Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors with a feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke about the Clippers with Lucas Hann, who is the editor-in-chief of SB Nation’s Clips Nation. Click here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.
Hoops Rumors: There has been some talk that Dwight Howard may seek a return to Orlando as a free agent this offseason. Could this reunion work for both sides? What odds do you give this of happening?
Zach Oliver: I do think this is a reunion that could work for both sides. The Magic are clearly a piece, if not more, away from being true contenders, and some of the things Dwight brings would help fill that void for the Magic. Obviously Dwight isn’t the same player he used to be, and that’s probably going to have an impact on it, as well as him likely wanting the four-year max.
That being said, if there is clear interest from Dwight, and he is going to come back and be engaged, the Magic are in no position to say no. They need a guy who is a splash and can make an impact, and Dwight would be that guy.
As for odds, I’d say they’re pretty slim, just based on the things that happened previously between the sides. If he’s willing to take less than the max, and the Magic could still get another free agent, then I think it would be a no-brainer.
Hoops Rumors: The trade of Tobias Harris so soon after he signed a new deal came as a surprise to many. Was this trade a signal that the power is shifting from GM Rob Hennigan to coach Scott Skiles, as Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post recently suggested?
Zach Oliver: I don’t think so. This was something that was likely going to happen either way. The deal that Tobias signed was very cap friendly, and a deal that would clearly be movable in a year or two.
The fact that they moved on from him that soon is surprising, and I think it shows more of a power shift between Hennigan and Magic CEO Alex Martins. They’re in a position where they need to take the next step, and getting an impact guy in free agency is the next step.
Now, if this is the summer that’s right for doing that is a completely different conversation for a completely different day.
Hoops Rumors: Skiles has the reputation of wearing out his welcome rapidly, thanks to his gruff demeanor and no-nonsense approach. Given the Magic’s core of young players, who will need stability as they grow together, was Skiles the right choice for the long term in Orlando?
Zach Oliver: Long-term? No. Short-term? I think so.
Skiles is a guy who’s going to come in and try to set an example and get the team in the right direction with a clear path to becoming a real contender. That hasn’t happened, and at this point, I think that you have to start asking questions about the players.
It’s been up and down already, and it’s probably going to continue for another season before the sides part ways.
Hoops Rumors: After a promising rookie season, Elfrid Payton has regressed in several areas. Is he the team’s long-term answer at point guard? If not, who is?
Zach Oliver: Yes and no. I think, if you keep Evan Fournier this summer, then Payton can be your long-term answer. If they keep Victor Oladipo, they might need to move on from Payton, unless either he or Oladipo becomes, at the very least, a league-average shooter.
He’s shown some real upside but has been so inconsistent this season, and that raises a lot of questions about if he can be the guy.
At the end of the day, unless they’ve got a clear chance to get someone like a Mike Conley in free agency, I think Payton is going to be their guy. When he’s engaged, he’s a threat in a lot of ways, and his shooting is starting to come around, albeit slowly.
Hoops Rumors: The Magic have drawn mention as a potential trade suitor for Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler this summer. What sort of package would Orlando need to put together to land Butler? Would it be worth surrendering all those assets to land the two-way star?
Zach Oliver: I’ve talked with some people about this, actually.
If the Magic are to go and try to get Butler, they’re going to have to give up a sizable package. It’s going to have to start with Nikola Vucevic because of salary reasons, but beyond that, they’ll likely need to part with Oladipo to get the deal done as well. I also think they’d likely throw in their first-round selection, because Chicago moving on from Butler would be a clear sign they’re going to rebuild.
Now, another option could be packaging Vucevic, Ersan Ilyasova — who has just $400K guaranteed next season — and their pick, plus another future pick, for Butler. That could give the Bulls some cap space this summer, and more future assets to move forward with their rebuild.
The Magic, along with the Celtics, have the assets to get Butler. It’s just a matter of them being willing to. If they’re serious about accelerating their rebuild, they should be. If they aren’t, then they’d be better off standing pat.
Hoops Rumors: The Magic are currently slotted No. 11 in the draft lottery order but seem to have a reasonable shot at moving up to No. 8 before the end of the season. Assuming they don’t luck out in the lottery, who do you think the team should target in that range come June?
Zach Oliver: I don’t think they keep the pick. They’re in a position where they need to bring in guys who can make an impact right away, and there’s just not going to be anybody in that range that can do that to the extent they need it.
If they did keep it, then maybe someone like Skal Labissiere would fit some of their needs. Even Ivan Rabb or Diamond Stone could be options, should they keep the pick, the chances of which I think are slim.
Eddie Scarito contributed to this interview.