Every good magician needs a reliable assistant – someone to do the dirty work for them, someone to help them pull off their miracles. Even a magician who goes by the nickname ‘Superman’. Of course we’re talking about Magic man Dwight Howard, whose Orlando squad continued their slow slide from contender to pretender last night by getting booted out of the first round of this year’s playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks.
As per usual, Howard was magical on the court, posting averages of 27.0 points, 15.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per the six games. He even hit his foul shots at a respectable rate for him – 68.2%. As has long been the case with the Magic, the problem isn’t Howard – it’s his magician’s assistants. For the length of his career, Howard has never had a reliable, legitimate second-in-command. The Magic have had talented teams, including this year’s, but it’s always been a roster full of players more suited to the third or fourth spots on the “star depth chart” of the team. This year’s team is no exception, as the Magic’s roster is full of average players. But Jameer Nelson was an All-Star in the past, you argue. True, but that probably is more of a condemnation on the All-Star Game than a recommendation of Nelson as a “star”. Truth be told, he’s an average point guard at best – just by skimming through NBA team rosters you’ll find 10-15 point guards you’d take over Nelson. Jason Richardson? Nice player, good scorer, but not a star. Hedo Turkoglu? Head case, unreliable, uniquely talented, but not a star. Gilbert Arenas? Not unless your calendar still says 2007.
In fact, the Magic probably don’t even have a legitimate third-in-command. Look at this year’s title contenders – Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami – would anyone on the Magic, other than Howard, qualify as a “third star” on any of these teams? Hell no. So what does Orlando do to fix things? They need to get a legitimate star to play alongside Howard. Easier said then done, though, as there are no stars available on the free agent market this summer, Arenas is on their books for another $60 million still and they have no first round draft picks this June. A trade? Who on the Magic roster could bring back a star in a trade? No, things aren’t looking too sunny in Orlando right now. But things could, and might, get worse, as Howard’s next magical move might be a disappearing act after his contract expires next season.