Where do the Celtics go from here?

With just five players — Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Glenn Davis, Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace — under contract, their best player, Paul Pierce, with an early termination option (ETO), and their head coach considering a hiatus, the Celtics are certainly in a state of flux heading into the summer.

Pierce has said that he’d like to retire a Celtic, so chances are he plays out his contract or the two sides work out a deal. Pierce might lower his annual salary if it means he can sign a long-term contract prior to the new collective bargaining agreement which is likely to be unfavorable to the players, at least in terms of overall salary.

But he’ll be 33 heading into next season. Is he really a franchise player anymore?

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Vince Carter expected to be back with the Magic

Over the weekend, I outlined the Magic’s options with regard to Vince Carter, but it looks like GM Otis Smith is intent on keeping him around, assuming he’s being forthcoming (which is not his strong suit).

Carter is expected to remain with the Magic through next season, according to Smith. Carter, 33, fell short of being the go-to guy that many expected. “I think that Vince will tell you he’d like to have had a better season, but I’m not putting it on one guy. We failed as a unit,” Smith said. Carter has an expiring contract next season at $17 million — salary-cap friendly for other teams in a trade. But Smith said he “anticipates” Carter staying the entire season. Asked about the prospect of being dealt, Carter told the Sentinel, “I’m not worried about that. I know how the business works. I think I can stand on my body of work.”

When asked how close he thought the Magic were to winning a title, Smith responded:

General Manager Otis Smith put his thumb and index finger together and there was very little space left in between.

“Getting better for us, you’re talking one-eighth of an inch, not two feet,” Smith said Monday as the Magic met for the last time until training camp in October.

Hmm. I’m not sure how you can see this season as progress when you were nearly swept in the Eastern Conference Finals a year after losing 4-1 in the Finals with two of those losses coming in overtime. Unless, of course, you’re a general manager and want to spin the job you’ve done over the last year.

By nearly any measure, the Magic are further away from a title than they were a year ago and that has a lot to do with the addition of Vince Carter. For the sake of Magic fans everywhere, I sure hope that Smith is blowing smoke.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Dwight Howard to work with Olajuwon

This has to be music to Magic fans’ ears. Per the Orlando Sentinel

Some help might come from former Houston Rockets all-star Hakeem Olajuwon, who spoke with Howard during the Eastern Conference finals. Olajuwon has made himself available to NBA players in recent years; he even spent some time last summer working with Kobe Bryant to help Bryant to develop his low-post game.

“In the next couple of weeks, we will see each other,” Howard said of Olajuwon. “I just can’t wait to go up there. He’s a great guy. He had a lot of great things to say. I’m just looking forward to having the chance to work with him.”

Howard has improved his post game since he’s entered the league. Since he entered straight out of high school, and has been in the NBA for six years, it may seem like he hasn’t progressed all that much. But if you remember Shaq when he was 24, he didn’t have a polished post game either. The difference between the two players is that Shaq was about 40-50 lbs. heavier at the same age so he had that much more power.

Howard can shoot a hook with either hand, and he hit a few nice ones against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Let’s not forget that Kendrick Perkins is a very solid post defender and did a nice job of keeping Howard out of the paint when he started his post up, pushing him out of his comfort zone for those jump hooks.

Olajuwon’s patented move was a baseline fadeaway that was essentially unblockable. Then when the defender would start to cheat up to try to contest it, he’d go up and under. Howard’s footwork is okay, but he’s awfully stiff when he makes his moves. Olajwuon was a far smoother athlete, which had everything to do with his background playing soccer growing up in Nigeria.

Howard needs to continue to work on his footwork, extend the range of his jump hook by 2-3 feet and develop a turnaround jumper over his right shoulder. That’s something that Shaq developed over the first half of his career which turned into a great weapon when the defender was bodying him up trying to keep him out of the lane.

I don’t think Howard is ever going to perfect the 15′ bank shot like Tim Duncan or develop an arsenal of moves like Pau Gasol, but he can build on what he’s already done and can certainly learn a few things from Olajuwon. If I were Howard, I’d book “The Dream” for the next few summers.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Where do the Magic go from here?

While it takes more than one player to lose a series, this season was about Vince Carter, and the Magic’s decision to trade for him last summer in lieu of re-signing Hedo Turkoglu. Here’s what I wrote about the move in mid-July:

Let’s see, your team just lost in the Finals — losing two games in overtime — and your main ballhandler is a free agent. What do you do? It’s tough to create the kind of chemistry that gets a team to the Finals, so you re-sign him, right? Not the Orlando Magic, who balked at Hedo Turkoglu’s $10 million-per-season asking price and instead pulled the trigger on a trade for Vince Carter. So essentially they gave up their most consistent player (Turkoglu) and a budding star (Courtney Lee) for the 32-year-old Carter. A healthy Jameer Nelson (along with a savvy mid-level signing) may have been enough to put this Magic team over the top, but now we’ll never know.

Turkoglu has had his problems in Toronto, but on a per minute and per shot basis, he was just about as productive as he was in Orlando. We’ll never know if the Magic would have beaten the Celtics if they had kept their Finals core intact, but one thing is for sure — the Vince Carter move was a bust. Against Boston, he averaged 14-4-2, shot 37% from the field and just 21% from long range. The question remains: Does Vince Carter have what it takes to win an NBA Championship?

If the Magic have learned their lesson, they’ll try to move Carter this summer. He has one more year on his contract (at the tune of $17.5 million) and another year that is a team option. So he essentially has an expiring deal, which could be valuable to a team trying to get out of another big contract. Three trade partners spring to mind…

Perhaps Golden State would be willing to take on Carter’s contract for a year to get out of the four years remaining on Monta Ellis’ (26-4-5, 45% shooting) deal, which would allow the Warriors to fully commit to rebuilding around Stephen Curry. Along with Jameer Nelson, Ellis would give the Magic the league’s smallest backcourt, so that may not be a very good idea.

The 76ers would almost certainly be willing to trade Elton Brand (13-6, 48% shooting), though that would force Rashard Lewis to the three. (Andre Iguodala is another possibility, but the Sixers would want something else in return, like Marcin Gortat.)

Finally, the Wizards would love to unload Gilbert Arenas (23-4-7, 41% shooting), and Carter would take some of the scoring pressure off of rookie John Wall. The move would also create a ton of cap space (for the Wizards) in the summer of 2011 for a possible run at Carmelo Anthony. Arenas would represent another roll of the dice for Orlando, but if he can get back to All-Star form, he could give the Magic the playmaker on the perimeter that they had hoped to find in Carter.

I’m not sure if any of those options sound good to Magic fans, but this is where the team is at with regard to Carter. Given his inability to win in the postseason, no one will want him at his current salary, so the possible trade partners are limited to teams looking to dump a bad contract of their own.

Or the Magic could elect to hold onto Vinsanity and tweak the roster around the edges, hoping that this core has better luck next season. Clearly, that hasn’t been Otis Smith’s style, so I’d expect a big change or two as Orlando tries to find the right players to surround Dwight Howard.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Where do the Hawks go from here?

After a pretty nice show of backbone in Game 6 and Game 7 of Atlanta’s first round series against the less talented but far gritter Bucks, the Hawks were absolutely drilled by the Magic. The Hawks lost the four games by an average of 25 points, including a 43-point loss in Game 1 and a 30-point loss (at home) in Game 3.

Why am I dwelling on the series? Because it’s a good indicator of just how far the Hawks still have to go to be true contenders in the East.

While it’s true that the franchise has increased its win total in each of the last six seasons, it just doesn’t seem like this team is anywhere near contention. Complicating matters, the Hawks’ most steady player, Joe Johnson, is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Complicating matters further, Johnson has not endeared himself to Hawks fans over the past week or two. After a pretty nice first round (21-5-6) against Milwaukee, Johnson posted just 13-5-4 and shot under 30% against the Magic. That’s not the kind of performance that will convince a team to sign him to a max contract. Moreover, he’ll be 29 at the start of free agency, so one wonders if his best years are already behind him. He was outplayed by a 33-year-old Vince Carter, if that’s any indication.

Johnson is one of those players, not unlike Michael Redd a few years ago with the Bucks, who is not a “max” guy yet will command a maximum contract. I’ve said this over and over — just because a player is the best that a franchise has, it does not make him a franchise player.

The problem the Hawks face is that Johnson will be able to walk this summer with no compensation. He maybe willing to work out a sign-and-trade with his new team, but just like Chris Bosh, why would he agree to lower the talent level of his new team when he can sign with several teams outright?

Either way, between his performance against the Magic and his recently sour relationship with the fans, it does not seem like Johnson is long for Atlanta. Another issue is what to do with Mike Woodson, who has guided the team during its ascension.

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