Monday, February 27, 2006

Puerto Rico, hooo...Serbia-Montenegro, hooo...

Just remember that you heard that chant here first, because when you hear the TD Waterhouse Center rocking to that in a year or two, you’ll know exactly where it came from. After a longer than anticipated delay, I’m here to weigh in on the Magic’s trade deadline moves as well as a couple of other topics of interest. It actually worked out quite well that I was forced to delay this post, because it took the Magic a couple of games before they began to truly work Darko into the rotation. It was beginning to look like the same old scenario for the Dark One after his first two games for the Magic resulted in just 4 minutes of playing time (as well as a DNP-CD) and, honestly, I was not all that surprised, considering the Magic’s managerial incompetence. However, all that began to change on Friday night as Brian Hill called Darko’s number early in the second quarter against the Sonics. As expected, the crowd roared in approval of Darko’s insertion, but not anything even close to the sound that erupted from the stands when Carlos Arroyo checked in a minute later. Though I was very pleased that the Magic were able to acquire Arroyo in their trade with Detroit, I had failed to consider the tremendous public relations boost that the Magic will receive from acquiring the favorite son of Puerto Rico. Though Miami is a far more Hispanic city than Orlando, the Central Florida area has become increasingly Hispanic itself over the last 10-15 years, with the majority of these people hailing from the island of Puerto Rico. As the consistently awful Matt Guokas pointed out, Arroyo has instantly become the Magic’s most popular player. For a franchise that needs some local buzz and is also campaigning for a new publicly financed arena, this should be a positive. By the time that Arroyo entered the game, the Magic were starting to extend their lead and Darko had slammed down his first two points at home. Normally, I would’ve settled in for the rest of the game and a few beers, but just then a couple of my friends called from the gentleman’s club around the corner from my house and invited me up (at 7:30, no less). As you would expect, I immediately set my Tivo for record and headed out to meet my friends and help some young girls pay off their college loans.

I arrived shortly (Seriously, I live maybe two minutes away from a strip club. I also live within walking distance of a 7-11, another bar, the beach, a drive-thru liquor store and an American Legion that has NFL Ticket…I’m never moving) to find my friends sitting in the aforementioned establishment. I quickly joined them for viewing of what can only be described as “questionable talent”. We ended staying for about and hour or so (though my friends had been there since 5:30, I know), after which I returned home for a few more beverages and the recorded second half of the Magic game. I ended up skipping through a large part of the second half in order to get a further look at Darko and Arroyo, even though the game was out of hand by early in the second half as the Sonics were clearly mailing it in by mid third quarter. Because of the lack of competitive play, there wasn’t an awful lot to take away from the game, other than the fact that Jameer Nelson better get back from his injury soon if he doesn’t want to end up the Wally Pipp to Arroyo’s Puerto Rican Lou Gehrig.

The Magic followed up Friday’s win with a totally uninspired performance against Houston yesterday for much of the game’s first three quarters. Apparently, the lack of announcers threw the Magic starters off their game. Though the Magicians lost again (for the 13th time in 15 games), the fourth quarter provided a glimpse of the future and, possibly, a little hope of brighter days ahead. Darko blocked four shots and Arroyo set up Hedo Turkoglu on a couple of three pointers as the Magic reserves nearly erased all of Houston’s twenty point lead before finally falling short. The efforts of Darko and Arroyo even had Brian Hill talking about getting them more minutes (and possibly starting assignments) in the near future. Hey, you’re 20-35 and you just traded the only player on your team who could be presently viewed as a “star. Why not just go ahead and do it now?

Though I’m still not sure what Darko is going to be able to bring to the Magic offensively, it has become clear that he does possess the ability to block and alter shots on a regular basis. That ability, in tandem with the athleticism and defensive instincts of Dwight Howard, should allow him to get meaningful minutes while becoming more comfortable on the court and within the Magic’s offensive system. Additionally, Arroyo has looked great thus far, using his quickness to get in the lane and create for himself and his teammates. Watching him play point guard is further reminder of how terribly deficient Steve Francis was in so many of the areas that a successful NBA point guard should excel in. I’m sure there is a reason why Jerry Sloan ended up nearly murdering Arroyo two years ago, but I’m also pretty damn sure that at least some of that was due to Jerry Sloan being crazy as well as suffering from horrible John Stockton withdrawals (insert lame Brokeback Mountain joke here).

I think that you can guess by now that I am in favor of the Magic’s trade deadline moves. Darko is an intriguing talent who’ll finally get a chance to blossom in Orlando (plus he’s seven-fucking-one). Furthermore, the Magic have the next year and half to study his development and determine whether or not he is going to be a player they deem worthy of re-signing when he hits free agency. The Magic also have two very good young (and somewhat proven) point guards on their roster to help direct an offense that is sure to stagnate from time to time when you consider the amount of youth and inexperience on this team. When you consider that the Magic only gave up Kelvin Cato (and his carny hands) and a top 5 protected pick in 2007 for these two building blocks for the future, I’m wont to say that the Magic have significantly improved their possibility for future success, and I haven’t even mentioned Steve Francis yet.

I’m not going to spend too much time talking about all the things that I couldn’t stand about watching Steve-O play basketball (I’d like to go home tonight), instead I’m going to paste an email my friend (and fellow long suffering Magic fan) Vitas sent to me last Wednesday. The email subject was “No more…”

No more…
…power dribbling between the legs
…fade away jumpers at the end of the shot clock
…constant arguing with the referees
…passes out of bounds
…crying for long lost Cuttino
…lazy defense
…“O” sign with the arms Thankfully, Steve-O has gone the way of MTV Jams
…Steve Francis

Thank you Jesus

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. I got particular joy out of the fact that Steve Francis was traded for the expiring contract of Penny Hardaway (though not as much joy as Brian Hill must’ve gotten when he was able to cut Penny), who was the only “star” player whose tenure in Orlando was filled with more whining and bitching than that of Francis. This joy was not only a result of seeing karma kick penny in his ass, but also a visceral reaction to not having to deal with the sight of Jamal Crawford shooting pull-up fadeway jumpers for the next four years. I would’ve rather held on to Francis than acquire the likes of Crawford and Mo Taylor (which the Magic were close to doing), two guys who would neither excel nor fit in amongst the current roster of young Magic players. Don’t get me wrong, both are solid NBA players, just not players that you really want on your team. I, along with every other Magic fan I spoke to, was more than happy to receive Trevor Ariza and Penny’s expiring contract in exchange for the man who once skipped a game to attend the Super Bowl.

One side note to the trade: Look for Trevor Ariza to blossom as he’s taken under the wing of another athletic, defensive, and slightly crazy small forward…Stacey Augmon. I can see the two of them shooting lotion at reporters already.

Finally, if the Magic were able to acquire Adam Morrison (who they are reportedly very high on) in this year’s draft, they would start the 2007 season with a lineup that looked something like this:

PG: Nelson, Arroyo (defensively they’ll have problems but should create just as many for opponents)

SG: Stevenson (very tough and underrated defensively), Dooling (perfect as an off the bench scorer…yes, I’ve turned around on him, a bit)

SF: Morrison (I’m not yet sold on him as a pro, we’ll see), Turkoglu (Solid, but definitely NOT an NBA starter)

PF: Darko, Battie/??? (possibly Vazquez, though I’m not counting on it)

C: Howard, Kasun (Howard is a STUD and Kasun is a lot better than people realize)

When you look at that roster, it’s not too hard to imagine this team becoming a contender in the Eastern Conference within the next few years. Obviously a lot has to go right in order for the Magic to become a contender (and not a lot has gone right for the Magic in recent memory) but the team is now positioned toward the future with a young, talented roster and $17 million dollars of cap room next summer to spend on some perimeter scoring. Presently, the future looks as bright as it has looked for this organization in quite some time, and that view couldn’t have come any sooner. The Magic’s last real shot in to succeed in Orlando is fast approaching as Dwight Howard continues to develop and moves his way toward possible free agency. If these moves do work out, then the Magic stand a great chance of re-signing Howard and possibly (one day) bringing a championship to Orlando. If they don’t work out…well, then get used to the sound of the Nashville Magic.

A couple of other notes:

I don’t know what was wrong with Matty Guokas on Friday night Maybe he was hanign out with Rudy T before the game), but he was actually making pertinent and well thought out comments throughout the broadcast. When discussing the chances of Darko becoming a legitimate NBA player, the name Jermaine O’Neal came up (as it invariably does whenever talk of an underutilized, yet highly thought of young big man surfaces) and while Guokas didn’t say that Darko couldn’t become Jermaine O’Neal (he can’t), he focused his comparisons on another player who’s become productive after a couple of seasons stuck behind more experienced, talented big men, Primoz Brezec. Not only is that a far better parallel than the Jermaine O’Neal angle (in terms of size, skill set, ethnicity), but it would also make me awfully happy if Darko were to ever fulfill Guokas’ propechy. Brezec is a solid high post passer and shooter, whose game would complement the low post development of Howard very well.

- Chad Jackson’s stock is beginning to skyrocket after he ran a 4.32 at the combine this weekend. Apparently Dee Webb ran something in the mid 4.4s, which is pretty damn impressive when you consider that he was running with a sawed-off shotgun tucked into his waistband. The only other Gator (or former Gator) that's been mentioned in the combine reports that I've seen is Ingle Martin who is evidently working his way into consideration as a possible late round pick. I haven't really watched him play since he left Florida (save for one I-AA playoff game this year) but I'm shocked that he is getting NFL consideration. Then again, Doug Johnson and Jesse Palmer played in the NFL so maybe I shouldn't be surprised at all.

- Florida lost (again) yesterday, putting the Gators at 5-6 in their last 11 games and 8-6 in the SEC. They are also 0-3 when wearing their throwback uniforms, which they’ll also be wearing during the SEC Tournament. Sweet.


CFunk28 said...

You've gotta take care of those ashy elbows.

Ingle looked damn good throwing 15 yard outs. On a line and there in a hurry. It may not have showed at UF but you can tell he played for Spurrier a little bit.

I would hope that the NFL Network will invest in better commentators for next year's combine. Their "expert" had more facts wrong than Sebastian Telfair's girlfriend has guns. He said that Ingle left UF b/c he didn't want to back up Grossman. Of course Martin left because he lost the job to Chris Leak. Idiot. They should hire me.

Mark said...

And me...Yeah the article Iread said Martin looked pretty good and definitely had the needed arm strength. He must've progressed quite a bit since his one year at UF. He was very inaccurate during his short tenure. Then again, knowing what we know now about the Ron Zook era, it's not that surprising if he wasn't getting great coaching which is of the utmost importacne for a QB. Especially one that ran the Wing-T in HS. Good for him. I would be pretty ironic if he became the NFL player and Leak didn't.

Greg said...

I watched Martin play in the I-AA championship against Applachain State. He looked better than your standard I-AA QB.

Arroyo has been putting up some good numbers in what I've read. Still haven't seen either him or Dark the Shark as a Magician.

The 'gic are going to need time to gel and I'd like to see Howard, Darko and Ariza working together in the front court.

Here's another question that NOBODY is asking or even thinking about: What's Grant Hill going to do next year?

Most would say "retire" and that sounds like it's most likely. He could probably sign somewhere for the vet minimum because for those two weeks a year that he's healthy he can really bring it.

Mark said...

I don't thik that Grant retires. I'd be willing to bet that he signs for vet min or maybe for part of some contender's mid-level exception. I can't see the Magic bringing him back (even on the cheap)b/c he'd be taking time away from guys like Ariza and Turk.

I like what I've seen form both Darko and Arroyo thus far, though I haven't really watched enough of Ariza to get a true feel for him.

Jerry said...

I saw Martin play several times at Furman. He looked way too 'toolsy' to be on a 1-AA field -- clearly standing out as the most talented guy on the field. However, he wasn't quite as dominant as he should've been. Maybe he didn't put 100% into preparation because he was so much better than everyone else. He was still really good, but not quite as good as I thought he should've been.

Mark said...

He definitely has the athletic tools to play QB in the NFL. I'm interested to know if his accuracy and ability to read defenses has improved.

It's quite funny to read some of the Gator message baords now that the results of Ingle's combine numbers have come out. You have a ton of people saying that the Gators could've won the SEC if Zook hadn't "run Ingle out of town" and such. Further villifying Ron Zook for all he did to the UF program (if that's even possible). Ridiculous.

Jerry said...

Yeah, it leaving the #1 recruit in the country on the bench for 3 years would've been some brilliant strategery.

Greg said...

"toolsy" that's the word I was looking for for Ingle Martin. On the other hand, the QB from App State seemed to make more plays even though he wasn't as "toolsy". Usually they were busted plays and he would scramble for some good yards.

Mark said...

The little I saw of the ASU QB was impressive but he definitely didn't look like he had the neccessary skills to play QB in the NFL. He did look like he might have the athleticism to convert to another position.

Gator fans couldn't wait to get Leak on the field and now many of them are already looking past his senior year towards the time when becomes a starter. I'll be the first to say that he hasn't lived up to all the expectations (which would've been nearly impossible)but we're also talking about a kid who has had three different OCs in three years as well as two completely different offenses within that same span. College football fans drive me crazy sometimes.

Greg said...

There's a piece in florida today about Dark the Shark. He's definitely saying the right things so far.

Mark said...

Some of the quotes from Hill and Smith were very encouraging. He also seems to get the hierarchy of the team already, which is probably a product of coming from a first class organization like Detroit. He may not have played much but he seems to have picked up some aspects of professionalism that often escape younger players. I don't want to get ahead of myself but I'm definitely encouraged by the progress of things thus far. Of course, it's been all of a week.

Jerry said...

If you're looking for a toolsy QB to share some time with, check out Barrick Nealy from Texas State. He's huge. He can run. He can throw hard. Unfortunately, he doesn't throw it accuratley at all. But he sure looks the part.

Mark said...

He seem awfully toolsy. His head is also shaped like Ervin Johnson's.

CFunk28 said...

Isn't Neally the kid who transferred from Houston?

You've got to figure that Darko has developed just from practice. Going up against 'Sheed and Big Ben every day is either going to make you better or make you cry.

Mark said...

I'm not very familiar with the University of Houston football program, so I'll say...sure.

As for Darko, it was probably a little of each.

Jerry said...

Yeah, he's from Houston.

Greg said... has the 'gic taking Rodney Carney. His mother's last name is Ware and his brother's last name is Slay.

Mark said...

That seems a little high for Carney. He's like a smaller, slightly less skilled version of Gay. They both lack focus at times and tend to drift and settle for perimeter jumpers despite being the best athlete on the floor at all times in college. If that happens now, what happens in the NBA against the best atheltes in the world?

I had no idea that Carney was related to Ron Slay. I remember Slay well for both his play and over-the-top histrionics during his tenure at Tennessee and find it amazing that I've never heard this mentioned beforeconsidering how much the media likes ot beat stories of that nature into the ground.