The Orlando Magic are less from two years removed from playing in The Finals. Yet general manager Otis Smith felt his team's window for winning a championship was closing quickly, especially after the Magic lost five of six games to fall to 16-9.
Thus, Smith took action in a big way last weekend and remade the roster with a pair of trades. Orlando acquired Gilbert Arenas from the Washington Wizards for Rashard Lewis and got Hedo Turkolu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark from the Phoenix Suns for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus.
"We could have continued on the path we were on, or done something about it," Smith said. "We wanted to do everything we could to try to get where we wanted to go."
The trades haven't turned the Magic around yet, as the team has lost two more games to make it seven defeats in the last eight games. The new players made their Orlando debuts Monday night in a 91-81 loss to the Hawks in Atlanta and Arenas scored 10 points in 26 minutes off the bench while Turkoglu had eight points and six rebounds in 35 minutes, Richardson had nine points in 30 minutes and Clark did not play by coach's decision.
Smith wants to make one more trade because the Magic is without a true backup center to Dwight Howard after dealing Gortat. Howard didn't need any help Monday as he had 19 points and 20 rebounds, both team highs.
Meanwhile, the ageless Grant Hill figures to be the Suns player who benefits the most from the trade as Pietrus is an athletic and willing defender on the wing. The 38-year-old Hill, who Suns coach Alvin Gentry calls "Benjamin Button," can concentrate more on scoring now and less on being a defensive stopper.
"To be honest, I am not surprised of anything that he does," Gentry said. "Me personally, and this is probably biased, but I think out of anyone, he should be on the All-Star team. If I was voting and seeing the way he played every night, he would definitely have my vote. I don't see how someone cannot consider him when they are thinking about the All-Star team with the way he is playing, what he is doing offensively and the level that he is playing at."
Hill also has the admiration of another "old-timer," Suns point guard Steve Nash.
"Grant is still a great player," Nash said. "He plays well for us every game; whether he has 30 points or eight. He does so many things for us, he rebounds, he defends, makes plays, scores and he's a great teammate and intelligent player so, that's the type of guy I'll take on my team every night. He's been great for us all season long."
The Wizards had been trying to shed the last three years and $62 million left on Arenas' contract since he brandished multiple pistols in the locker room almost a year ago. Trading Arenas also establishes rookie point guard John Wall as the franchise cornerstone and ends the question of whether the two could play together.
"We spent a lot of time together. Gilbert was the first player I signed when I got here," Washington president Ernie Grunfeld said. "He did a lot for the organization, but I think it was time for a change. This will be a good opportunity for him to go down to Orlando and revitalize his career."
Lewis can score from outside but also has been inconsistent throughout his 13-year career. Nevertheless, the Wizards believe he can add something to their team.
"Rashard is one of those people who can bring leadership," Grunfeld said. "We think he's going to help our team short-term and long-term."
Celtics Playing Through Injuries
The Boston Celtics' injury list is long. Rajon Rondo has a sprained ankle, Jermaine O'Neal has a sore knee, Delonte West is out indefinitely with a broken wrist and Kendrick Perkins has yet to play this season and probably won't return after the All-Star break while recovering from knee surgery.
That would be enough to make most general manager burns up the cell phone minutes in search in reinforcement. Yet the Celtics' Danny Ainge has done nothing and has no plans to do anything. Such is life when your team is 22-4 and on a 13-game winning streak despite a crowded training room.
"When you look at the injuries we have, there's nothing that's long term," he said. "We might have to think about doing something is someone wasn't going to be able to play in the playoffs or be back in a month or two. But there's nothing long term."
Jermaine O'Neal is tentatively scheduled to return to action Wednesday night against the 76ers. Boston got Shaquille O'Neal back Sunday after he had been out with shin and calf soreness. However, Ainge's one concern is the chain reaction the injuries could have on the Celtics veterans in the long run.
"We knew going into the year that Jermaine and Shaq were not going to play 82 games--that there were going to be maintenance issues and there were going to be times when they needed off through the course of the season," Ainge said. "We knew that coming in. And we felt that same way with KG (Kevin Garnett), Ray (Allen) and Paul (Pierce), quite honestly... that there's going to be times when they need breaks. I think that's still sort of in the plan, and we're just trying to get through this. But losing Delonte and now losing Rajon and losing Jermaine for a longer period of time, it makes it more difficult to give everybody else the rest that they need."
O'Neal Still Identifies with Pacers
The Celtics are Jermaine O'Neal's fifth team in his 14-year career. He debuted in 1997-98 with the Portland Trail Blazers and has also played for the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat. However, O'Neal wants to retire with the Pacers.
"Just because I'm not there anymore doesn't mean all the memories are forgotten," O'Neal said. "If it wasn't for the Pacers, the organization and the community, nobody would have probably known who I was. Anywhere in the world I go, they know me because of my Pacers days."
O'Neal spent eight seasons with Indiana from 2000-08 and played in five All-Star Games during that span. How soon O'Neal retires is up in the air, though he says he will consider ending his career at the end of this season if Boston wins the NBA title.
"Winning a championship is on my agenda," O'Neal said. "The plan is to win it this year then evaluate who is coming back next year and (consider) the opportunity to win it again. That's my thought process. I can say if we win it, there's a good chance (I'll retire)."
Biedrins on the Block?
Speculation is growing around the Golden State Warriors that they will look to trade center Andris Biedrins at the deadline. After years of lacking depth up front, the Warriors suddenly find themselves with too many big men after acquiring David Lee, Louis Amundson and Dan Gadzuric while also drafting Ekpe Udoh.
Biedrins has played well this season, which in a strange way makes him easier to trade because the demand should be higher. Golden State's new ownership also wouldn't mind the salary relief trading Biedrins would provide as he is owed $27 million over the next three seasons.
The Warriors have gotten a look in their last two games at how they would line up without Biedrins as he has been out with a sprained ankle. Lee has moved from forward to center, the position he played with the Knicks last season, and Amundson moved into the starting lineup at forward. Lee had a combined 32 points and 17 rebounds in the two games.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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