The Orlando Magic’s free-fall from elite status in the NBA happened quickly and forced the club into making major repairs.  The Kansas City Royals, facing the prospect of having an unhappy star pitcher, were forced to look for the best available deal.  In both cases the clubs may find that moves born from desperation rarely work out.

First, the Magic.  Two years ago Orlando made it to the NBA finals where they lost to the LA Lakers.  It was thought at the time that the Magic would have an elite, championship contending club for years to come.  So cocky and so certain were the Magic that they eagerly waved good-bye to their main facilitator, Hedo Turkoglu, and quickly brought in Vince Carter (above) as his replacement.  The Magic believed that Carter would match up with Kobe Bryant and give them a better chance at dethroning the Lakers.  This was the first of many mistakes that led to this year’s overhaul.

Carter—half man half mama’s boy—was well known throughout the league as a player who curdles in pressure moments.  Why the Magic believed that they would be able to cure Carter of these ills is unimaginable—they discovered the truth the hard way during last year’s playoffs as Carter was invisible.

Rashard Lewis is on the downside of his career.  His numbers have steadily dropped over the past few years and this year Lewis was a negligible offensive force.  The team needed to make adjustments—difficult considering that Carter and Lewis represented nearly one-third of the team’s NBA leading payroll.  The Magic knew that if they were going to move these bad contracts they were going to have to take bad contracts in return.

Since leaving the Magic Turkoglu turned into a whining diva in Toronto, was called a prima donna by the Turkish team he played with at the World championships, and was a cancer in the dressing room and on the court in Phoenix.  The Suns realized that taking Hedo from Toronto was a disastrous mistake and were eager to rectify it.  Acquiring Carter helps since Vince’s contract—outside of a minor buyout—ends at year’s end, and though he is most assuredly nearing the end of his career Carter is nowhere near the malcontent of his predecessor.

To move Lewis the Magic had to take back Gilbert Arenas.  The troubles of Arenas are well known—from three knee surgeries to last season’s suspension for gun possession.  Once thought to be one of the league’s most dangerous scorers Arenas is merely a shadow of his former self and Washington, eager to turn the reins of the team over to rookie John Wall, were looking to rid themselves of the man and his weighty contract.

So the Magic, looking down the barrel of losing franchise player Dwight Howard when his contract ends after next year, needed to stop the bleeding—and this year the blood was flowing like a river.  These moves will help the Magic in the short term—the club was dropping like a stone before the deals—but the team not only has added millions in additional salary they have added players, in Arenas and Turkoglu, with  reputations of being selfish.  While these acquisitions will keep the Magic at the top half of the Eastern Conference they won’t be enough to topple either Boston or cross-state rival Miami.  And they may not be enough to keep Howard, and if Superman leaves then Orlando will be have to rebuild—but will be stuck with aging players and heavy contracts.

Kansas City is at the opposite end of the spectrum.  The Royals haven’t made the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1985 and have had only one winning season since the strike year of 1994.   The Royals are consistent losers—success for this club would be in avoiding finishing last in the division—something they have accomplished only once in seven years.  It is no wonder that a quality player that rises through their farm system eventually proves to be too expensive to keep.  Zack Greinke was another talented player destined to leave the team once his contract runs out in two years. 

The Royals are in a constant state of rebuilding—a state that finally took its toll on the 2008 Cy Young award winner.  Greinke looked around the locker room during the 2010 season and saw that it was filled with young and unproven players–a situation not dissimilar to 2009 or 2008 or 2007.  And with 2011 just around the corner and the Royals looking to field another roster of rookies Greinke felt that he did not belong and asked to be traded. 

When a star player makes a public request to leave it places an inordinate amount of pressure on the club.  Suddenly offers come flooding in from teams looking to unload their grease for oil.  The Royals had already spent most of the off-season fielding offers from various clubs as they had made it known that if the right offer came along they would move Greinke—but if the right offer did not come along they were content to keep the pitcher for another years.  The trade demand changed those assertions.  Now they needed to move him—and quick.

The Jays had discussed a deal for Greinke, as did a number of other teams, but the Royals wanted both Kyle Drabek and Travis Snider to be included in the deal.  The Jays were not interested, and rightly so, in that deal.  When Greinke made his trade demand known the Royals quickly took the best offer they had on the table—four prospects from the Milwaukee Brewers.  

So what do they have to show for their one marketable commodity?  They have a shortstop that fields his position well but is unknown offensively.  They have a speedy outfielder with some upside but who projects to be nothing more than a reasonable major leaguer, and two lower level pitching prospects.  When teams now look to deal established stars they want to score as well as the Texas Rangers did when they dealt Mark Texeira to Atlanta and received Elvis Andrus and Neftali Perez.  The Royals are hoping that Alcides Escobar turns into Andrus and one of those pitchers turns into Perez.

The Royals seem to be stuck playing the hope game with young players every year—hoping that a bunch of them will turn out to be quality major leaguers, and that they can have the same small market success that Tampa Bay had the past three years.  The likelihood is that the Royals will continue to struggle to get out of the basement.

…The epitome of the extremes in professional sports has occurred this year in the NFL.  Division rivals Chicago and Green Bay have had completely opposite years with regards to fortune.  Chicago has had nothing but good fortune—they have stayed relatively healthy all year, have met depleted teams that fielded third string quarterbacks, and were the beneficiary of a mistaken video review call in the first game of the year. 

The Packers, meanwhile, have continued to lose players off their roster at an incredible rate.  It has reached such a state in Green Bay that the practice squad now needs replenishing.  Pre-season favourites to make it to the Super Bowl the Packers are now life and death to make it to the playoffs.  The Bears are already in and the way things are going for them they will face a team in the playoffs that just lost their starting quarterback. 

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