Mickael Pietrus (Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic made their first big move of the off-season, signing Mickael Pietrus for a majority of the Mid-Level Exception. The 26 year-old guard/forward was initially thought to be overrated in G.M. Otis Smith’s mind, but apparently was in fact enamored with Pietrus.
Pietrus spent the first five years of his career in Golden State and at 6’6”, 215 lbs, he displays the athleticism and size to be a shutdown perimeter player for Orlando.
"In the Eastern Conference you had better be able to defend that position. We think he can really help us do that. And he can shoot the 3," said Smith.
Last season, Orlando lacked a player who had the aptitude and talent to hang with premier guards such as Kobe Bryant, and that weakness was exposed in the postseason when Rip Hamilton of the Detroit Pistons scorched Orlando.
With great length, athleticism and solid shooting (35% career three-point shooter), Pietrus is exactly what Orlando needed. Guards Maurice Evans and Keith Bogans were both solid defenders, but lacked top athletic ability, while J.J. Redick and rookie Courtney Lee are not known for their defensive prowess, but are consistent shooters. While Pietrus isn’t regarded as an elite perimeter shooter, he certainly can nail an open three, which is critical in Stan Van Gundy’s system.
Because Pietrus fills such a huge void, he will likely be Orlando’s starter on opening day, and that will send a ripple affect down the team. First, Keyon Dooling may no longer be in Orlando’s plans, as he served a combo guard, and the move might also push Hedo Turkoglu to the bench, although he will still log major minutes.
Orlando still has the Veterans Exception to add another player, who will most likely be a point guard. The main targets for Orlando include Jason Williams, formerly of the Miami Heat, Anthony Carter of Denver, or journeyman Anthony Johnson.
Magic fans had complained about Otis Smith’s lack of aggressiveness and his blatant admiration of prospects, but inking Pietrus should calm the nerves of many fans.
Look for Pietrus to bring not only a defensive presence to Orlando, but some additional energy and intensity. His presence will give the team depth during the regular season, but Pietrus’ defensive tenacity will be most vital for the Magic in the playoffs.