Today we have a guest post from a friend of TPASTBM and all-around good guy "Live or Die Magic," the Fan Voice over at Orlandomagic.com. - OCTB
Is the season over? Last week the pavements of central Florida ran red what with all the Magic fans jumping from the ledges. Meanwhile, the actual Magic team kept playing games:
- A home win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
- A road loss to the Indiana Pacers.
- A home win over the New Jersey Nets.
Solid, if not spectacular. But this is where the Orlando Magic stand after losing Jameer Nelson for the near-future, and quite likely, for the season. So, you could argue that we are up and down right now. Unfortunately, as reflected by the attitude of the Magic fans on the Orlando Magic Message Boards, there seems to be a bit more down than up.
This season has seen our expectations picked up, tossed high in the air, and spun around to the ground. In a matter of a couple of months the Magic went from being a team that hoped to advance past the second round to being a title contender and now back to being a team that hopes to advance past the second round. This much change this quick is perhaps too much for the fragile Magic fan’s psyche. After all, we were taking baby steps, not leaps. Two years ago we finally made the playoffs. Last year we made it out of the first round. Season sweeps of title contenders San Antonio and Los Angeles, and a strong first showing against the Cleveland Cavaliers made us start to incredulously wonder if we were on a championship run in Year Five of the Howard era. There was even that brief, bright day when we owned the best record in the entire NBA.
The easy way out is to think that it is all gone now. No more chance for a championship. But for me, nothing has changed. The team’s goals should remain the same even without a vastly improved and confident Jameer Nelson in the lineup. Otis Smith placed photos of the O’Brien trophy all over the Magic locker room. He gave an O’Brien trophy pin to every Magic staffer. This was done in the preseason. This was done before Dwight Howard decided to become the most dominant defensive force in the game. This was done before Rashard Lewis demonstrated his comfort in the Magic lineup and his all-star level confidence. This was done before Stan Van Gundy started outcoaching pretty much ever coach he’s faced. This was before Courtney Lee forgot he was a rookie and made us forget the 2005-to-2007 drafts. And yes, this was before Jameer Nelson proved Otis Smith right and started outperforming his contract.
So, if the goal was a title before we actually had any reason to think it should have been a goal, how can we, in our grief at the loss of Nelson, discard that goal after the first half of the season has gone so far beyond our expectations? As Magic fans, we should be used to some heartache, some frustration, and even a sense of betrayal. All of that emotional turmoil should have steeled us for a “go for broke” mentality this season, with or without Jameer.
We all know that Jameer has a competitive nature. Surely it must be eating him up that he is likely going to miss the season. It is all the more unfortunate that this is occurring so soon after he was announced as an all-star for the first time. Like everyone else within the Magic organization, he has sensed the touch of greatness on this season’s team. Despite the sense of urgency for this season, I can only guess that he and the team are pursuing a more long-term approach to his injury. As fans, can we really argue against this? I know I can’t. Believe me, I would love to see Jameer attempt a short period of rehab and then give it a go sometime in April. But I understand and accept the decision to protect the long-term health of a young player with much promise in seasons to come.
As for the other players in the Magic locker room, they certainly wish Jameer was along for the ride. But that ride is still in progress and even if Nelson isn’t playing, their goals remain the same. Dwight isn’t going to play with any less exuberance and joy just because his buddy isn’t on the court with him. It just isn’t in his nature. With Nelson out, each of Rashard Lewis shots become even more important. Hedo Turkoglu, more than any other player (yes, even more than Anthony Johnson) has more responsibility with Nelson out. Now he must dictate the flow of the offense for longer stretches during the first three quarters and as for the fourth quarter, well, if he was Mr. Fourth Quarter last season…
Anthony Johnson, Courtney Lee, and JJ Redick all will see time at the point guard position. None of them are a replacement for Jameer Nelson but all have the ability to distribute the ball and create their own shots. Courtney Lee’s progress and Redick’s rebirth made Keith Bogans expendable, allowing us to trade for Tyronn Lue.
Speaking of the Lue trade, let’s all agree on the following clarification: Tyronn Lue is not a replacement for Jameer Nelson. Tyronn Lue is a replacement for Anthony Johnson. AJ went from back-up point guard to starting point guard. Tyronn Lue went from third-string point guard to back-up point guard. There is a difference. In fact, between Turk, Lee, and Redick getting minutes at the point, I think Lue should expect quite a few DNP-CDs in his future.
Bogans-for-Lue wasn’t earth shattering or even sexy. But it was solid. My biggest fear was that Otis Smith would make a trade that he wouldn’t have considered prior to Nelson’s injury. I had to laugh at all the speculation of Otis moving Turkoglu in order to replace Jameer. Seriously? Turkoglu is even more important now and it will be his playmaking ability that will be the best possible replacement for what Nelson provided to the team. Bogans was a player that was likely in his last season with the team and he is replaced by a player about which we can say the same. Our roster is not disrupted by a new starting-caliber player who isn’t familiar with our personnel or our system. Most importantly, we did not add salary that would have compromised our cap flexibility beyond this season.
Meanwhile, the team is still playing well. Sure, there will be an adjustment period for a few more games, but this team is still on pace to be a top team in the East. So here it is: if the Magic players are adjusting to the loss of Nelson and continuing on with the season, goals still in sight, shouldn’t we? My excitement isn’t diminished, my hope for the outcome of the season is still strong. Good things may still come from this setback. We still have incredible players and an incredible coach that are going out and laying it down each night for our enjoyment. There will still be playoffs, there will still be an overmatched first round opponent. And yeah, there will still be that 2nd round matchup with a Cleveland, a Boston, an Atlanta, or a Detroit. And Nelson or no Nelson, I can’t wait to see how our Orlando Magic respond to that challenge.
Credit the Orlando Sentinel for the photos