by Tzvi Twersky

Over the course of the season, I attend a nice amount of NBA games and practices. Due to magazine assignments, web assignments, location and personal preference,  it worked out this season that a decent percentage of NBA events (games, practices, press conferences, shootarounds) that I hit included either the Orlando Magic or the Boston Celtics.

Now I’ve alreadywritten myfair share on both teams (and look for more from me on the Magic in the upcoming issue), but I was going through my recorder the other day and realized that I’ve got some leftover quotes, stories and insights that are exclusives, and are extremely relevant to the Eastern Conference Finals match-up between the two squads.

So with a thanks to my recorder, whose mic is mightier than my memory, let’s take a gander.

1) Context: Coming off of losses to the Magic, Hawks and Lakers, Boston found themselves in Washington on February 1st trying to avoid a four-game losing streak. They did manage to win, pulling away in the fourth quarter, but things were still not OK. During the game, Paul Pierce collided with Caron Butler, coming out of the hit with a knee injury. And as a whole, the team was in trouble, for it was that week when the story broke of friction in the locker room. With negative vibes swirling, I caught up with Kendrick Perkins after the game. We chatted about the Wizards, defense and the state of the team. When we spoke about all that, I had a particular story angle in mind. So I used those quotes. But I also asked an innocent question about Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. Well…it was innocent ’till this week. In light of his current match-up with Howard, and the possible one with Bynum coming up next, check it out…

SLAM: THEY SAY BYNUM GIVES YOU A HARDER TIME THAN HOWARD. ANY TRUTH TO THAT?

KP: Yeah, Bynum do.

SLAM: IS IT BECAUSE OF HIS LENGTH?

KP: It’s not even that. I think he’s got a better touch, better post moves and stuff like that. Yeah, he can play.

Verdict: Perkins didn’t mean to slight Howard, but it could be taken that way. A lot of people are hating on Howard after Game 1; let’s see how Howard responses.

2) Context: The same night that I rapped with Perk, I caught up with Tony Allen. With Pierce going down, Allen played extended minutes that night. I asked him a few Qs after the game…

SLAM: HOW YOU FEELING ABOUT YOUR ROLE ON THIS TEAM?

TA: I don’t know, man. Whatever I can do to go out there and contribute, that’s alright with me. When I come to work, I don’t even look at myself as having no role. I look at myself as coming out there to just hoop, play ball, doing what I do so that I can help the team. That’s it specifically.

Verdict: Allen had a pretty weak year, falling out of the rotation for weeks at a time. His attitude, evident in the above quote serves him well, however, and he’s had a tremendous Playoffs.

3) Context: In pursuit of background info for an upcoming magazine story, I pounded the pavement in hopes of finding proper people to speak with. One of those people, Magic GM Otis Smith, couldn’t catch up with me in person, but he was gracious enough to answer a few questions that I emailed him. Keep reading for some insight on how Smith put this year’s version of the Magic together.

SLAM: WHEN YOU SIGNED MATT BARNES THIS SUMMER WHAT ROLE DID YOU EXPECT HIM TO FILL? HAS HE EXCEEDED YOUR EXPECTATIONS?

OS: We needed someone to defend. We had MP (Mickael Pietrus) but you also need another guy incase MP gets in foul trouble. We also liked that he could stretch the floor, shoot the three and rebound the ball well for his size. Those things are kind of all pluses.

SLAM: OBVIOUSLY THE TRADE FOR VINCE CARTER WAS A HARD DECISION TO MAKE. IN YOUR MIND, WHAT DID IT COME DOWN TO?

OS: The hard piece was giving up Courtney Lee. That was probably the harder piece for me to swallow. What made that piece easier to swallow was getting back Ryan Anderson. It was difficult but you also have to protect yourself in case Hedo Turkoglu got out, which he did.

SLAM: JASON WILLIAMS WAS OUT OF BASKETBALL LAST YEAR; WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO SIGN HIM? HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT…?

OS: He is was kind of late in everything we did this summer. We started talking to him early but it wasn’t something that we had to jump out of the gate and do right away. We brought him in for a workout to see what he could do. He could still run up and down the floor. He wasn’t in the best shape, but he made it through his workout without puking, so it was a plus. He looked good coming in to work out and his mind was focused on being ready to go back to playing basketball.

SLAM: DID HIS PRIOR RELATIONSHIP WITH COACH VAN GUNDY FACTOR INTO THE DECISION TO SIGN WILLIAMS?

OS: It had a little bit to do with it. It helps when you know a guy. It is kind of hard to look at a guy blindly and not know him. It helped that he played for Stan and understands Stan and it helps that Stan understands Jason and knows him.

SLAM: AS GM OF THE ORLANDO MAGIC, WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A PLAYER BEFORE SIGNING THEM? CHARACTER AND BBALL-WISE.

OS: There are a lot of talented players out there on every roster. I don’t think it is any different than dating. You like what you like and I think we are the same way. We put a high premium on shooting. I think about how are guys will fit with the team. It is a puzzle, not necessarily a collection of talent, so sometimes you need a piece. It may not be the sexiest piece to the 29 other teams but if we like it, then that is what we go with.

Verdict: The Magic made the Finals last season and are four games away from repeating. Smith is clearly skilled at choosing who to date.

4) Context: Before Shaq told SI that he was surprised the Heat won the title in 2006, before Jason Williams told the Miami Herald he agreed with Shaq, Jason and I spoke. We were in the locker room after Game 4 in Atlanta, and JWill agreed to talk to SLAM and only SLAM. We chilled for a few minutes. Williams dropped some real solid knowledge. Look for a line or two of the convo in the next SLAM. For now, read his take on how the ’06 Heat team compares to the 2010 Magic…

SLAM: YOU’RE NOT THERE YET, BUT DOES THIS TEAM REMIND YOU OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP MIAMI TEAM AT ALL?
JW: I think this one’s better, man. Obviously we don’t have DWade, but we’ve got a bunch of guys that are damn near as good as him. DWade’s my favorite player, don’t get me wrong, but I’d rather have these guys in here as a unit, as opposed to just DWade.

Verdict: Everybody knows that the ’06 are one of the weakest champs in the recent past. In terms of talent, this Magic group may very well be better. But if they don’t get the O’Brien trophy, it doesn’t matter how much talent they have.

5) Random Notes: The Magic have five second round picks on their roster (Matt Barnes, Brandon Bass, Marcin Gortat, Anthony Johnson and Rashard Lewis); that’s pretty amazing, especially considering how crucial a few of them are to the team. In contrast, the Celtics also have five second rounders or undrafted players (Brian Scalabrine, Oliver Lafayette, Tony Gaffney, Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels), but only two of them see any time.

Also of Note: The 1998 Draft is heavily represented in this series. Vince Carter’s the fifth pick from that Draft; Jason Williams was taken seventh; Paul Pierce went 10th; and Rashard Lewis went 32nd. A decade later, that’s not bad. (Of course seeing JWill taken ahead of Pierce and Lewis is laughable, especially now.)

Last Note: After having a terrible season–I think Bill Simmons took it too far, but he wasn’t that far off–Rasheed Wallace has finally found himself. With Jameer Nelson repping Chester, Philly (stand up!) needed Sheed to show up and he did in Game 1. If he keeps it up, the Celtics are dangerous. As dangerous as they were with James Posey in 2008–though in different ways.

Oh, and while on the topic of Rasheed, as a fellow Philadelphian, I love the hat he wore to practice yesterday, even if it did upset Bostonians. Let’s go Flyers!

Rasheed Wallace.

BONUS: If you’re a Celtic fan, you’ll remember this well. It was one of the first commercials that aired after Boston captured the title in 2008. I’d like to see Boston win it all again, just to see if this video can be topped.

 

LAST BONUS: Hate autotune and sick of these commercials, but this one is on point.