Ryan Anderson’s Breakout Season Creates A Problem In Orlando

This season started with a question about Dwight Howard‘s tenure in Orlando. Suddenly, it’s become a question about teammate Ryan Anderson‘s potential — and if that’s a blessing for GM Otis Smith or another headache.

The fourth-year forward from Cal is on everyone’s short list of most improved players in the league this year. Houston’s Kyle Lowry is in the same conversation, but Anderson has stood out in the reflected spotlight and scrutiny around Howard now.

He’s averaged 17.8 points this year, up from his previous best of 10.6 per game last year, and is far exceeding his current contract (He’s in the final year of his rookie contract, making $2.2 million this season, and he’ll probably become a restricted free agent this summer.).

When Howard struggled to eight points and 10 rebounds against the Knicks on Monday, Anderson continued his tear by going for a career-high 30, and his seven threes boosted his shooting from beyond the arc to 41 percent this season and 46 threes, the most in the league. He’s doing quantity and quality like few big men before him.

Orlando doesn’t exactly want Anderson, though; the Magic want Howard, their unquestioned cornerstone, to stick around in north Florida. The trouble lies in the gulf between Anderson’s play and his contract. Getting something equal for him in a trade (to lure Howard into staying with a revamped lineup) right now might be impossible. Another option, trying to package him with more Magic, might be a cost too high even with Howard staying, says Evan Dunlap, the managing editor at the Orlando Pinstriped Post blog.

“The Magic can’t get equal value for him straight-up,” he wrote to Dime. “They’d need to package him with at least one more contract — perhaps Jameer Nelson‘s, at a little less than $8 million? — in order to get an impact player making big bucks. But if they include Nelson with Anderson, for example, they’re losing two starters.”

It’s a bet either way the Magic play it. If the Magic feel like they’ve lost Howard, who do they build around? Anderson isn’t the de facto rebuild key he’s playing like right now, Dunlap cautioned. Maybe it’s a case of Rashard Lewis 2.0 buyer’s remorse: Like Anderson, Lewis was 6-10 and silky from deep, and blossomed in his third and fourth years, but didn’t have a defensive pedigree. In his fourth season in Seattle, he averaged 16.8 points per game and shot 39 percent from three, but signed with Orlando after nine years and never expanded his game beyond one dimension. There are some similar concerns with Anderson.

“I don’t know that he’d be the anchor of a rebuilding effort either; he’s incredibly talented, but he’s not going to average 18.3 points per game without a paint presence like Howard to draw attention away from him on the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop,” Dunlap wrote. “But he’d still be important to a rebuilding Magic team, probably as a No. 2 offensive option.”

Now, if the long-speculated Bynum-for-Howard deal is ever completed, Anderson would still see the dividends of playing with a top-five post. Anderson should be savoring the moment as it is, though. Whatever Smith decides about Howard’s future will affect Anderson’s, too.

How should Orlando approach Ryan Anderson’s future?

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