From December 12th to opening night, I’ll be releasing a random essay on each team in the league. This post is about the Orlando Magic. You can follow the series with the “2011-12 Team Previews” and “Zach Attacks” tags at the bottom of the page.
There was one thing that always bugged me about the show Entourage.
Okay, there were many things that bugged me about the show. I always felt like it was mediocre way more often than it was good. It was the same old story lines just packaged in a new way with a different cameo each season arc. And none of the guys were really interesting enough to have their own storylines. Whenever there was an actual climax throughout the season, they quickly ushered in the fun-loving angle of “everything is going to be okay; watch these guys drink and get promiscuous!”
But the thing that I could never buy into was a very early storyline of the movie that made Vincent Chase a huge star. Nobody is clamoring to watch an Aquaman movie. I don’t care if James Cameron is intent on directing it. Nobody cares about Aquaman.
The reason superhero movies like Superman, Spiderman and even Batman (we’ll pretend he’s a superhero for argument’s sake) sell is because many of us grew up with them as our heroes. Superman was cool because he could fly and was virtually indestructible unless you had a green rock. Who the hell sees green rocks anywhere? Spiderman was cool because he could climb anything and shot stuff out of his wrists. Batman was rich beyond Mark Cuban’s dreams and had every single gadget and vehicle you’d ever want.
But Aquaman? Great, you can hold your breath for a long time under water, and you talk to animals from the ocean. What’s the difference between you and David Blaine during a trip to Sea World? Michael Phelps is more of a hero in the water to kids than Aquaman.
Aquaman just isn’t a star. Aquaman is a weak premise for a movie that leaves people wishing they just watched The Abyss one more time. So why would it be a good idea to pass this off as a valid subplot to Vinny’s growing stardom?
I’m going to be honest with you. I had a point to this analogy. But it’s completely escaped me while I was writing this. It’s like I knew what I was doing when I set out to eviscerate the concept of Aquaman, and right when I started to get some momentum everything just took a turn for the worst.
This must be exactly how Otis Smith feels.
The 2009 Magic had all of the momentum a franchise could want. Their 23-year old center had just brought them to the NBA Finals with a bevy of perimeter-oriented role players clicking at the right time. Sure, you can blame their appearance in the Finals on a Kevin Garnett knee injury or claim that it just wasn’t fair for Cleveland to leave LeBron’s brilliant performances without any support. Regardless of whatever excuses we want to make for Orlando moving on, they did it.
They aren’t the first team to get far in the playoffs because of injuries to other teams or opposing role players not stepping up, and they certainly won’t be the last. What we do know about them is they had a spark. That spark was the defensive brilliance of a Stan Van Gundy-crafted system funneling poor defenders into areas of help and reinforcement. They had a giant of a young man keeping defenses honest by worrying about him on the boards, and leaving the perimeter open for a team of snipers that would make the most patient of Call of Duty campers tip their headsets to them in reverence.
Otis Smith saw this progress before his eyes and panicked. He refused to re-sign Hedo Turkoglu for the price and decided to trade for Vince Carter and his aura of complacency. Ironically, Otis refused to be content with what he had and decided to acquire the one man in the NBA who embodied everything we despise about players not being comfortable with moving forward.
He changed the dynamic of the team in one fell swoop and lost the unconventional style teams had trouble adjusting to. Maybe opposing gameplans would have had it figured out the following season, but we’ll never know if this was a style NBA strategists weren’t ready to solve.
Over the next two years, Smith made desperate move after frantic transaction. He signed Brandon Bass who didn’t fit in with the offensive scheme at all. He traded Rashard Lewis’ frail existence and horrendous contract to the Wizards for the inept focus of Gilbert Arenas and his longer contract. He shipped off Vince Carter to Phoenix to reacquire some of the old magic (unfortunate play on words there) Hedo Turkoglu was now too old to provide.
And all in this frame of time, Dwight Howard, his young and increasingly jittery star, was apparently dying to have his suggestions for team personnel not only heard but also brought to reality. He wanted a say in his fate of his team. Otis says he took those things into consideration but could never really get them done. At worst, he made Dwight feel like he wasn’t taken seriously, which is probably not the way you want him to feel when his impending free agency is charging at your Jurassic Park tour jeep like a hungry T-Rex.
Now, we’re left with Otis trying one last rescue attempt to grab the players Dwight wants (Big Baby?) and show him they’re taking his customer service call very seriously and would like him to remain on the line.
So yeah… JUST like the concept of an Aquaman movie.