You guys want to know a secret? Compared to some of the new guys at SBNation, I'm like an experienced blogger, whatever that means. Sometimes I get the impression that some of these guys think I know what I'm talking about. I know, funny, right? As it happens, ClipsNation was the 8th NBA blog on board at SBNation, which is now up to 15. So I'm smack dab in the middle in terms of club membership. And that, and $3.65, will get me a triple grande non-fat latte at the Starbucks on 2nd Street (the one at Corona, because that's a shorter walk for me than that other one). But I digress. One of the relatively new guys here at SBN is Ben Q. Rock of the Magic blog, Third Quarter Collapse. As I have been trying to do for each game, Ben and I exchanged some questions in advance of the Clippers-Magic showdown. Head over to 3QC to read my responses to Ben's questions; while you're there, stay and read up on the Magic - it's a terrific blog.
ClipperSteve: What's going on with your point guard position? Jameer Nelson is a co-captain and has an extension kicking in next year, but he's in and out of the doghouse, and frequently plays less than Carlos Arroyo, who'll be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Who do you want to see in the game? Will Arroyo be back?
Ben: We've had trouble at the point since the season started. While Jameer has been up-and-down, I think it's been mostly "up." Okay, his scoring is down and his assists are up only modestly. But he doesn't make too many mistakes. Honestly, with all the talent we have up front, I think we can still go a long way with Jameer starting at the point. And that's what I want to see. For better or for worse, he's here for another 5 years and $35 million. Let's give him the chance to prove he deserves it.
Carlos is more polarizing. I doubt we retain him. He's a solid veteran who can start when needed, but Keyon Dooling has outclassed him this season. Both Dooling and Arroyo are free-agents this summer, and the general consensus among Magic fans is that Dooling brings more to the table because he's a change-of-pace from Carlos and Jameer. Keyon is not a distributor by any means -- you, as a Clipper fan, know that better than most -- but he's great at getting to the basket, and he's been more prudent with his shot-selection this year. His defensive energy is key, especially since we traded Trevor Ariza.
ClipperSteve: The Magic signed Rashard Lewis for a kajillion dollars this summer. The team's on a pace for 52 wins and a three seed so it's hard to argue with success. But much of the improvement in the team can be traced to Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu having career years. How much credit does Lewis get? How do you feel about the signing? How do you anticipate feeling about it in a couple seasons when Hedo opts out and is looking for similar money?
Ben: You've got a point with that question (note: I try) because we can trace much of the Magic's success to Dwight's and Hedo's career seasons. But I don't think those statistical increases are primarily due to natural development; Lewis has a hand in that. His three-point shooting -- he's up to 40% on the season thanks to a hot March -- spaces the floor for Dwight to bang down low and for Hedo to drive to the basket. Let's give Lewis some credit for that.
As for Hedo opting-out... I don't even want to think about it. He's my favorite Magic player and, with each passing day, comes closer to making my All-Time list, which includes Nick Anderson, Bo Outlaw, Darrell Armstrong, and Rony Seikaly.
We can't ignore the possibility of Hedo leaving. Magic GM Otis Smith is going to have to get creative with the salary-cap if he hopes to keep Turk. I think Hedo is loyal enough that he wouldn't opt-out, especially if he thinks we have a chance to win a title with him. But if other teams are offering millions of dollars more than we are, well, money talks. And Hedo will listen, just as any other NBA player would.
ClipperSteve: Speaking of Hedo - he's in his 8th season in the league, and suddenly he's averaging 19.6, way above his career average of 11.5. This doesn't usually happen with 28 year olds. It's especially bizarre considering that the Magic needed him to do more in prior years. What's going on with that guy? Where did this season come from?
Ben: First, as I mentioned earlier, Rashard Lewis has done wonders for Hedo because he spreads the floor, giving Turk more room to get to the basket.
Wait, wait, wait. Run that by me again. Turkoglu driving to the basket? He has a handle? Really?
Yeah, he does, and Stan Van Gundy seems to be the first of Hedo's coaches to realize it, which is the second reason Turk's had such a great year. He's handling the ball more than ever, and he's evolved into the Magic's best playmaker. He's probably the least conspicuous 6'10" player in recent memory, and his height allows him to read opposing defenses well.
Finally, he's healthy. He was bothered by the mysterious "Turkoflu" last season, an illness the Magic team doctors couldn't diagnose. He didn't feel well for much of last season, which obviously affected his play. Now that he's back at 100%, he's better than ever.
For what it's worth, if you ask Hedo why he's having such great success, as the Orlando Sentinel did a few days ago, he'll cite the time he spent playing with the Turkish National Team this summer.
ClipperSteve: Every time I see Dwight Howard, I think he's got a tiny head. And then I realize that it's more likely that his massive shoulders just make his head look small by comparison. Where do you stand? Tiny head? Massive shoulders? A combination of factors?
Ben: Average head, bowling-ball shoulders. Check out this photo by Bill Baptist from All-Star Weekend. You've gotta be freaking kidding me with those muscles. Jeez.
Thanks for playing our little game Ben. Great answers. And extra points for slipping former Clippers Bo Outlaw and Keyon Dooling into the discussion. BTW, did everybody see where Richard Jefferson got T'd up for finger-wagging Mutombo the other day? Remember when Dooling dunked on Mutombo and gave him the finger wag? Maybe my favorite Clipper dunk of all time. Then he suffered that nasty ankle sprain and had to start getting by on his basketball savvy. Which was problematic.