Remember the 2009 Orlando Magic? One could argue they were the most unlikely NBA Finals team since the turn of the century. Since LeBron officially arrived in 2007 when he carried the Cavs to the Finals, here’s who has represented the East in June:
* LeBron-led teams: 6
* The KG/Allen/Pierce Celtics: 2
* The Orlando Magic
The Magic were the 3rd seed in the East in 2009 and won 59 games, but nobody thought they’d get to the Finals ahead of the 62-win Celtics (who had just won the title), and the 66-win Cavs, led by LeBron.
But Stan Van Gundy surrounded young center Dwight Howard with four 3-point shooters – Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Courtney Lee (plus Rafer Alston, Mickael Pietrus and JJ Redick, among others off the bench) and the Magic stunned the Celtics in 7 (winning game seven on the road!), beat the Cavs in 6, and went to the Finals against the Lakers.
The Magic lost to the Lakers in five games, and went back to the Eastern Conference Finals the next year, but quickly came undone as Lewis and Turkoglu got older and Howard feuded with Van Gundy.
Fast forward to 2016 and Stan Van Gundy is in Detroit with a decent young team. They’ve got a monster young center in Andre Drummond (who, like Howard in 2009, leads the NBA in rebounding, and is Top 15 in blocks and field goal percentage), and a bunch of 3-point shooters.
With Tuesday’s acquisition of Tobias Harris, the Pistons look like a carbon copy of that 2009 Magic team, just younger: Reggie Jackson (37% on 3-pointers), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (31% on 3-pointers) and now Harris, who is having a rough year (31% on 3-pointers; 36% last year, when he played well-enough to earn a 4-year, $64 million contract in the summer of 2015). Before Harris signed it, I wondered if perhaps the Magic would let him walk after drafting the talented Mario Hezonja.
The emergence of 20-year old Aaron Gordon in the last month, plus the potential of Hezonja, made Harris expendable.
So Detroit’s going to have options to go small in the playoffs – assuming they get there; currently the 9th seed – with Harris at the 4, maybe rookie Stanley Johnson at the 3, and a backcourt of Jackson and KCP. Or they could go with Marcus Morris at the 4 and Harris at the 3. Having options is a good thing.
I think Detroit could be a sleeper in the East – as long as it doesn’t have to play Cleveland in the 1st round. Sorry, I’m not yet a believer in the Toronto Raptors.
As for the Magic, Ersan Ilyasova’s contract calls for a team option after this year, so he could be gone. Brandon Jennings is a free agent. So basically, both of these guys could be gone next year, and Harris ($17 million next year) on the books. A win for the Magic. The only loss? I picked Orlando to reach the playoffs. That won’t happen now.