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Daily Babble: Magic Headed In Right Direction In Search For Big Man Help

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It certainly appears that Magic GM Otis Smith's head is in the right place with regard to his approach to augmenting his roster prior to Thursday's trading deadline.

As reported by the Orlando Sentinel:

In trade talks with various teams, the Magic have been looking to add a defensive-minded power forward, mostly using a variety of their players with expiring contracts as bait. In that group is point guard Carlos Arroyo, Evans, Pat Garrity, James Augustine and Keyon Dooling.

Rumors have since popped up around the Web that those targeted big men could include the likes of Seattle's Kurt Thomas or Miami's Udonis Haslem.

That direction is certainly the one to head in for this Orlando team.

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After jumping off to a torrid 16-4 start, the Magic have been nothing if not inconsistent, going just 18-17 since.  Of primary concern has been the team's defense.  Despite a very good start at that end of the floor, the Magic have fallen to 16th in basketball in defensive efficiency, averaging 108.2 points allowed per 100 possessions.  Coach Stan Van Gundy has called his team out -- including stud center Dwight Howard -- on multiple occasions over the past two months for a lack of defensive intensity.  

With Howard breaking out offensively, new acquisition Rashard Lewis performing adequately and Hedo Turkoglu having a career year, the Magic have been very effective with the ball (sixth in offensive efficiency).  That said, in order for this team to truly establish itself among the elite in the Eastern Conference -- and ultimately the league -- it is going to need to become markedly better on the defensive end. 

Part of the problem this season has to do with the pre-season injury to Tony Battie, which all but ended the power forward's season.  Battie has always been a solid defender who knows his role and capably protects the interior.  He blocks shots, rotates well on defense and plays hard all the time.   The man with the cool Batman tattoo on his arm can do just enough to avoid being an offensive liability, as he has developed a decent mid-range jump shot, sets good screens and can finish around the rim.

Without Battie, however, the Magic has been forced to scramble to re-adjust their lineup, and thanks to the versatility and size of swingmen Turkoglu and Lewis, Van Gundy made the decision to start Lewis and Turkoglu in the front-court next to Howard, with Keith Bogans sliding in at the two next to Jameer Nelson in the back-court.  For all their size, however, neither Turkoglu nor Lewis is a great interior defender.  Lewis has excellent athleticism and defends the perimeter very well, and Turkoglu isn't a terrible defender, but neither is a particular proficient rebounder or all that used to protecting the paint.  Thus have come the troubles the Magic have encountered defensively this season.

A lineup featuring Lewis and Turkoglu as an oversized two and three with a Battie-type player inside would make this team much more potent defensively.  Turkoglu is most comfortable at the small forward slot, and Lewis has the quickness to serve as an unconventionally tall two.

Fortunately for the Magic, two such players may well be available for the taking in Thomas and Haslem.  Thomas is the ideal choice, as he is one of the game's best defenders, as well as one who can play both power forward and center.  He doesn't need to shoot the ball but can knock down the 15-footer if called upon, and his rebounding (8.9 in 25.5 minutes per game) is well beyond stellar.  Thomas is the type of guy who is willing to do anything to win a basketball game, and he would likely jump at the opportunity to play big minutes for an Eastern contender.  Bringing him in would allow the Magic to make a big-time leap defensively while not weakening the team offensively and also allowing Bogans to serve as a scoring threat off the bench.

For the most part, the same goes for Haslem.   He is a scrappy defender with a mean streak who cleans the glass very well, having averaged 9.1, 7.9, 8.3 and 9.3 boards per game in his four full seasons as a starter in Miami.  Though his shot attempts have risen from 7.3 to 9.1 to 10.4 per game since 2005-06, it is worth remembering that the Heat were without Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal for significant portions of last season and have been depleted throughout this campaign.  On a team with several other bona fide scorers, the likelihood is that Haslem's field-goal attempts would fall back down and that he would accept his role as a defender, rebounder and quaternary offensive option.  The fact that he is an SVG favorite doesn't hurt either.

Ultimately, the Magic lost a much bigger piece than many may have realized when Tony Battie went down several months ago.  With their load of expiring contracts and the availability of Udonis Haslem and Kurt Thomas, they have the chance to fill the void left by Batman's injury.  If this team plans to seriously compete this season, the time is now to take that opportunity.