State of the Cap: Orlando Magic

Sat, 05/19/2007 - 8:19am

By Josh Redetzke

2007/08 Orlando Magic Payroll: $39.1 million
2007/08 Estimated NBA Salary Cap: $55 million
Roughly: $15.9 million under cap

[img_assist|nid=3868|title=Dwight Howard|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=438]The Good: What’s one of the scariest thoughts concerning the Eastern Conference right now? The idea that Dwight Howard is only going to get better. The 22-year-old has already racked up monster stats in his third season, like 17.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 60% shooting. He even added 20 points and 12 rebounds in his first all-star game appearance. Howard’s free throw shooting is a concern, but I can think of another center that played for Orlando and had similar struggles at the line and he turned out to be pretty darned good anyway. The Magic get Howard for one more year under his rookie contract, and then it’s time to pay up. With their cap future looking good, it shouldn’t be a problem.

A day that Magic fans have been waiting a long time for is about to arrive. Grant Hill’s mega-deal is finally going to end this summer. The significant cash savings of $16.9 million will give the team room to sign some free agents. They might even re-sign Hill since he played pretty well this season and stayed moderately healthy. Considering all the money given to him by Orlando over the years, perhaps Hill will stick around for the league minimum as a kind gesture. It’s the least he can do.

The best value on the team probably belongs to Jameer Nelson. Under contract for just $1.9 million next season, Jameer produces way beyond his pay scale, averaging 13 points and 4.3 assists per game. His assist total is a little low for a starting point guard and he didn’t shoot the ball this year nearly as well as last year, but Jameer is a tough competitor who has a chance to be an excellent floor leader. The Magic will need him at the top of his game considering their current lack of talent in the backcourt.

The Bad: Orlando is already regretting the deal they gave Tony Battie and it still has three years left to go. The contract isn’t wildly expensive, averaging about $5.7 million a year, but Battie’s numbers simply aren’t there. He only managed 6.1 points and 5.2 rebounds in 23 minutes a game. You would like to see a little more production out of someone who is supposed to be an important frontline player for this team.

This summer, the Magic will have to play a game called “How Much Would You Pay Darko”. This season, Darko Milicic played pretty well coming off the bench. His 8 points and 5.5 rebounds a game were even better than last year and he’s an excellent shot blocker. Do you give him more than Tony Battie since he outplayed him? Darko is just under 22 and could still improve, but if he doesn’t, $7 to $8 million a year would be expensive. However, that might be what it takes to keep him. It’s a sticky situation that will need to be handled just right.

The Future: After last year’s furious finish, Orlando shot out of the gate winning 17 of their first 21 games and looking like a juggernaut. The rest of the season, they went 23-38 and barely held on to the 8th seed in the playoffs, where they were swept by the Detroit Pistons. Despite the disappointing end, this is still a team on the rise and they now have a chance to take the next step.

Hedo Turkoglu is the veteran leader on this team and while he had a decent year, it wasn’t spectacular either. The Magic need an experienced scorer to pair with their star center and other good, young players like Nelson and Trevor Ariza. They will have a little cap room to work with this summer even if they sign Darko so they might be able to find one in free agency. They may not have enough for a guy like Vince Carter or Rashard Lewis (though adding one of them would definitely make things interesting). More affordable answers could be the versatile Gerald Wallace or the playoff-tested Jerry Stackhouse. Using their money wisely could net Orlando two good players instead of one great one.

Dwight Howard is the real deal. All the Magic have to do now is put the pieces around him. With an improving young team, a star to build around, and excellent cap management, this team couldn’t be in a better place right now. However, things can go bad in a hurry if the front office isn’t careful. Let’s hope Orlando makes the right moves and Howard gets the teammates he deserves.

Free Throw: Last year’s co-player of the year in college basketball was supposed to come in and provide immediate outside shooting help. Alas, J.J. Redick missed half the season with injuries and was mediocre the rest of the time in 14 minutes a game. It’s interesting that the two top college players, Redick and Adam Morrison, both struggled mightily to translate their games to the NBA. Let’s see how they do now that they have a year of pro ball under their belt.

*Includes player options for Pat Garrity ($3.8 million) and Keyon Dooling ($3.5 million).

Grade: A-

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