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The Orlando Magic are hoping that guard Gilbert Arenas can "get right" so that they can compete with the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat in the East. Photo by Jeff Lewis
Bynum returns, Arenas traded to Magic, Yao’s done and other news, notes and opinions from around the league.
By Michael Brown, Sentinel Sports WriterBynum back, Lakers win five straight on eastern swingAndrew Bynum’s season-high 16-point effort at Toronto on Sunday helped the Lakers win their fifth straight, 120-110, setting the stage for home games against Milwaukee on Tuesday and the Christmas Day collision with Miami.Since returning four games ago, Bynum has been used as a reserve, averaging 17 minutes per game, seven points and five rebounds. The pedestrian-like numbers don’t tell the story however.Bynum’s return has added more depth to the Lakers’ bench and allowed Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol to play more at their natural positions.It was a busy road trip for the Lakers off the court as well. Last week, they traded Sasha Vujacic and a future First-round pick to New Jersey for Joe Smith.The deal was clearly a salary dump, designed to give the Lakers wiggle room under the salary cap. Head coach Phil Jackson has already said Smith will only be used in extreme circumstances. Having another big body on the bench can’t hurt.Vujacic was an enigma to say the least. Three years ago, Vujacic looked like a player on the rise as he averaged nine points a game and shot better than 43 percent from the 3-point line. But since then, he’s fallen out of Jackson’s rotation numerous times and been relegated to a $5.5 million cheerleader.The trade is mutually beneficial. The Lakers will get valuable cap room and insurance just incase Bynum or Gasol get injured, and Vujacic, in a contract year, will get an opportunity to play.Magic back in contention after trades?After losing five of six games for a 16-9 record, the Orlando Magic held the distinction of being a good team, but was teetering on the brink of falling out of contention.Despite having a superstar center, Dwight Howard, the Magic have underachieved and trail the Celtics, Heat and Bulls as favorites to win the conference. On Saturday, Magic general manager Otis Smith made drastic changes.In the first deal of the day, Smith shipped Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mikael Pietrus and a first-round pick and cash to Phoenix for Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark.That was all fine and dandy, but Smith wasn’t done. He then went for the gusto.Smith dealt high-priced forward Reshard Lewis to Washington for troubled guard Gilbert Arenas.So in one fell swoop, Orlando’s roster was remade and now comes the fun part: the assessment.After the smoke cleared, I applaud Orlando’s front office for being bold enough to remake their roster a quarter into the season. Two years removed from playing in the NBA Finals, Orlando realized they had no chance of competing with the other top teams in the East.Is it a gamble to bring in Arenas, who is overpaid and still shell shocked following a lengthy suspension for pulling a gun in the locker room on a teammate? Sure.But Arenas can provide the Magic with the firepower they need from the perimeter and free up space for Howard to operate in the paint. Lewis and Carter were supposed to fill that role, but their recent slumps left Orlando vulnerable, and allowed opponents to double Howard.“This is a true new beginning,” said Arenas.For Orlando’s sake, they had better hope so. The clock’s ticking on Howard’s contract, which expires after next season, and he’s said that the direction of the franchise will help determine whether he re-ups.Losing Shaquille O’Neal nearly 15 years ago devastated Orlando. If Howard decides to bolt because he doesn’t feel the organization is doing enough to become a perennial contender, the Magic could be looking at the NBA Draft Lottery for another decade.Yao Ming’s season done, againWith a stress fracture in his left ankle, Houston’s 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming is done for the year and possibly has played his last game.Ming hinted during the off season, after recovering from an injury, which sidelined him all of last year, that he would possibly retire if the injuries lingered. Ming only played five games this year and in the past, had seasons where he played 57, 48 and 55 games. With Portland’s Greg Oden missing back-to-back seasons and Bynum’s injury problems with the Lakers, general managers will probably cringe at the thought of taking big men at the top of the draft in the future.Lately, the high-risk, low-reward rate is skewed toward the former. When the big guys aren’t hurt, they seem to be “projects” that teams have to coddle in hopes that they become viable centers.Memphis blew a No. 2 overall pick in 2009 on Hasheem Thabeet, and he still hasn’t paid dividends and shows no signs of ever becoming an impact player.NBA teams’ best bet is to draft a big man at the end of the lottery sort of like New Jersey did two years ago taking Brook Lopez No. 10.Random notes The Mavericks are gaining a reputation this year of being streak stoppers.After defeating the Heat Monday night, 98-96, the Mavericks have now ended Miami and San Antonio 12-game win streaks. Dallas also stopped New Orleans’ 8-game streak earlier this season and a Utah 7-game run.The Boston Globe reported that Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is expected to miss a week-to-10 days with an ankle sprain. The Globe added that Rondo worked out with the team Saturday, and may be back earlier than that.If you’ve watched Rondo this year, that’s bad news for the rest of the NBA. Rondo for my money is the best defending guard in the league and probably the best playmaker, as evidenced by his 14 assists per game.Rondo has missed two games, but the Celtics (22-4) haven’t missed a beat.Paul Pierce played point guard at times in during a, 99-88, win on Sunday against Indiana, and dished out 12 dimes.
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