Earlier this week, LeBron James said his situation in Cleveland and Dwight Howard’s dilemma in Orlando were not comparable.
Where they differed most was that James ultimately made a decision – however foolishly elaborate and narcissistic it may have played out – while Howard was virtually paralyzed by indecision.
When Howard finally made up his mind just hours before Thursday’s trading deadline and opted into the final year of his contract with the Magic, a cool breeze of relief wafted through central Florida. That lasted only briefly as a hovering, ominous cloud of uncertainty again began to form.
“It just starts all over again,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “You just start the clock again. Then we’re right back to where we were when the playoffs ended last year.
“Everybody will be talking about, ‘OK, what’s going to happen in the summer? And what’s going to happen next year?’”
But maybe not.
Van Gundy deserves a ton of credit for keeping the Magic in the title hunt with all of the hubbub around Howard. You can continue to insist that Orlando is a considerable notch below Chicago and Miami in the Eastern Conference, but the Magic have beaten both teams recently, squeezing in a win over Indiana for good measure.
If you’re still not convinced, the Magic visit the Heat later today and host the Bulls on Monday night. Wins in either – or both – of those games would certainly sway some skeptics and clinch the season series over both opponents.
The passing of the trading deadline allows the Magic to play the rest of the season virtually drama-free. Who knows what they can accomplish now that every question at every practice, shootaround or game will simply be about basketball?
Things should settle down considerably, although Magic forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis was probably being a bit too optimistic when he said, “Maybe I can go buy me a house now.”
Another first-round flameout following last year’s early exit to Atlanta certainly would sound the alarm bells again. However, a trip to the conference finals following an upset of Miami or Chicago would have Orlando looking forward to the offseason, where the picture changes dramatically.
The Magic will still be well over the salary cap and unable to add anyone significant through free agency. But the players they had no success in moving this season become much easier to move July 1.
J.J. Redick will have one year at $6 million remaining. His shooting stroke and manageable price tag make him Orlando’s most coveted asset. With Jason Richardson locked in for three more years and DeAndre Liggins on the bench, the Magic could survive without Redick.
Jameer Nelson will have one year at $7.9 million left on his deal. There are a handful of teams – Sacramento, Portland, Indiana, Utah and New Orleans immediately come to mind – who could benefit from Nelson’s veteran savvy and toughness at the point and would have the financial flexibility to take him on.
Hedo Turkoglu will have two years and $23.6 million remaining and will still be tough to move. But the Magic also do not owe any first-round picks, which means they could sweeten the pot in any trade.
Since Orlando reached the 2009 NBA Finals, GM Otis Smith has shown a willingness to swing for the fences. Yes, he has struck out a couple of times. But he knows he has a true championship cornerstone in Howard and keeps trying to find the right mix around him.
And over the next year or so, it should get a little easier.
TRIVIA: Who is the only player to average better than 20 points per game playing alongside Dwight Howard? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Dwyane Wade’s father was ejected from Wednesday’s Heat-Bulls game at the United Center for using profanity, according to a report by ESPNChicago.com.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, tongue firmly planted in cheek, explaining how recent acquisition Stephen Jackson and his considerably troubled past will fit in with his strait-laced team:
“Jack’s pretty much been a Boy Scout most of his career and I look forward to fun conversations and humor and many good times with young Stephen.”
LINE OF THE WEEK: Al Jefferson, Utah vs. Detroit, March 12: 36 minutes, 14-18 FGs, 1-1 3-pointers, 4-4 FTs, 12 rebounds, one assist, two blocks, 33 points in a 105-90 win. Andrew Bynum, Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey and Marcus Thornton also had monster games, but none did it with a heavy heart. Jefferson was playing hours after the death of his grandmother, who raised him in MIssissippi.
LINE OF THE WEAK: Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia vs. Miami, March 16: 27 minutes, 3-16 FGs, 1-4 3-pointers, 0-0 FTs, four rebounds, zero assists, two turnovers, seven points in an 84-78 loss. There were a lot of reasons the 76ers trailed by 29 points after 27 minutes, but Holiday’s aimless direction of the offense was the main one.
TRILLION WATCH: The week’s first game produced the best run of zeroes as Sixers guard Jodie Meeks put up a 7 trillion in last Sunday’s matinée at Madison Square Garden to gain a share of third place. Season leader Devin Ebanks (9 trillion) almost was unseated Thursday by Minnesota’s Anthony Tolliver, who ruined a perfectly good 12 trillion by committing two fouls.
GAME OF THE WEEK: New York at Philadelphia, March 21. The 76ers are barely holding on to first place in the Atlantic Division and need a win to stop the momentum of the Knicks, who are charging hard with Mike Woodson now calling the shots. No team benefits more from playoff seeding than the winner of the Atlantic.
GAME OF THE WEAK: Washington at New Jersey, March 21. An ideal spot to tank for the Nets, whose first-round pick is going to Portland unless it is in the top 3.
TWO MINUTES: Two players immediately impacted by Thursday’s moves are shooting guards Klay Thompson of Golden State and Jordan Crawford of Washington. Thompson was backing up Monta Ellis, who was traded to Milwaukee on Tuesday, and in three starts has averaged 19.7 points and 4.3 assists, although he is shooting just 40 percent (21-of-52). Crawford, whom some may remember as the player who dunked on LeBron James in a summer game two years ago, has taken over as the permanent starter following Nick Young’s trade to the Los Angeles Clippers but is no stranger to hearing his name in the pregame introductions. He averaged 19.3 points and 4.7 assists in 18 starts at the end of last season and 13.5 points in 11 starts this season. However, he is shooting below 40 percent from the field. … Don’t be surprised if Ronny Turiaf winds up in Boston. The Nuggets are planning to waive Turiaf as soon as their three-way trade with the Wizards and Clippers becomes official. With Chris Wilcox out for the season and Jermaine O’Neal showing no sign that he can remain healthy for a prolonged stretch, the Celtics desperately need a big man. There has been some speculation regarding 6-10 stringbean Chris Johnson, who was released by Portland. But Turiaf’s bulk and experience will serve the Celtics better in the postseason. The deadline to sign a waived or bought-out player and have him remain eligible for the postseason is Friday. … A year ago, Kemba Walker led UConn to six straight wins over 19 days and the NCAA tournament title. As a rookie with the Bobcats, he got his seventh win of the season Saturday night. … Oklahoma City has lost three of its last four home games as it has struggled with offensive execution and poise down the stretch. The Thunder held a 102-91 lead over the Rockets with 2:29 to play but scored just one more point as Russell Westbrook committed two turnovers, missed a jumper and had a technical foul. Coming out of three late timeouts in Friday’s loss to San Antonio, the Thunder saw (a) Westbrook launch an awful 3-pointer; (b) James Harden throw a lazy inbounds pass that Danny Green turned into a steal and dunk; and (c) Kevin Durant fumble a possession and get tied up for a jump ball. This is why we’re not convinced the Thunder have the mental makeup to reach the Finals. … NBA.com’s Shaun Powell noted that USA Basketball’s coaching staff may be cursed with this week’s firings of team assistants Nate McMillan and Mike D’Antoni. He wrote that before head coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke suffered his worst NCAA Tournament showing ever Friday, losing as a second seed to Lehigh. And assistant Jim Boeheim of Syracuse has endured the Bernie Fine mess, a potential drug-testing scandal being probed by the NCAA and two suspensions of center Fab Melo, although his Orangemen are still alive in the Tournament. … Warriors center Andris Biedrins is 1-of-9 from the line this season. … Chauncey Billups was back on the Clippers’ bench Saturday for the first time since undergoing surgery on his torn Achilles tendon, sporting a suit and a walking boot. Despite a late rally that gave them a home win over the Rockets, the Clippers are just 11-12 without him. “It’s been a struggle to watch us be inconsistent night in and night out,” he said. … The league-owned Hornets were having their customary bad week – an 0-3 homestand that included losses to both the Bobcats and Wizards – until Friday, when the city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana and the NBA reached a tentative deal that extends the lease of New Orleans Arena through 2024 while removing attendance benchmarks and exit options. The Hornets will have their annual subsidy from the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District reduced from $7.9 million to $2.8 million, but that can be recouped through a $50 million state-funded arena renovation that likely will increase revenue streams through luxury suites and club seats. “I think the idea of not being able to bring up the word ‘benchmark’ or ‘attendance thresholds,’ all those things is a sigh of relief for our fans,” Hornets president Hugh Weber told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The deal must be approved by the state legislature and is contingent upon the sale of the team. Owner, anyone? … When Miami visited Philadelphia on Friday, the City of Brotherly Love’s sports fans made sure Heat forward Shane Battier knew that his alma mater of Duke had been stunned in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Lehigh, a small Pennsylvania school. “The Philly faithful were very kind to give me updates the whole time, in the way the Philly fans only can,” he said. … Bucks forward Drew Gooden had a triple-double in less than three quarters in Wednesday’s win over the Cavaliers, collecting 15 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists. “Believe it or not, I like to pass,” Gooden said. “I kind of pass up some shots too much to try to make the extra play, or the home-run play.” There was some of that as well, as Gooden had five turnovers. “Tonight, he was Magic, with a little tragic sprinkled in,” cracked teammate Mike Dunleavy. “Five turnovers? I mean, come on.”
Trivia Answer: Steve Francis. … Happy 34th Birthday, Soumaila Samake. … In the only tournament that really matters, my Final Four picks are Miami, Orlando, San Antonio and Dallas.
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.