arc and career 31.8 percent three-point stroke.
While there’s a lot to like about Orlando’s two incoming rookies, each are looking at significant learning curves. And without much talent to play off, the trial-and-error process might take longer than most would hope.
Still, the potential reward Magic fans are looking at should be worth the wait and chase.
Nobody can really predict whether Payton’s jumper will eventually start falling or how far Gordon’s offense will come. We can just project what each prospect will look like if they do improve in the areas that are currently holding them back.
And if these guys do hit their strides and settle into their respective roles, Orlando will likely have found itself two big-time franchise building blocks.
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The Orlando Magic have question marks all over heading into the 2014-15 season, and the small forward position is no exception. The departure of Arron Afflalo is bound to have an impact. Can the additions of Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon make up for it?
Do they actually need to?
Each team adjusts its playing style according to the personnel available. In this case, losing Afflalo and signing Channing Frye implies a paradigm shift. Orlando now has Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and the aforementioned Frye. All are able—and expected—to play a substantial part on offense, which suggests the small forwards will take a step back.
However, that will be a tiny, even minuscule step.
To understand the importance of the Magic’s wing position, it’s probably a good idea to first take a look back at last year.
Grading Orlando’s Small Forwards for 2013-14
Obviously, Afflalo was the most efficient offensive player the Orlando Magic had at the 3, where he spent 50 percent of his minutes. Frankly, he was their best weapon regardless of position, period.
The veteran shot an impressive 42.7 percent from downtown and averaged 18.2 points per game in 35 minutes. Not only that, but his 3.4 assists per outing were good enough to place him third on his team in that category.
He was arguably the most important player for Orlando.
Harkless played 24.4 minutes per game and was a more defensive-minded option at small forward. He might not have been a prolific scorer with 7.4 points per game, but that was a direct result of not being used as a main weapon on attack.
In his second year at the pro level, the former No. 15 pick displayed solid shooting, connecting on 38.3 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Sadly, his free-throw shooting lacked in quality with a meager 59.4 percent success rate.
Harris, while officially playing as power forward for the majority of his time on court, was also a big contributor from the 3. His aggressive style of play led to 4.7 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes, of which he converted a solid 80.7 percent.
Overall, the Orlando Magic definitely had an above-average rotation at small forward in 2013-14.
Changes During the Offseason
The most important change was sending Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets for Fournier and the No. 56 pick, Roy Devyn Marble.
Orlando lost its high-scoring veteran and will now rely on others to step up. Frye’s addition means more firepower from the 4, but who can fill in at the 3?
Harkless and Harris are the first who come to mind.
They are used to head coach Jacque Vaughn’s system and showed a lot of potential last season. Both are still very young and will continue to improve with consistent minutes.
The Magic’s No. 4 pick, Gordon, will likely see some time at small forward, despite having been a power forward during his collegiate career. His 6’9″, 225-pound frame and athleticism place him somewhere between those positions—he will be a 3.5 if you like.
The team also acquired Fournier, who is nominally a small forward but can bring the ball when needed. He is a good shooter and can spread the floor, but his size and athleticism are not up to par with the other three candidates.
Orlando’s Small Forward Position 2014-15
Harkless and Harris seem set to fight for the starting spot at the 3. Both can be efficient small forwards, but they play very different roles. With Victor Oladipo and Channing Frye being the main weapons on offense, Vaughn will likely want to start Harkless for his defensive skills.
The 21-year-old can drain the open shot, but his main focus will be on the other end of the floor.
Harris can play as a small forward or a power forward, and he brings explosive offense with his reckless drives to the basket. Last season, this translated into a team-leading 33 and-1 opportunities, of which he converted 25. He would be perfect as a sixth man, providing lots of energy.
This brings us to the rookie.
Gordon will have a hard time adjusting to the NBA. He was able to dominate the paint as a power forward in college but seems more likely to succeed as a small forward at the pro level, unless he puts on more weight. The No. 4 pick certainly has a tough job ahead of him, getting used to a new position, a new system and a much more intense style of play.
The Orlando Magic will be happy if the 18-year-old manages to become an efficient player off the bench over the course of his first campaign.
Fournier, on the other hand, could turn into a valuable player very quickly.
His versatility and lack of size, however, mean that he will spend more time at the 1 and 2. If Elfrid Payton can’t get into a rhythm early on during his rookie season, the Frenchman may well end up bringing the ball up frequently.
Likewise, if Ben Gordon can’t produce, Fournier will be the main backup behind Oladipo. The 6’6″ athlete provides consistent shooting from three-point land (37.6 percent last season), and his tender age of 21 implies he still has room to develop. If he can improve his athleticism, he will eventually become an important factor for the team, regardless of position.
Despite losing Afflalo, the Orlando Magic have good options at small forward.
Effectively, three players will be able to contribute right away, even if Fournier seems somewhat undersized. Gordon will still need time to develop, but the Magic can afford to wait for him to mature.
One of the main advantages Coach Vaughn has at the 3 is the different style of play each of these three athletes can offer. If he wants aggressive defense, he can bring in Harkless. For the same aggression on the offensive end, Harris is the perfect choice. If in need of a good ball-handler who can spread the floor with his shooting, on comes Fournier.
The small forward position may have lost some punch with Afflalo‘s departure, but Orlando’s fans don’t need to be concerned.
The young guns are ready to take over.
You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.
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It’s around this time each summer when NBA prognosticators posit a handful of teams worth keeping half an eye on—not contenders, not guaranteed bottom-dwellers, but the purgatory-bound upstarts with the potential to shake things up a bit.
The Orlando Magic? They haven’t registered quite as high on the sneaky-sexy scale.
Ignore them while you can, though, because this might be the last summer you’ll be able to.
From the outside looking in, any team that finishes with the third worst record in the NBA—playing in a historically weak East, no less—wouldn’t seem the stuff of upstart promise.
The fact that Orlando recently jettisoned starting point guard and long-standing veteran Jameer Nelson, forcing it to rely on the steady but hardly spectacular Luke Ridnour, doesn’t exactly help the cause.
What the Magic have, however, is a youth-imbued core capable, with the right care and coaching, of catching its conference superiors asleep at the wheel.
Had it not been for Michael Carter-Williams’ incendiary start to last season, Orlando’s own sophomore sensation, Victor Oladipo, might’ve stolen Rookie of the Year right out from under him.
“He never takes a day off,” Oladipo‘s collegiate coach, Tom Crean, said of his former charge in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel’s Josh Robbins.
“He really worked as hard as he possibly could, and if the gym was going to be open, you knew you could count on Victor being there,” added Oladipo’s high school coach, Mike Jones. “He kind of became like the Pied Piper. When Victor worked out, other guys wanted to work out, too. His outlook and his approach are definitely contagious.”
After averaging 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists on 42 percent shooting during his rookie campaign, Oladipo stands as one of the upcoming season’s biggest breakout candidates. More encouraging still for Orlando fans, he’s by no means alone in this regard.
Oladipo may well be the Magic’s star of the future. But it’s in the frontcourt trio of Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic and the newly acquired Channing Frye that Orlando may find its steadiest, sturdiest anchor.
Entering his fourth year, Vucevic is already a double-double machine, and has improved almost across the statistical board in each of his three seasons. With another mini leap, we could be talking about an All-Star caliber center by January. At that point, Orlando has to start thinking about how much it’s willing to spend beyond the burly center’s $4.1 million qualifying offer next summer.
And while Harris’ first three seasons have been beset by minor injuries, his steadily developing offensive versatility is poised to be a focal point of Jacque Vaughn’s Spurs-inspired offense this season. That the 22-year-old Long Island native carved out some summer free time to work out with Carmelo Anthony at the New York Knicks star’s Midtown Manhattan gym (via the New York Post’s Marc Berman) only adds to the intrigue.
Frye, meanwhile, gives the Magic something they haven’t had since Stan Van Gundy left town: consistent outside shooting. The four-year, $32 million tender might seem steep now, but Frye’s veteran leadership is a necessary quantity for any team with grander designs on the horizon.
And that’s before we even get to Aaron Gordon, the 6’9” athletic specimen out of Arizona and the fourth overall pick of June’s draft. Gordon’s offense remains very much a work in progress, but the defense—think Shawn Marion in terms of positional versatility—is nothing if not NBA-ready.
Round it out with the 21-year-old Moe Harkless, the savvy-skilled Andrew Nicholson and the bruising Kyle O’Quinn, Orlando’s frontcourt depth will be an indispensable part of the team’s rotational strategy.
The backcourt, on the other hand—particularly in the wake of Arron Afflalo’s departure—presents question marks aplenty.
If rookie Elfrid Payton’s summer league showing is any kind of harbinger, the Rajon Rondo comparisons might not sound so hyperbolic. Still, Payton’s sheer rawness—particularly in terms of scoring—is bound to be a short-term hindrance to Orlando’s offense. Even if Payton earns the opening-night starting nod, expect a heavy dose of Ridnour as the season progresses.
Make no mistake, the Magic offense is nowhere near a top-tier attack. In fact, given their next-to-last finish in efficiency a season ago, it’d be a minor miracle for them to claw into the top half.
Still, the rudiments of an upstart are there, in the youth-laden talent, considerable cap space and a coach in Vaughn who, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe highlighted back in February, appears to have the confidence of board room and locker room alike:
The Magic locker room is a strikingly harmonious place — a rare thing for a team featuring veterans who want the minutes they’re accustomed to and young guys chasing numbers and money. The organization credits the positive vibes to Vaughn’s straight talk with each player.
But the Magic have so far to go, and they know it. Finding a star in this draft is crucial for the Magic’s long-term championship aspirations. If they find merely a good player, the road is going to be very difficult.
At this point, any one of Oladipo, Gordon, Payton, Harris or Vucevic has a chance—however varying in probability—to emerge as a bona fide cornerstone. That general manager Rob Hennigan and Co. have spread their gambles across all five positions speaks to an organizational philosophy at once sensible and intriguing.
But with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks each adhering to a similar rebuilding timetable (and strategy), Orlando’s margin for error might not be as vast as fans would like to think. Sooner or later, Hennigan must begin shifting his focus from Ping-Pong balls to proven talent to capitalize on the Magic’s massive cap space by bringing in players capable of accelerating the rebuilding process.
With a slew of team and player options on the horizon, the Magic have a bevy of blueprints at their disposal, from maintaining its current core to reinforcing with veterans on the fringes and just about everything in between.
More importantly, they have the means necessary to begin their standings ascent—if not this season, then certainly by 2015.
Tempting as it might be to remain bolted to the basement, the time is nigh for Orlando to grasp a central truth of today’s NBA: Realizing you’re ready is just as important as the process of getting there.
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In case you weren’t getting enough of the NBA‘s silly season, real, live actual basketball gets back underway this weekend in Orlando, Florida.
A day after we stuff our faces with bratwurst and drink gallons of domesticated adult beverages, some of the game’s most promising young talent descends to Florida for the opening of the 2014 NBA Summer League season.
Orlando is the first and typically the more low-key of the two leagues. Teams that feature two summer league squads typically send their so-called A-team to Las Vegas and their B-team to Orlando. This isn’t without reason.
The Las Vegas proceedings are the NBA’s version of a summer camp. Executives from nearly every team use the league as an excuse for a mid-offseason breather in Vegas, during which you catch up with old friends and maybe make some new ones.
Summer league is like All-Star Weekend with one-fourth of the hoopla and pressure. Getting guys away from the day-to-day grind of the regular-season—and even to a certain extent offseason pressures—is conducive to a more relaxed feel.
In Orlando, though, the focus is intently on basketball. If surrounding aesthetics and late-night gambling sprees are your thing, then Vegas is for you. If you enjoy the more low-key and relaxed lifestyle, then Orlando is a perfect summer league to attend.
Even if making a trip to Florida in early July is not feasible, the NBA is doing a great thing by making all the games available on NBATV and its Summer League Live app. No longer will your days have to be filled pretending to like any other sports. With that in mind, let’s check out the complete summer league schedule and quickly look at why each team is worth watching.
Notable Faces: Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart, James Young, Phil Pressey
Why They’re Worth Watching: Because the Celtics could have the two best individual performers in Orlando.
Kelly Olynyk had the entire New England area ready for Larry Bird 2.0 whenever he took over last summer. His actual rookie season left a good amount to be desired, but he’s skilled and big enough (7’0″, 238 lbs) that he could trip and fall into a double-double.
Marcus Smart’s performance could go one of two ways. He could use it as a pulpit to begin proving everyone wrong who allowed him to drop to No. 6 in June’s NBA draft. Or it could go the opposite way, with Smart’s jumper failing him, and his brand of lockdown defense not standing out as much on a stage where few care all that much. Let’s hope it’s the former.
(Note: We’d discuss James Young here, but he might not play due to a neck injury he suffered in a predraft car accident.)
Notable Faces: Mason Plumlee, Cory Jefferson, Markel Brown
Why They’re Worth Watching: Because Mason Plumlee will do Plumlee things.
The Plumlee family is built to dominate summer league. They only know how to play at one speed—roughly that of a turbo-charged Air Force fighter jet; I did the math—and that runs counter to the relative noncompetitive spirit of most of these games. It remains to be seen how many of these games Plumlee will participate in, but he’ll drop double-doubles in any contest he gets significant minutes.
Also: Markel Brown in the open court. Anyone who happened to watch SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays” segment during the college basketball season knows what this means. Brown was among the best handful of athletes in this year’s draft class, boasting a co-combine-high 43.5-inch vertical leap. Brown’s other skills are a little iffy, but dude can flat-out fly.
Notable Faces: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell, Peyton Siva, Brian Cook
Why They’re Worth Watching: Because, yes, it is THAT Brian Cook of which I speak. The one who was on the Lakers when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were still teammates. The guy who knows firsthand what the Rudy Tomjanovich era was like in Los Angeles. The 33-year-old dude who has not played in an NBA game since April 2012.
He will be participating in Orlando for reasons of which I am not yet sure.
The Pistons’ entertainment value will otherwise be reliant on players from their 2013 draft class. Second-round pick Spencer Dinwiddie is still recovering from ACL surgery and cannot participate.
That leaves Kentavious Caldwell-Pope a somewhat important opportunity to remind folks why he was a first-round pick last year. Caldwell-Pope suffered through a miserable rookie campaign, displaying none of the elite shooting ability Detroit had hoped for. He’ll need to get on the right track quick with Dinwiddie and Jodie Meeks in the mix.
Like Brown and Aaron Gordon, Tony Mitchell will be around to dunk in people’s faces. Looking forward to it.
Notable Faces: Nick Johnson, Jahii Carson, Jabari Brown
Why They’re Worth Watching: Because they have two of the best undrafted players from this year’s class. It’s still unfathomable to me—at least for reasons other than size—why Jahii Carson (5’10″) went undrafted. Carson, like the umpteen diminutive but talented guards before him, displayed an innate ability to attack off the rim and a solid long-range jumper.
There is real, mineable talent here that I feel can and will make its way onto an NBA bench someday. He’s going to be a breakout star this summer in large part because he needs to be.
Jabari Brown is an athletic, smooth 2-guard who can really stroke from three-point range, as he shot .410 from deep last year. His decision to leave Missouri was a little curious, though understandable given the turmoil in that program. He’s going to take double-digit shots in games where he gets significant minutes and has a 30-point breakout performance inside him.
It will be interesting to see if the two undrafted guys play better than the one Houston thought enough of to take in the second round (Nick Johnson).
Notable Faces: Solomon Hill, Lavoy Allen, C.J. Leslie, Donald Sloan
Why They’re Worth Watching: Because, umm, I’m struggling here. Perhaps because it’s weird that Lavoy Allen is working out with the team despite being a free agent? Or that it will be nice to see C.J. Leslie back on a basketball floor?
Oh, I got it! Solomon Hill. The guy for whom Larry Bird decided to cartwheel out on the tree’s thinnest branch for. That guy. You may have forgotten about him because he played exactly one playoff minute last season. Bird sold the public on Hill as a three-and-D guy, someone who could help prop Indiana’s perpetually terrible bench unit. The clock is already ticking on that selection.
Notable Faces: Jordan Adams, Jamaal Franklin, Scottie Wilbekin, Jarnell Stokes
Why They’re Worth Watching: Because the Grizzlies made two really interesting picks in this year’s draft. Neither Jordan Adams nor Jarnell Stokes is the most athletic player at his respective position, but both are damn good basketball players ready to contribute right away.
Adams, the No. 22 overall selection, is a natural-born scorer, able to stretch the defense with his three-point range and create space for himself despite his below-average athleticism.
Stokes was a steal at No. 35. He and Julius Randle were the two best rebounders in this group of players, and Stokes showed in workouts that there was more to his game than meets the eye. Superstardom probably isn’t in his destiny, but he’ll be a solid bench big for eight to 10 years.
Jamaal Franklin is an interesting piece because he was the Memphis player last year whom everyone thought was a steal. Franklin struggled to get himself off the bench, and his skill-set overlap with Tony Allen makes his path treacherous. I’m curious to see if he’s added any offensive wrinkles since the season ended.
Notable Faces: Shabazz Napier, James Ennis, Justin Hamilton
Why They’re Worth Watching: Because Shabazz Napier. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player is the only piece on this roster who is going to make people turn their heads even once. The Heat are infinitely more invested in keeping their Big Three together than anything that happens in Orlando or Las Vegas. (They are one of a handful of franchises with teams in both cities.)
Seeing Napier play for the first time since his scintillating NCAA Tournament run makes a moribund roster look, well, less so. Otherwise? Meh.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Notable Faces: Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, Mitch McGary, Josh Huestis, Andre Roberson
Why They’re Worth Watching: Because, as per usual, the Thunder look like they’ve assembled a juggernaut. Minutes distribution will obviously play a factor, as it seems unlikely that Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb or Perry Jones get significant time. Whether Mitch McGary will be an actual participant or one in name only because of his back injury also remains to be seen.
From a purely on-paper standpoint, Oklahoma City should rampage through to the championship game. When we said the same thing a year ago, the Thunder failed to lose a game and captured the crown in Orlando with a decisive win over the Rockets. This year’s crop returns many of the same players, each a year older and (ostensibly) a year better.
It’s a matter of how hard the organization wants to push its young guys.
Notable Faces: Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Victor Oladipo, Seth Curry
Why They’re Worth Watching: Because I honestly kind of want to see whether the Magic actually play Victor Oladipo. Often players are listed on summer league rosters as a just-in-case gesture. Maybe Oladipo plays one game—at max two—but it seems like an unnecessary risk to have him out there. Getting him and Elfrid Payton a little experience working together is the only positive gained there.
More likely, Orlando’s entertainment value comes from the two rookies. Payton and Gordon should run amok in the open court with their combination of quickness and athleticism. If there is not at least one alley-oop from those two, they will have failed America and the proud tradition of the Orlando Summer League.
Do not fail America on this, the weekend of our nation’s birth. Dunk hard and dunk long, Mr. Gordon.
Notable Faces: Nerlens Noel, Pierre Jackson, Jerami Grant, Aaron Craft
Why They’re Worth Watching: The bright side of the Sixers having roughly six players worthy of being in the NBA is that most of them are young enough to still require summer league seasoning. The dark side to that is Philly is sending players to both Orlando and Vegas—meaning we’ll have to see how minutes are divided before getting too excited.
The big deal for most Sixers fans is Nerlens Noel (kind of) making his debut. Noel, the No. 6 pick in last year’s draft, sat out all of last season while recovering from an ACL tear. He’s been healthy enough to play for a long time, but rust will undoubtedly be a factor for at least the first game.
Philly will also be antagonizing opposing defenses with explosive scorer Pierre Jackson and its own fans by bringing in Aaron Craft. The former Ohio State guard was one of the more polarizing figures in college basketball last season—mostly through no fault of his own. He’ll attempt to make an NBA roster after going undrafted last month.
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With NBA’s free-agency period officially underway, all sights are about to be set on the wheelings, dealings and whereabouts of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the summer’s top-tier talents.
But while the focus is bound to stay squarely on the big boys, there’s sure to be plenty of movement on the fringes as well.
“The people, the way they embraced me there in Orlando over the last 10 years, were phenomenal,” Nelson told the Orlando Sentinel shortly after the announcement. “Not too many players can say they played in the same place in any sport for 10 years.”
Nelson doesn’t tout the talent or clout of his free-agent contemporaries. But at 32 years old and with a track record of solid point guard play to his credit, the diminutive Nelson is sure to attract the attention of upper-echelon teams looking for quality backcourt depth.
We’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of 10 teams—some contenders, others on the cusp, still others not so much—that could prove to be perfect fits for Nelson’s unique skill set.
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With the free-agency period upon us, the Orlando Magic don’t figure to be players for big names like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but general manager Rob Hennigan may still be active with the next tier of free agents.
As the Orlando Sentinel‘s Josh Robbins explained, the Magic are relying more on the draft to rebuild the team.
The reality is the Magic are unlikely to make a major splash in the upcoming free-agency period, according to a league source with knowledge of the team’s strategy. If the worst available free agent rates as a “1″ on a 1-to-10 talent scale and James rates as a “10,” the Magic likely will target a player or players who rate as a 5 1/2 or a 6.
Orlando will have nearly $28 million in cap room to spend, adds Robbins.
In the coming days, the dust will begin to settle as rumors either turn into realities or fail to materialize. Now is a good time to rank the gossip from least to most believable.
5. Sign Luol Deng
After going from a playoff team to a team that picked first in the NBA draft two years in a row, Deng will probably look to find his way back on a contender this summer.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Deng may also price himself out of Orlando’s range.
Magic officials like Cleveland Cavaliers free-agent-to-be Luol Deng, a defensive-minded 29-year-old small forward. For Deng to consider Orlando, he probably would want a massive payday, and it seems unlikely that the Magic would meet his asking price.
The Magic also drafted forward Aaron Gordon and acquired point guard Elfrid Payton in the NBA draft. Both were heralded for their defensive abilities going into the NBA, a skill duplicated by Deng. At this point, Orlando’s money would be better spent on shooters.
The team also waived Jameer Nelson, signaling a youth movement. Any agreement between Deng and the Magic would seemingly be a waste of time for both parties.
4. Acquire Greg Monroe
Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe is a restricted free agent and will have no shortage of offer sheets. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Magic will be among his potential suitors.
Orlando’s roster is young, and Monroe, 24, would help fill a need at power forward. However, neither Monroe nor Nikola Vucevic can protect the rim.
For a team that currently lacks scoring power, a tandem of Monroe and Vucevic risks far too many easy points at the basket.
Still, if Orlando does make an offer and the Atlanta Hawks and other suitors are preoccupied chasing other free agents, the Magic could land him if the Pistons aren’t willing to match the offer sheet.
3. Sign Chandler Parsons
Magic fans would love a homecoming by Lake Howell High School (Winter Park) graduate Chandler Parsons, who is set to become a restricted free agent.
Looking to sign James or Anthony, the Houston Rockets have delayed re-signing Parsons. This leaves Houston in a tricky cap situation, as teams will have an opportunity to sign Parsons to an offer sheet.
The Rockets will have just three days to match an offer from another team, per league rules. If Orlando offers more than any other team (and it could, given its cap room) and Houston is tied up in the chase for James/Anthony, the Magic have a chance to land the local kid.
2. Sign Rodney Stuckey
Now without Nelson, the Magic could be looking to add a reserve point guard to solidify the position behind Payton.
According to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press, Orlando is interested in Detroit Pistons free agent Rodney Stuckey.
The Pistons’ other free agents — Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva — are not expected to return. Stuckey will receive interest — expect the Orlando Magic to speak with the veteran combo guard. The market for Villanueva isn’t clear.
Stuckey, 28, is a capable scorer who averaged 13.9 points per game coming off the bench for the Pistons last season. Orlando will likely add a ball-handler, and Stuckey is a solid combo guard who can help spell both Payton and Victor Oladipo.
Stuckey is the “6 player” (as Robbins described it) that the Magic could make a priority while other teams chase the 8s, 9s and 10s.
1. No Major Splash
The Magic won’t contend for a playoff run this season, so tying up money in a veteran free agent doesn’t make sense.
Orlando is looking to be flexible under the cap, especially with the more promising summer of 2015 a year away when impact players like Rajon Rondo, Goran Dragic, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Jefferson, Kevin Love and others are free agents.
Basically, what’s the point of signing an impact free agent this offseason knowing that this is a long-term rebuild? It’s better to let the young core of this team—Oladipo, Gordon, Payton and Vucevic—develop together.
After all, Hennigan has tied the future of the Magic to those guys, not anyone in free agency.
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Aaron Gordon has found his home with the Orlando Magic. We wanted to play a quick game of NBA Word Association with Gordon before he heads to NBA Summer League.
How do you think Aaron will fare in the National Basketball Association?
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According to several sources, the Cleveland Cavaliers are divided on what to do with their top pick. Another option would be to trade the pick, and several teams have expressed interest. The most intriguing offer is from the Orlando Magic.Image By Mike, via Wikimedia CommonsESPN reports:”Of the offers they’ve received, a source says the Cavs aren’t enamored by either the Sixers’ offer (Thaddeus Young and the No. 3 pick) nor the Jazz’s offer (Derrick Favors and the No. 5 pick). However, the Cavs do have some interest in the Magic’s offer of Arron Afflalo, the No. 4 pick and the No. 12 pick.”It appears the Orlando Magic are keen on moving Afflalo. They already have Victor Oladipo at guard, and perhaps, they would like to pair him up with Andrew Wiggins.As for the Cavaliers motivation to trade with the Magic:”The Cavs have strong interest in luring [LeBron] James back to Cleveland this summer and they need to add more pieces to make the team more …
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