SACRAMENTO — Perhaps no NBA general manager faces more scrutiny these days than Otis Smith of the Orlando Magic.
After Smith made two blockbuster trades in Dec. 2010, the Magic lost in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. The franchise also faces a trade request from superstar Dwight Howard, who has contended that the team has not done enough to acquire the players he has wanted the team to obtain.
The Orlando Sentinel sat down with Smith as his team prepared to begin a three-game West Coast road trip Sunday against the Sacramento Kings.
Smith acknowledged that he has heard about the criticism of his job performance.
"If trying is a sin, then I have sinned a lot, because I'm never going to stop trying," Smith said.
He also disclosed that he has received threats — both on him and on his family.
He revealed that Howard's trade request still stands, and he discussed his team's performance and Stan Van Gundy's ongoing efforts to be more positive.
Here is a transcript of the interview.
Orlando Sentinel: Is this West Coast road trip an important signpost for this season's team?
Otis Smith: I think it's hard [to say that] this year just because of the way schedules unfold. The schedules unfold so differently. You're only here three games and then you're back. Regardless, it's still your ninth game. You're starting your ninth game, and you didn't have a full preseason, so it's different. I think it gives you a measuring stick, but we've already done that. We're beyond that when you start having measuring sticks based on a West Coast or an East Coast trip. I think it's based on how we're playing as our measuring stick now, not who we're playing.
Sentinel: How do you think your team is playing?
Smith: OK, at times. I think there's times we look good, and there's times we don't look so good, probably like three-quarters of the teams in this league right now, probably more than that. I think we still are one of the better teams in this league. You just want to have a chance. That's the key: If you can stay relatively healthy and you start clicking at the right time, you want to have a chance when it gets to the postseason.
Sentinel: Are you any more reluctant to draw conclusions about your team knowing that it only had two preseason games and a shortened camp?
Smith: I liked our team before. Nothing's really changed. I think we have a chance. We still are transitioning a lot of people in. With the trade from last year, you're still transitioning Turk. You're still transitioning J-Rich. You're still transitioning Earl. So you're still transitioning a lot of pieces. Then you add more pieces to that puzzle and you're still transitioning.
But I like our team. I like our chances for our team. I think our guys are fighters and don't have a lot of quit in them. I'm not sure every team can say that. I think we go out every night with a chance to win every game that we play. I don't think every team can say that. And it's about finding a rhythm at the right time and playing through a few things, and that's where we are right now.
Sentinel: How has Ryan Anderson played? Friday's loss to the Chicago Bulls was not one of his better games.
Smith: But that's Ryan. While we're happy his shots are 3s, you're going to make or miss some. But he's Ryan. He's made strides in a lot of areas. What you hope you get from players as they start to level out is a level of consistency to where you can expect "X" night-in and night-out. I'm not sure where he is on that. I think we're getting more good games than off games, so I think that's a plus. There was a time where it was almost where we'd have one good one and then we'd have two bad ones. I don't think we're there. I think we're getting to a point to where you can almost expect what you can expect out of him.
Sentinel: Were you encouraged from what you saw from Glen Davis against the Bulls?
Smith: I think Glen looked like Glen. He's a tough basketball player that's going to rebound the ball, defend, set picks, look for open opportunities that are not too far out of his range. But even with that, we're going through a transition period with him, too. He's not unlike any other player that's come to the Magic. We shoot a lot of 3s. There hasn't been a player yet that we've gotten here that hasn't migrated out there. They start migrating slowly back that way. There has not been one who [has not drifted toward the 3-point line]. There has not been one. There's been guys that have been very good at other things and then, all of a sudden, they get comfortable shooting 3s. So they just have to keep doing what they do. Glen is no different.
Sentinel: Stan Van Gundy credited you for a large part of his attempt to be more positive this season. How is he doing?
Smith: Better. Not great. Better. Like all the rest of us, we're a work in progress, and he's a work in progress. When you're practicing, you can harp on players all day, and they can deal with it. It's when 20,000 people are in the building is when it changes. And not only that, but there's little effect it has to the outcome of a game — to the positive, anyway. So, he has to approach the guys a different way, and I think he's done a good job. He's calmed down on officials, and, subsequently, our team has calmed down on officials. It's a leadership role that he's in where he has to lead, and he's been doing a good job so far. Eight games into it, I think he's been doing a good job. But it's a work in progress.
Sentinel: What about his postgame comments? He was not happy with the result against the Bulls. Do blunt comments have a negative effect on players?
Smith: It would be different if we were in the locker room and I say, 'Yeah, yeah, everything is good.' And then I went to the media and then I said, 'This guy [is playing badly].' No, he's consistent. When he's in the locker room, he says 'X.' Then he goes out there [to his postgame] and it's the same. There's really no difference, so guys can take it better because they heard it already once before. None of their friends could tell them things that they hadn't already heard somewhere else. You know, he is a very good basketball coach, but he's not going to sugarcoat anything to you. As a player, you don't want anybody to sugarcoat it to you. You want him to lay it down the way it is and allow yourself to assess and deal with it. It's a growth process from one year to the next and one month to the next.
Sentinel: Has anything changed with Dwight's situation?
Sentinel: Has he pulled back the trade request?
Sentinel: Has he expanded his list of preferred destinations?
Smith: Not to my knowledge.
Sentinel: Have the Magic granted his agent permission to speak to any team beyond the three teams: the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Jersey Nets?
Sentinel: Have you been in touch with Gilbert Arenas lately? And how is he doing?
Smith: I had lunch with him on Tuesday, and his birthday was Friday. He's doing OK. Gil and my relationship goes far beyond basketball. Of course, that's what everybody else already knows. That's not uncommon. We have 11 years of friendship that we started a long time ago. But he's doing OK. His weight is down. He's trying to get his knee right. There has been some interest from some other teams. What he'll do on that front, I'm not sure. When he decides to go back playing again, I'm not sure.
Sentinel: Do you foresee a team giving him a shot somewhere down the line?
Smith: I wouldn't be surprised. I don't know. There's some teams that have some interest in him. But where that goes, I'm not sure.
Sentinel: You once described yourself like this: When you're watching a game you look pretty calm, like a duck above the water. But on the inside, you're like a duck underneath the water. How are you handling things? You know people are focused on the Magic like never before and, therefore, they're focused on you and your performance like never before.
Smith: I handle it fine. I can't do anything more than I can do, one. Second, my track record pretty much speaks for itself. Until we go all the way down, how can you condemn me? For what? Trying? Condemn me. If trying is a sin, then I have sinned a lot, because I'm never going to stop trying. That's not my makeup. I don't read what you write. I really don't. When I say I don't, I really don't. So I don't know. I get a lot of people saying, "Hang in there." And I don't really know what they're talking about, because I don't read it. And I really don't. Good or bad, I just don't read it. So, from my standpoint, I will continue to do what I have to do in order to get this team where it needs to be.
When we made the trades last year, I didn't make the trades last year thinking it was going to turn us around right away. No. As a matter of fact, I think I said, "This trade is going to take some time. It's not going to be one of those things where it's hit or miss." I normally do not trade during the course of the season. It's just something I don't like to do, because it takes a while to get your chemistry back. I knew the team that was on the floor [before the trades] wasn't going to get it done. Also, we'd seen enough in Ryan and Brandon [Bass] to know they could hold that position down. That was enough for us. . . .
You can't take one of these jobs, mine or Stan's, and have thin skin. You have to have pretty thick skin. It's not us; it's the people around us that's affected the most. We signed up for it. No one put a gun to our head and told us to take it. It's our families that are affected the most.
Sentinel: Do you mean not having you at home?
Smith: No, just all the comments. Just because I don't read it, that doesn't necessary mean that they don't or aren't threatened by it.
Sentinel: When you say "threatened," you don't mean physically?
Smith: I've gotten those, too.
Sentinel: You have. But not your family?
Smith: No, I've gotten those, too.
Sentinel: What do you do in those cases? Do you call the police?
Smith: I just have to be a little extra cautious and let those around me know that the threat is there. But I don't concern myself with it.
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