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What the Orlando moves mean for the Celtics

12.18.10 at 10:31 pm ET
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Could Gilbert Arenas help put the Magic back in position to contend in the East. (AP)

In two separate trades over the course of one day, the Orlando Magic turned over almost half of their rotation for an upgrade at the scoring guard position (Jason Richardson) and high-priced gambles on two of the league’s worst contracts (Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas). In doing so, they ditched the services of two former All-Star wing players whose production has plummeted (Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis) and two well-paid role players (Mikael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat).

There are a lot of moving parts for the Magic, who over the last two and half weeks have lost six of seven games and watched as the Celtics asserted themselves as the favorites in the East and the Heat established themselves as the best team in their division.

The Celtics have always considered the Magic their toughest conference challenger and many of their offseason moves have been done with the Magic in mind. Orlando general manager Otis Smith clearly felt that his team needed an overhaul to try and keep pace.

The particulars are as follows:

Orlando gets: Gilbert Arenas from Washington and Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkulgu and Earl Clark from Phoenix.

Orlando gives up: Rashard Lewis to Washington and Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mikael Pietrus, a 2011 No. 1 pick and $3 million to Phoenix.

Phoenix and Washington’s motivations are clear. The Suns, who are going nowhere fast, shed Turkoglu’s onerous contract, which still has two years remaining after this season and get an intriguing big man with potential in Gortat along with a serviceable player in Pietrus. The cash will help the inevitable $4 million buyout on the last year of Carter’s contract. The Wizards obviously get rid of Arenas, who still has three years, $60 million and just as much baggage next to his name.

But these trades are all about the Magic, or more specifically, Dwight Howard, who as Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer points out, can opt out after the 2012 season. If this team had reached its limit, then it does them no good to continue playing out the string until Howard becomes a free agent.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the personalities of the new players will mesh with coach Stan Van Gundy, which is the huge blinking neon light of an X-factor in this discussion, the Magic have gotten better offensively. They have shooters everywhere to put around Howard and in Arenas they have a scoring guard who can create his own shot.

That is particularly important against the Celtics, who are one of the few teams capable of playing Howard straight-up. Without the double-teams, the Magic had trouble getting their shooters open for shots against the Celtics in the playoffs until they switched to a constant pick-and-roll attack. Carter was supposed to be that player, but he wasn’t able to do it.

The Magic should also play faster, an obvious adjustment for a team with so many perimeter players, a dominant rebounder and a lack of size beyond Howard. All of this makes it even more important that Delonte West is able to return from his broken wrist because Van Gundy now has a number of different lineup combinations he can use and the Celtics could use West’s defensive versatility.

Here are five essential realities of the deal from Orlando’s perspective.

JASON RICHARDSON IS BETTER THAN VINCE CARTER

Richardson is four years younger and a better shooter and scorer. His contract is up after this year, while Carter was likely to be bought out of the last year of his deal, so the financial aspect is basically a wash. Carter just didn’t work in Orlando and this part of the deal is an upgrade.

THE MAGIC GOT MUCH SMALLER

To get Richardson, they had to give up Gortat, who should play significant minutes now that he’s not backing up the best center in the NBA. Losing Gortat effectively eliminates Orlando’s depth at center, but with Howard playing 35 minutes a night, they don’t really need that much. Gortat was always a luxury, and a highly paid one at that.  He was an asset for the Magic and it was only a matter of time before they decided to cash it in.

HEDO TURKOGLU IS THE TRUE WILD-CARD

Some have suggested that the addition of Gilbert Arenas will make or break Saturday’s maneuvering, but it’s actually Turkoglu with the most boom-or-bust potential. He was a key part of the Orlando team that beat the Celtics in the 2009 playoffs and made the NBA finals, but after parlaying that into a big free agent deal, Turkoglu quickly wore out his welcome in Toronto and Phoenix.

If he can get back what he was in Orlando the first time, the Magic may have pulled off a coup. His production has declined, but not as dramatically as one might think. He and Paul Pierce have had many good matchups over the years and Pierce has always held him in high regard.

If nothing else, Turkoglu is familiar with Van Gundy and Howard and should be looking at this as a chance to salvage his career. Speaking of which …

DID THEY REALLY NEED TO TRADE LEWIS FOR ARENAS?

That’s the interesting question right now. In dealing Lewis for Arenas in a separate trade, the Magic take on a longer contract and get a player with obvious issues. It’s not worth re-chronicling the incidents that led to Arenas’ suspension last season, because the real concern is whether he can still play at a high level.

Arenas has never been an efficient offensive player and his shooting percentages are down this season. On the other hand, it’s difficult to judge Arenas as a player because he has only played 57 game over the last two-plus seasons due to injuries and the suspension. But this is the perfect situation for Arenas, who is friends with Smith from their days in Golden State. He couldn’t have asked for a better chance at reclaiming his career.

Like almost everyone else in these trades, Lewis is a player in decline. He doesn’t rebound and he’s had trouble creating his own shot. Where once he was such an inside-out threat that Kevin Garnett routinely called him one of the toughest covers in the league, he has become a rather predictable jumpshooter.

Getting rid of Lewis opens up playing time for Brandon Bass, a more traditional power forward, and Ryan Anderson, who is something of a Lewis clone. Anderson has put up good numbers in limited minutes and an opportunity for him to play may wind up being a side benefit for Orlando.

JAMEER NELSON IS STILL THE STARTING POINT GUARD

The Magic made that clear during their press conference: Nelson, who is one the team leaders, will remain the point guard. So where does that leave the rest of their lineup? The likely scenario has Nelson, Richardson Turkoglu, Bass and Howard as the starters with Arenas coming off the bench along with J.J. Redick, Quentin Richardson and Anderson.

Give Smith credit. He didn’t waste any time in making the assessment that his team was falling behind quickly in the Eastern Conference. For that reason it’s hard to call it a panic move. But this was a gamble, and like any gamble, there’s an air of desperation to it.

It won’t take long  for the Celtics to get a look at the revamped Magic. They play in Orlando on Christmas Day.

Read More: Dwight Howard, gilbert arenas, Jason Richardson, Orlando Magic
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