Insider: Upgrading The Point Guard Position

If the Orlando Magic want to return to the NBA’s elite level, as they were during the 2008-09 season and the 2009-10 season, it is clear changes must be made.

With Jameer Nelson likely to opt out of his contract and the performance of Chris Duhon this season, point guard is clearly a major issue within the organization.

The Magic will likely have nothing more than the mid level exception to play with because using the MLE will cost them the Bi-Annual exception.

Today, we’ll take a look at some of the point guards Orlando could make a play for.

Free Agents:

Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns – There were rumors of Orlando’s interest in Nash during the season, but those rumors never materialized. Even at 39, Nash is still a fantastic player and was deservedly named an All-Star in 2012. Obviously, he’d be an upgrade. However, Nash made $11.7 million this season and will likely require more than the MLE. Plus, there will be plenty of other suitors in better position (Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers) that would love to sign Nash to the MLE. Nash averaged 12.5 points and 10.7 assists per game while shooting 53.2% from the field and 39.0% from beyond the arc.

Kirk Hinrich, Atlanta Hawks – Hinrich has been tied to the Magic in the past but because of his contract (Hinrich was making $8 million a year), they were never a major player for his services. Hinrich would provide a veteran attitude and good shooting from beyond the arc (he’s a career 37.8% shooter from three). He’d also be the biggest point the Magic have had in some time (Hinrich is listed at 6’4). After becoming the starting point guard when he was dealt to Atlanta from Washington at the 2011 trade deadline, Hinrich lost his job to Jeff Teague. This season, Hinrich started 31 of the 48 games he played in, averaging 6.6 points and 2.8 assists per game.

Andre Miller, Denver Nuggets – Miller’s name was discussed last season as the Blazers were rumored to be interested in Nelson before eventually sending Miller to Denver and bringing back Raymond Felton (Felton is also a free agent) to be their starting point guard. Miller became the backup to Ty Lawson in Denver and played well in that role, averaging 9.7 points and 6.7 assists this season. One problem with Miller and the Magic is Miller’s poor shooting – he’s a career 20.5% from beyond the arc.

Goran Dragic, Houston Rockets – Dragic is a bit of an enigma because he hasn’t played a lot in his career. However, during spot time in Phoenix and Kyle Lowry‘s injury last season, Dragic showed flashes of brilliance. The 25-year old wound up starting 28 games this season, finishing with a career-high 11.7 points and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 46.2% from the field and 33.7% from beyond the arc. With Lowry back in the fold, Dragic could be looking for a starting gig.

Ramon Sessions, Los Angeles Lakers – Many wondered aloud why the Magic didn’t make a move for Sessions this season. All the Lakers gave up to get Sessions was Luke Walton and their 2012 first round pick while bringing back Christian Eyenga with Sessions. With Orlando’s point guard troubles, one has to wonder if Orlando could have offered a similar package. Sessions started 19 games for the Lakers and averaged 12.7 points, 6.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game while shooting a career-best 47.9% from the field and 48.6% from beyond the arc. The 26-year old Sessions has a player option worth $4.6 million.

John Lucas III, Chicago Bulls – Lucas unexpectedly played big minutes for the Chicago Bulls because of Derrick Rose‘s lingering injuries. Lucas played in 49 games, starting two, and averaged 7.5 points, 2.2 assists and 1.5 rebounds in 14.8 minutes per game. The 29-year old, who has bounced around the world playing, shot just 39.9% from the field, but was 39.3% from beyond the arc. Obviously, this wouldn’t signal an upgrade in any way from Nelson, but could be an improvement as the backup. Lucas had a 20-point game in a victory over the Magic in Orlando back on March 19.

Leandro Barbosa (Indiana), Jason Kidd (Dallas) and Jason Terry (Dallas) are also unrestricted free agents while Jerryd Bayless (Toronto), Aaron Brooks (Phoenix), D.J. Augustin (Charlotte) and George Hill (Indiana) are restricted free agents. Beno Udrih (Milwaukee) and Mo Williams (Los Angeles Clippers) have player options.

Jeremy Lin (New York) and former Magic guard Gilbert Arenas (Memphis) are also, of course, free agents.

Current Portland Trail Blazers guard Jamal Crawford is another interesting name that popped up in connection with the Magic last season. After torching the Magic during the 2011 postseason as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, Crawford signed with the Blazers during the off-season and quickly soured on the decision. He and Felton reportedly led an uprising against then coach Nate McMillan, which eventually played in a roll in McMillan’s firing. Crawford isn’t really a point guard – he’s a scorer – but, he could handle the ball at times and relieve some pressure from Nelson, should he return. Crawford, 32, averaged 14.0 points, 3.2 assists and 2.0 rebounds while shooting just 38.4% from the field and 30.8% from the beyond the arc this season.

Of course, New Jersey Nets Deron Williams can become and likely will become a free agent (he has a player option worth $17.8 million) but the Magic clearly don’t have the cap room to sign him or the assets to attain him via the sign and trade. Williams, one of the game’s elite point guards, seems to be nothing more than a pipe dream.

The Magic have also often been tied to former Golden State Warriors and current Milwaukee Bucks guard Monta Ellis. Now, Ellis isn’t really a point guard. He’s one of those often scene scorers that gets lumped into the point guard position because he’s undersize. Orlando made a run at Ellis last season, but talks eventually broke down and the Warriors received Andrew Bogut in return for Ellis. Dwight Howard has reportedly asked the Magic to make a run at Ellis in the past. The Bucks say they’re happy with Ellis and Brandon Jennings, both shoot-first players, as their starting back court, but you have to wonder how long that will last. Ellis averaged 20.4 points, 6.0 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3% from the field and 30.8% from beyond the arc for both the Bucks and Warriors this season.

Ish Smith, who appeared in 20 games for the Magic this season, averaged 2.3 points, 1.6 assists and 1.3 rebounds in only 8.6 minutes per game. Smith is set to become a free agent. Smith showed flashes during his brief appearances, but despite Duhon’s struggles, he could never seem to crack the rotation. Stan Van Gundy prefers his point guards to play a certain style and Smith is more of an on-the-fly, push-the-pace type of player. Of course, if Van Gundy doesn’t return, Smith could be useful.

(Andrew Melnick is the ESPNFlorida.com Magic and NBA Insider, co-host of the ESPN 1080 Insiders Show and publisher of Howard the Dunk. The Insiders Show can be heard Sunday mornings at 10:00 am EST on AM 1080 in Orlando and on ESPNFlorida.com. You can follow Andrew on twitter here.)

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