NBA

Magic president tired of Heat talk, ready to play

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)

Orlando Magic president of basketball operations Otis Smith has a new title and a new office in a new arena - easily the biggest offseason moves he made.

Quite a contrast considering it was a wild summer for so many other NBA teams.

Smith, formerly the general manager but still charged with overseeing the roster, is counting on improvement through continuity this season. He's confident Orlando has the talent to win its first championship and unfazed by splashy signings - that includes LeBron James with the Miami Heat - others made in free agency.

''I don't know if that changes where we are,'' Smith says. ''I think we're still one of the top two teams in the East.''

A little brash? Maybe.

With training camp beginning Tuesday in Orlando's new downtown arena and practice facility, the architect of the Magic's roster spoke with The Associated Press on the upcoming season. And he's still content as ever that the team he overhauled a year ago didn't need to be remolded.

''I don't think we had to go out and make wholesale changes,'' Smith said. ''Sometimes with continuity, improvement can take place.''

The Magic haven't made much noise on the court this offseason, already satisfied with how they're constructed. So forgive them if they want to remind everybody they've won the Southeast Division three straight years under coach Stan Van Gundy.

The competition, of course, has become much stronger.

They have to contend with Miami's All-Star trio - James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh - in the division, and the same Boston team that ousted Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals last season added Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal. So surely some of the spotlight from what was expected to be a big year for the Magic in their facilities has faded.

The result has been several swipes in the suddenly sizzling Sunshine State series.

That includes when Smith said he thought James was ''more of a competitor'' after he bolted Cleveland. Heat president Pat Riley's shot back at Smith - calling it ''an absolutely stupid remark'' and saying Smith ''never made any kind of comment like that when he signed Rashard Lewis'' to a $118 million contract- and then Magic coach Stan Van Gundy's shots back at everybody.

About the only amends Smith makes for his critical comments is that he'll refrain from anymore - for now.

''I don't know how good it is for grown men to chatter back and forth. I'm not sure it does any good,'' he said. ''We don't need to ramp-up a rivalry. The rivalry is already there. It's always been there. It is what it is. It's time to let play take care of itself.''

That day is coming soon.

The Magic are only two seasons removed from an NBA finals appearance, and it's hard to imagine a significant drop off after back-to-back 59-win seasons. They're still anchored by Dwight Howard, loaded with outside shooters and as deep a bench as anyone.

The major questions, however, still remain.

They rely heavily on talented but aging former All-Stars Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis, both of whom struggled mightily in the conference finals. Orlando also is deep into the luxury tax and has little roster flexibility - the biggest reason they didn't make any major moves in free agency.

About the only difference from this year's team is that starting small forward Matt Barnes and reserve point guard Anthony Johnson are gone. They're replaced by Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon, respectively.

Sure, the Magic inquired about New Orleans' Chris Paul and Denver's Carmelo Anthony - as did many other teams - after reports surfaced they wanted out. But fans shouldn't hold their breath.

If there are any big changes this season, they're likely coming from within.

''Our team is our team. The way we play hasn't changed very much,'' Smith said. ''Guys have a tendency to get better in year two with Stan than they did in year one.''

At least that's the plan.

Tagged: Celtics, Pelicans, Heat, Magic, Rashard Lewis, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Chris Duhon

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