In their continuing look at how the Raps stack up against this year's playoff clubs, the HQ turns its attention to the Orlando Magic...
When we launched our "Who'd You Rather Be" series last week, I couldn't help but have the Metric song, "Gimme Sympathy," stuck in my head.
One of the singles off their last album, the chorus features Metric lead singer Emily Haines asking the age-old question, "who'd you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?"
While it's been a line that always resonated with me for various reasons, it was hardly applicable to the first few editions of our series as in my books, both the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz were in a class or two above Toronto.
But what about the Orlando Magic?
The "Beatles vs Rolling Stones" argument is obviously a complex one beyond simply legacy vs longevity, but the point Miss Haines may be making is that perhaps being the Beatles isn't so much better than the Stones, and the two groups are closer in stature at this point then you'd imagine...
...much like the Magic and Raptors.
Orlando is a strange case in terms of marketability.
At face value, one would think that it has the advantage over Toronto; better weather, no individual income tax, one of the larger US-based markets, etc, etc.
After all, when you ask the average NBA free agent what things factor into his decision to choose a certain market, the above are usually tops on the list.
But while Orlando indeed hits the mark on all, this is a team that can't seem to hold onto its superstars.
First Shaq, and now currently Dwight Howard. For some reason even with all of its assumed advantages, players still don't view it on the same level as a Miami or LA.
Some of this I'm sure comes down to team history, the Magic are hardly on the same level as the Lakers in terms of franchise cache, and I'd argue behind even a smaller market team like Utah. But there's another part that I can't quite put my finger on and for that reason, I'm not sure there's a huge difference between Orlando and Toronto in terms of market.
Orlando gets the edge, but based on a free agent history that's not much rosier than that of Toronto, I can't quite hep but think that if the Raps could create a consistent, winning culture here in TO, this might even end up "advantage Dinos." I'm not sure what it is, but I get the feeling that if the Magic were to lose Howard and drop out of the playoffs, they'd suffer the same "relevance" issues as clubs like Washington and Charlotte.
Looking at Orlando's roster, it's hard to see much in terms of future upside.
Players like Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon are all overpaid and well on the decline, and in terms of young prospects we're talking Earl Clark and...Justin Harper?
Yep, the cupboard is pretty bare. Orlando's best players are actually the ones entering the middle of their NBA careers, guys like Ryan Anderson, JJ Redick and Jameer Nelson. But as much as I'm a fan of the former two, Anderson and Redick alone don't usurp Toronto's overall personnel situation right now in my opinion. I'd prefer the upside presented by guys like Jonas Valanciunas, not to mention that the Raptors are entering the 2011-12 NBA draft with a lottery pick and two second-rounders to help boost that overall talent picture.
However I'm still going with Orlando here by a hair thanks to one name; Dwight Howard.
Even if Howard is gone this season via trade, it's hard to think Orlando won't be able to at least grab some solid talent in exchange for his services, as well as future prospects/draft picks. To me this tips the scale in favour of the Magic but again it's another close one, a bit like deciding between Daniel Orton and Solomon Alabi...
Advantage Magic, but again, barely
Orlando GM Otis Smith gets his fair share of criticism in terms of the moves he's made during his tenure with the Magic, perhaps best summed up recently by Yahoo! Sports' Kelly Dwyer:
...GM Otis Smith takes over (from from former GM John Weisbrod), and because the team starts to win behind Howard and Nelson, you tend to ignore his missteps along the way. Like attempting to hire Florida's Billy Donovan, before settling on Stan Van Gundy once Donovan went back on his agreement with the Magic to coach the team. Or the drafting of Fran Vazquez. Or the Rashard Lewis contract...or Carter, (who) fell off unexpectedly in 2009-10, especially in the playoffs...
...then 2010-11 hit and Smith made a pair of panic moves, sending Carter and Marcin Gortat to Phoenix for (Jason) Richardson, while dealing Lewis (overpaid, but not using up many possessions) for Gilbert Arenas (overpaid, using up a whole lot of possessions).
There were certainly some good moves made by Smith as well, however as Dwyer points out, it's hard to say how many of these were the result of "good GMing," and how many were dumb luck.
Bryan Colangelo's reign in Toronto is similarly a bit of a roller-coaster ride. Mixed in with shrewd moves like Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa are epic disasters like Hedo and Jason Kapono. When you line his record up with that of Smith, the argument could be made for either of the two, but since we're talking about the team's current situation, I'm giving the nod to the Raps.
Otis Smith has shown an even greater propensity to cut off his nose to spite his face of late than Mr. Colangelo (BC actually resisted the temptation to shoot for short-term gains this past season) and faces a much more daunting job of getting his club back on track than Toronto, something we'll touch on in the next section.
There's no guarantee of course that Colangelo keeps does what's best long-term for the club now that he's got some assets to work with, but right now, I'll take him over Smith running the show, by a hair.
Advantage Raptors, barely.
If you're looking at the salary situations of the league's various teams, the Orlando Magic have to be among the least desirable.
They amnestied Gilbert Arenas and his $20M or so a season, but how about having over $75M tied up in Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Glen Davis, Jason Richardson, Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson over the next two seasons?
Some of those contracts drop off after next season, but the bottom line is Orlando's financials ain't pretty, and that's without taking the $19M Dwight Howard's owed next year into account. Even if Howard's moved, the Magic are going to have to get mighty creative just to re-sign Ryan Anderson, one of their best players who's a restricted free agent next season.
The Raps have only the long-term deals of Linas Kleiza and Andrea Bargnani to worry about, as Jose Calderon is in the final year of his sizable deal, and I'd still argue that Amir Johnson is playing up to the standards set by his contract. The rest of the crew is still on rookie deals, or have short-term commitments, hence the flexibility alluded to in the previous section. This one's a no-brainer then for me.
Advantage Raptors, by a lot
So who'd you rather be?
A Magic team that's much more relevant NBA-wide, and has Dwight Howard to dangle via trade, or a Raptors team with much better upside from a talent perspective, and a ton more financial flexibility?
It's a tough call for me, but I'm giving the ever-so-slight edge to Orlando.
Unless the Dwight trade turns into a complete fiasco that sinks the club into the NBA basement for the next few seasons, Orlando is simply a more NBA-relevant market at this point, and long-term I think that gives them the edge over TO, something ESPN alluded to in their last round of "NBA Future Power Rankings:"
"The best news is that the Magic are still in Orlando. With a gleaming new arena, a sunny climate and no state taxes, this team should be a strong free-agent draw as long as it can remain even remotely competitive."
The Magic finished 25th out of the 30 NBA clubs on said Future Power Rankings, while Toronto sat one spot lower at 26.
And that's pretty much how I view things right now as well.