Apparently tired of being forgotten due to long winning streaks by the Celtics and Heat and the media’s infatuation with the Knicks, the Orlando Magic made some news of their own on Saturday.
First, Orlando sent Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, a 2011 first-rounder and cash [Editor’s note: supposedly $3 million] to the Suns for Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Earl Clark. This was quickly followed by a straight-up swap of huge salaries with the Wizards, as Orlando sent Rashard Lewis to D.C. in return for Gilbert Arenas.
Currently fourth in the East and losers of 6 of its past 7, Orlando felt pressured to make a move to keep up with Boston and Miami. The new guys will face a trial by fire this week, as Orlando travels to Atlanta on Monday before a brutal three-game homestand: Dallas on Tuesday, San Antonio on Thursday, and the Celtics on Saturday in a marquee Christmas Day matchup.
That’s the short term news, but more important is how the trades will impact each of the teams involved. Here’s a breakdown of how each team made out.
While it is difficult for a team to change so many of its key players midway through the season (the Mavericks tried to do the same thing after acquiring Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood last season - they lost in the first round), it’s clear that Orlando needed to change something for them to have any chance of making it to the Finals this year. But it’s debatable whether Turkoglu and Richardson will make a better combination than Lewis and Carter. Both pairs had similar skill sets, and while Richardson is a slight upgrade over Carter (he’s certainly a better three-point shooter), Turkoglu and Lewis are a wash at best. Orlando GM Otis Smith is banking that Turkoglu’s return to Orlando will revitalize him after a tough year-and-a-half split between Toronto and Phoenix, but that’s certainly not guaranteed. Also, don’t discount the loss of Pietrus, an energy guy off the bench who could provide scoring.
And then there’s Gilbert. Arenas is obviously a risky acquisition, but if he is willing to settle for a complementary role (TBD), then the payoff could be huge. Pairing him with Richardson in the lineup would give Orlando two quality scoring threats at the guard position, which would really help take offensive pressure away from Dwight Howard, allowing the big man to focus on his areas of expertise, rebounding and defense. He’s a threat to their clubhouse chemistry, but ultimately the success of Arenas will make or break the Magic’s season. If Gilbert can become a reliable scoring option and check his ego at the door, the Magic go from playoff team to title contender. He’s been given a great opportunity to finally play for a good team, but will he be smart enough to make the most of it?
Pietrus and Gortat aren’t bad players and can be worked into the Suns’ rotation, but neither they nor Vince Carter are going to make a difference in turning around a struggling team. The main motivation for the deal seems to be cap space: Carter is only owed $4 million guaranteed next season, and they’re now free from Turkoglu’s 3-year, $32 million deal (with a $12 million player option in 2013-14). Plus they got some cash from Orlando. But overall, the deal is still a bit confusing considering the Suns’ current situation. Steve Nash turns 37 in February, and the supporting cast around him is filled with veterans that aren’t good enough to do anything in the playoffs.
This is a very different team from the one that came within two games of the Finals last year. Amar’e Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, and now Richardson have all gone. Now it looks like the final years of the Nash era will be wasted while the Suns struggle to rebuild. Orlando’s pick in 2011 will be in the 20s and Phoenix’s will be in the mid-to-late teens, so they’re going to have difficulty adding a blue-chipper through the draft. And owner Robert Sarver has never been one to overspend for an impact free agent. From a basketball standpoint, Carter can still score a bit, but he’s not as good a fit for the offense as Richardson was. The Suns may end up sneaking into the playoffs (they’re currently ninth in the West), but all signs point to this being a team going nowhere soon.
The trade helps the Wizards in that it demonstrates their faith in John Wall. By trading Arenas, they have fully committed to him as the leader of this team. In addition, the departure of Arenas rids the 20-year old Wall of a negative influence that could have halted his development in Washington. The Wizards are obviously a few years away from becoming competitive, but Lewis isn’t going to force Wall to share the spotlight or cause any problems. He’s been in decline the last few years, and going to the hapless Wizards likely won’t change that, so Washington will probably remain towards the bottom of the East this season.
The trade doesn’t really do much to help the Wizards on the court, but everyone knew going in that it was going to be a long rebuilding process. At least now, Wall has a positive environment to mature as a point guard (Javaris Crittenton, the other member in Arenas’ gun dispute, is also gone). The trade may be one step among many on the road to respectability, but for the Wizards, it is a start.