Article by: David Tingley
Having been forced into difficult personnel decisions several times already during training camp for the 2019/20 season, Moncton Magic coach Joe Salerno normally couldn’t be blamed for some salty feelings toward his GM of Player Operations. If only that person weren’t Salerno himself. Ahead of this Saturday’s preseason rematch with the Sudbury Five at 7 PM at the Avenir Centre, coach spoke to the dilemma of having brought so many quality players to the Hub City this offseason.
“You literally spend five months creating the biggest personnel problem you could have,” he said, “only to wrestle with it for a few weeks and just go through hell, but it’s what you have to do. It’s an extremely mentally taxing three to four weeks.” Since the fans last saw the team, during their 130-96 victory over the Raleigh Firebirds on November 24th, Wayne McCullough has returned to the fold, and they have cut ties with Dominic Shuler, traded Justin Moss to the Five for veteran NBLC point guard Maurice Jones Sr., and signed 6’9” stretch forward and Louisiana native, Jamaal Samuel.
If Salerno could base every move on simply having the best players in camp still on the roster come the season opener on Boxing Day, that would be easier. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. “Some of this always has to do with the cap,” he points out. “It’s one of our biggest opponents right now. It would be a lot different if you could just take who you thought were the twelve best players. It’s a huge puzzle and it’s not just on the court, it’s off too.”
The new Canadian/import players rule means that the lineup actually won’t run that deep as the season opens. “We’re not starting the regular season with twelve guys,” says Salerno definitively. “As much as we’d love to, it’s just not in the cards. I’d say right now, there’s an 85% chance we start the regular season with ten. It’s something I’ve never done before, and it’s scary as hell to be honest.”
Saturday’s game holds more importance for the team’s brain trust than your average preseason game. For one, without the injured Corey Allmond, they will only have ten available players. Secondly, they will be incorporating two players freshly arrived into camp. And finally, they must evaluate the whole squad based on the idea that they may have Jones Sr. in town as early as next week in advance of their next preseason game in St. John’s, something Salerno thinks is very possible.
“We’ve actually wanted [Jones] in here for awhile,” observes the coach. “We were extremely close to closing a trade for him last year when the Island owned his rights and he ended up going to Sudbury. Mo is definitely interested, says he’s only heard good things about Moncton, and he likes the roster we have here. It’s really going to come down to whether we can come to an agreement financially. I’d love to get him over here first thing next week, run him for a week and see how he looks with the team in Newfoundland.”
As for the new faces already on board, their experience with the Magic may be completely different, but Coach Salerno has been equally impressed with how quickly McCullough and Samuel have gotten up to speed. “This summer I just tried to find personnel to plug in and not change a lot of what we do. I met with those guys Sunday in the office for some X’s and O’s stuff before their first practice. Wayne picked things up quickly, remembered them from last year, and Jamaal has picked things up very quickly once he got on the floor. It’s always great when you don’t have to tell a guy two to three times to do something when you introduce it.”
While a versatile scorer during his time as a pro, largely in Latin America so far, Samuel’s presence in camp has largely to do with his best skill on the offensive end of the floor. “We definitely wanted a perimeter threat at the big,” observes Salerno. “It’s something we felt was missing. [In Latin America] the imports are asked to do a lot of things, and for him, it’s evolved his game and made him more of a scorer. But, I don’t expect him to be a big-time scorer for us. I expect him to be a guy to knock some shots down off the bench. In addition, he has great length and that’s something we look for defensively.”
“The exhibition games and the camp have gone according to plan,” continues Salerno, “and Saturday will tell us a lot. We’ve had a good two weeks to try to get on the same page, and we’ll look to be more competitive in this game and run guys closer to more normal minutes, rotation wise. So far so good, but Saturday will tell the tale of whether we’ve taken steps forward or taken steps back.”
Notes: Corey Allmond’s injury occurred against Raleigh as he was simply committing a foul so he could be subbed out of the game. Initially it was feared the beginning of the regular season would be in jeopardy but once he saw a hand specialist, it was determined the timeline was 3-4 weeks. “I don’t think we’ll play him up on the Rock on the 15th,” says Salerno, “but we expect him to be back to full practice on the 17th and 18th and have a full week before we open up.”
--The Magic own the protected rights, not simply the player rights, to Jones Sr. This means that if he signs with another team at any point this season, the team has the right to match it. Obviously, that’s Plan B, but the team is protected if they can’t come to terms with him quickly.
--The rules regarding roster balance state that each team is limited to 7 roster spots for imports. However, they don’t HAVE to roster 12 players, so Coach Salerno does have the option to use his salary cap on the 10 players he most wants and go with just the 3 Canadians currently on the roster, Denzell Taylor, Jason Calliste and Brad States.
--McCullough and his wife Cami had their first child, Wyatt Douglas, on November 14th in Denver, Colorado. He weighed in at 7 pounds, 6 ounces and everyone is happy and healthy.